When I was 12 years old, all the kids in my neighborhood listened to the same music for about a month or so. A new live album had recently been released and it took the US pop charts by storm.
Yes, folks, I’m talking about the spring of 1976 and the album was none other than Frampton Comes Alive!
Frampton, an acclaimed studio guitarist from the UK, had previously achieved some public success in the rock band Humble Pie. But this was different. In a few short months he went from largely unknown to the US mainstream to being the “hottest in the land.” Crazy hot. He was on every radio station and on every American teenager’s stereo system. What I remember most from that time was his cool purple hair on the album cover and the fact that everyone went wild when he played his guitar through a new effect called a “talkbox.”
To hear the talkbox in action, listen to “Do You Feel Like We Do“, starting at 7:06. (You’ll see the famous purple hair, too, which turned out to be merely a lighting effect, much to my preteen chagrin.)
Notice how the crowd goes crazy just before he uses the talkbox? They can see him putting the tube in his mouth and for a mainstream rock/pop audience, they tolerate a very long song largely because they’re waiting for this novelty.
I say “tolerate” for another reason too, which I recently discovered while listening to the song on my car radio. Even though I hadn’t heard the song in 39(!) years, the opening guitar riff immediately brought me back to my front porch at that time, when I was hanging out with the neighborhood kids while pondering Frampton’s apparently purple hair.
In the car, I was enjoying the song and when the vocal ended, I anticipated hearing the talkbox again. But, lo and behold, I was in for a big surprise when the band took a musical detour to the land of jazz. (Somehow this went entirely past my 12-year old ears in 1976!)
Check out the electric piano solo at 4:20. Keyboardist Bob Mayo plays an extended, Herbie Hancock-esque improv that apparently didn’t make much of an impression on me at the time. (To be fair, I was in the midst of a two-year stint as a very mediocre guitarist.)
In any event, it’s very jazzy and is right there, prominently featured on one of the biggest commercial musical successes of 1976, if not of all time!
Can any of us imagine this happening now? (Kanye, are you listening???)
Have a listen to this great solo and imagine the millions of young kids and teenagers who absorbed these jazzy sounds in 1976, all the while awaiting the sounds of Frampton’s talkbox! And while we’re at it, let’s give Mr. Frampton a big “bravo” for sneaking some great jazz improvisation into the public consciousness at a time when most jazz musicians were struggling to stay culturally relevant.
Enjoy this short trip back in time to 1976, when jazz and rock collided at the top of the pop charts!
Here’s away to view the learning process that may help you play piano better: Two Paths To Learning Music