Friday, February 6, 2009

Annals of Live Music, Vol. 1: Frampton Comes Canada?

Great Big Sea--"When I'm Up (live)" (mp3)
Great Big Sea--"Mari Mac (live)" (mp3)

The genius of Frampton Comes Alive, which came out over 30 years ago (yep, even I owned it), was the most overt subliminal advertising that anyone has come up with. Overt? Subliminal? At the same time? How so?

Well, you take a so-so, well-recorded concert from a lesser artist and you doctor the audience tracks. You have them become a presence on every song. You make them sound like the simplest, slowest talk-box notes are inducing orgasms. You have the crowd go berserk over pretty little instrumentals. You make the whole show sound like it was the concert event of the decade and that if, by some misfortune, radio listeners weren't among the 2000 or so people there, then they will have to buy the record so they to can bask in the glow of the experience.

It worked. People bought the record by the millions, the only time Frampton ever came close to anything like that. Frampton Comes Alive became the greatest selling live album of all time. The record both jumpstarted his career and pushed it up to a level that he could never hope to attain again, because he was never meant to be anything more than a pleasant, minor artist.

So, here's the overt subliminalism: a listener hearing other listeners having such a wonderful experience is lured into wanting to be a part of that experience himself or herself. I suppose if you thought about it, it's really not that much different from putting a laugh track on a sitcom, but on Frampton's record, unlike that laugh track, the crowd is timed to sound like it was really there. Or, maybe it was really there and they just put the audience much higher in the mix than what would have reflected reality. I really don't know. The only thing I don't believe is that the group of concertgoers were as into Frampton's show as they were made to appear to be. This article on the matter suggests that the audience tracks were a combination of the actual audience turned up and canned audience tracks.

Here's something even more amazing, though. I came across another such CD a few years ago, and it has had a similar effect on me. Road Rage, by the band Great Big Sea, captures their tour across Canada circa 1999 in such away that it revives the basic feelings that Frampton's record did: who are these guys and how have I missed out on something that everyone else is already so into?

Great Big Sea is what I would call Celtic-lite. They play originals and traditional Irish songs, but not with great virtuosity. There are two lead singers, and they have different, engaging voices. The band knows how to play their instruments, but not like, says, the Chieftans, where you are blown away their skill. They're just a good, tight band with a lot of stage presence and maybe they're very good looking, because their audience seems to have a large percentage of women, all of whom know the lyrics to their songs.

Listen to the two songs I've posted. I'm telling you, they are infectious. Maybe GBS pulled a Frampton and somehow sequestered the audience for several days while teaching them the lyrics to the songs and plying them with liquor or offering them favors. But I don't think so. The level of audience identification seems to come from good-natured boys singing good-natured Celtic songs. And the boys know how to play the audience. You'll want to know the words, just so you can keep up with the fun.

If you're driving to work and you want to pump yourself up for the day that lies ahead, you could do a lot worse than "When I'm Up." If you have kids, try the songs out on them. Even though "Mari Mac" is about the narrator getting Mari Mac "on her back" and the scandal or pregnancy that results in both mothers pushing for marriage, I dare you to try to play the song more than twice before the whole family is singing along.

So how come I never heard of these guys?

Maybe it's a Canadian thang. Was.
Great Big Sea is available at Itunes.


John said...

I disagree...GBS is much better than Frampton. Having seen them play at the Seattle Zoo in front of 3000 screaming largely yuppie fans, I'll attest to, not only their appeal, but their skill. Yeah, they know how to play an audience, but there's nothing contrived (or female-centric) about their appeal. And "Consequence Free" would have been the song I'd have put up on this blog entry. Just saying.

Anonymous said...

Frampton definitely cashed in on something actually started by kiss which jumpstarted their career.

"What song do you want to hear? Cold Gin. Kiss Alive 1975

Frampton Comes Alive - 1976

ACDC - Got blood if you want it 1977.

"This song is dedicated to all that Nashville you know the rest" Double Live Gonzo 1978

Aeorosmith Double Live Bootleg - 1978

"I want you to Want Me" Live at Budokan - 1978

Always an easy way for bands to get out some quick product.

troutking said...

GBS does a great version of "Kiss My Irish Ass" too.

Hank said...

My freshman roommate in college (the original Percy) was a HUGE Frampton fan. He was also a huge Starship fan, which I guess says something.

Jason said...

My fault for not introducing GBS to you much earlier Bob. I have seen them a couple of times in concert, and there songs have played at many of my friend's weddings. All Canadian university graduates of the last 2 generations have exhausted themselves by dancing at the end of a long night at the pub to "Home for a Rest".

Anonymous said...

I don't think you read the entire article which you refer to in implying that the Frampton Comes Alive! LP was a "canned audience". As in all live recordings, mics were placed in various locations to record audience reactions. On this particular album, the recordings were made over two or more venues. That means the audiences were different and the timespan between appearances could've been significant.
What the article does, in fact, say is that on one track, "Baby I Love Your Way", some of the audience responses were taken from other venues because that song had not yet been released at the time of these recordings. Frampton wanted the audience to sound as if they were familiar with this track.
All this aside, this album did put him on the map and he was not a well known artist, just like Pat Travers back in the day. Still, let's face it, the people that will buy the tickets and attend the concerts are fans of the artist. Just becuase you may not have been as familiar with him, doesn't mean the rest of the world wasn't. For some artists, the volume on the audience tracks must be turned down because the crowd is just too loud. Do you consider that to be unethical doctoring? I think, in retrospect, it's fair to say that the album sold because the material was good. A loud crowd with an awful band/material, is not going to sell records. From what I understand, this LP did rather well in sales. Common sense would dictate that, that's not due to the inclusion of some "canned audience" responses.
Just some food for thought. ;)

Billy Bob said...

Dear Anonymous,

Frankly, there wasn't much to eat in your food for thought. I'm still hungry. I stand by my analysis. YOU didn't read the whole article. It says they used canned audience tracks in places. It says they added other things. It also says, by the way, that "Show Me The Way" had never been released before Frampton Comes Alive. That is simply wrong. I had heard it on FM radio the year before.

Anonymous said...

"Frankly, there wasn't much to eat in your food for thought. I'm still hungry. I stand by my analysis."

Well, that was predictable. ;)

"YOU didn't read the whole article. It says they used canned audience tracks in places. It says they added other things."

It was my understanding, according to that article, that those other things are on the new 5.1 surround version he was working on. I did read it.

"It also says, by the way, that "Show Me The Way" had never been released before Frampton Comes Alive. That is simply wrong. I had heard it on FM radio the year before."

Wow! That's an undeniably impressive memory you have there! Over 30 years ago and you can remember exactly when you heard a song on the radio. I was born in 1960, knew a band on my block that played Frampton material and, still, even I can't tell when I first heard it on the radio.
Go back and read the article again.

Billy Bob said...

I lived in Pittsburgh, went to college in Philly at that time, both cities that played "Frampton" when it came out on the more ambitious of their FM radio stations. Pittsburgh's always been a hard rock town. They knew Frampton from Humble Pie.

You can confirm the release of "Show Me The Way" and "Baby I Love YOur Way" on that album in 1975 the year before "Frampton Comes Alive" On Frampton's own website!

What are you after? "Frampton Comes Alive" was a juiced record where the audience was manipulated in ways that I find disconcerting, that you concede, and that obviously did have an impact on album sales. But, hey, it's a business, right? I might record my cd in front of my family for the same reason. Who knows?

Anonymous said...

I do know that you're right about the self-titled album (Frampton) being released in 1975. I suppose, (and I'm not after anything-chuckle), the question is: Was the song released at the time he held those respective concerts? (From which the audience sounds were lifted).
Sorry, I chuckled upon reading your "juiced record" reference. A record experiencing Roid-Rage. LOL.

Billy Bob said...

Good point. It's all about the timing, I guess.