"Show Me The Way" / Peter Frampton
Waiting at the garage for my car to be serviced this morning, I was actually paying attention to the muzak for once, when what to my wondering ears should appear but this embarrassing bit of late 70s cheese. I'll come clean: I owned Frampton Comes Alive back in 1976, on cassette of course (the medium of the future!). Even worse, I played it over and over, until that little tape was nearly shredded. I was addicted to this song, this and "Baby I Love Your Way." And I was old enough to know better.
I can't even blame it on a fangirl crush -- though Peter Frampton undoubtedly was cute, with that flowing golden hair, those full lips, the cheekbones, the shirt provocatively unbuttoned to the waist. It wasn't his plangent boyish voice that suckered me in, either. It was those guitar riffs -- the talking guitar effect, those other-worldly howls and twangs. And me, usually I hate onanistic guitar solos.
And yet this song was like catnip to me (and, admit it ladies, you too). It had all the bombastic pyrotechnics of a Who track, sugared up with McCartneyeque bounce, shellacked into a densely layered glam product -- but without irony. No, what you had here was straight-on adolescent longing, spilling over into obsession (all those repeating phrases, the dizzying circles of the up-and-down melody). It spoke to two kinds of fans: girls who were hypnotized by the panting lyrics and virtuoso riffs; and pimply boys who were convinced that if they could just play the guitar like this, they'd get laid.
I already had a degree in English literature -- how could I have been taken in by these lyrics? "I wonder how you're feeling / There's ringing in my ears / And no one to relate to 'cept the sea." Hunh? He's relating to the sea? With a fine disregard for grammar, he declares, "There has to be a force / Who do I phone?" (thus linking Star Wars and Ghostbusters in one stroke). No wonder he adds, "There has to be a fool to play my part." It even gets mildly creepy for a minute: "I watch you when you're sleeping / And then I want to take your love" -- a clear case of date rape. In verse two, he sings, "I wonder if I'm dreaming /I feel so unashamed," which suggests an amazing lack of perspective. And what does it all build to? This marvelously articulate chorus: "Oh won't you show me the way (everyday) / I want you ...show me the way / I want you day after day..." Yeesh.
Well, I can scoff all I want . . . but to be honest, I fell under this song's spell this morning all over again. I could chalk it up to nostalgia, to the powerful way it brought back the inchoate dreams of an entire limbo summer. But I suspect the reason it still sounds great to me is because it is actually a classic jazzy pop track. Frampton opted for the unbuttoned shirt and tight satin pants, but that doesn't mean he couldn't play guitar. There have been worse idiots in rock and roll, and sometimes even an idiot gets it right.
Show Me The Way sample