Monday, January 6, 2020

Matthew Sweet And Peter Frampton: Fucked By The Coolest Label On Earth!

Matthew Sweet and Peter Frampton

Most days, I am of the mind that A&M Records is one of the coolest labels that ever was and that being signed to such a label would have been a mad thrill. This was, after all, the label that gave America The Police, Joe Jackson, Urgh, A Music War!, Squeeze, and Matthew Sweet!

Do you remember where you were the first time you heard "Vixen"? Yeah, me neither.

Thing is, it's the catchiest song on the whole over-produced album, yet seems to be the only song A&M didn't release as a promo single (not to be confused with a commercial single available to we consumers).

Can you IMAGINE if it had been a hit and Matthew Sweet had to whip that one out on the Ribfest circuit for the rest of his days?

Dollars to doughnuts, if such a thing had transpired, there'd have been no Girlfriend because A&M would have demanded more of the same and Matthew would have delivered because, why not?

In one of this writer's favorite daydreams, only when the album cratered did a roots-rock lovin' Sweet take a look at the piles of synths, drum machines, and big-name co-writers that had resulted in exactly zero success, leading him to put a boot clean thru a DX7 before yelling, "Fuck this shit. Somebody get me a distortion pedal before I ring Thomas Dolby's neck."

Boom, Girlfriend was born.

In reality it wasn't quite that simple, but you get the point.

Here's another reason to loathe A&M with a fiery passion: They passed on Girlfriend.

Funny thing is, everybody else passed on it, too. At one point, Sweet was even shopping the album to the Shoes' label Black Vinyl Records. According to my sources, head Shoe Jeff Murphy was still hemming and hawing when, out of nowhere, Zoo Records came along with an open checkbook and the rest is history.

But the warning signs that A&M Records had a consumerist dark side were evident long before the likes of "Roxanne" or "Steppin Out" were even written, much less recorded.

In fact, one need only gaze upon the album cover for Peter Frampton's 1977 album, I'm In You to realize that the biggest pop star on the planet was being guided by a bunch of morons.

Or was it Peter's idea to wear silk pajamas on the cover, with his chest fully exposed for the ladies?

It is my contention that this decision, made by the label, absolutely ruined his career.

The rock crowd that had embraced Frampton Comes Alive to the tune of 70 bajillion albums sold took one look at "pajama boy" and went "Pfft!", never to return, thereby forcing Frampton to start chasing hits like everybody else instead of making music from the heart, which is why Frampton Comes Alive had resonated with so many.

Sometimes, I just listen to Breaking All The Rules or The Art Of Control - two of his 80's era albums that were certified lead - and just weep at the misguided lunacy of it all.

Granted, his involvement in that unfortunate Robert Stigwood "Sgt. Pepper's" reboot did him no favors, but that's nothing to kill a career over.

The bad shit didn't end there, with a car crash in Barbados nearly killing him so, by the time 1979's Where I Should Be came out, Frampton was a man so eager to reconnect with the top of the charts that he was second-guessing his every move while fighting off as many suggestions from his label as he could.

My favorite one is where Frampton was teamed up with the Cretones' Mark Goldenberg for no other reason than Linda Ronstadt had covered a bunch of Cretones tunes for her 1980 faux-new wave album Mad Love.

Keep in mind that the Cretones sold exactly six copies of their two albums for Planet Records during their brief existence and that none of the songs Ronstadt covered had become hits, but such was the nature of the brain trust at A&M Records in 1983 when it was decided to...DROP Peter Frampton..

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