Peter Frampton sparks fresh achievement vs. career debate for R&R Hall of Fame

Should Frampton's one great thing cause him to be immortalized?
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Baseball fans are constantly bemoaning the uneven standards that seem to determine entrance into baseball’s Hall of Fame. For instance, if you run into a New York Yankees fan old enough to recall the magical 1961 season, you will get an earful on why Roger Maris deserves enshrinement in Cooperstown.

During that 1961 season, Maris accomplished the unthinkable, breaking the legendary Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record that had stood since 1927. The fan will go on to explain Maris was good for more than just that one season. Over a seven year stretch surrounding ’61, he averaged 32 homers and 90 RBIs per season. That’s something most baseball players would be proud to have on their resume.

But Maris is not in the Hall of Fame, nor should he be. Because the fact is, he was really only truly special during that one season. He was pretty good for a bunch of years surrounding it and was just one of the crowd at both the beginning and the end of his career. His 1961 achievement is worthy of HOF recognition. His entire career is not.

Peter Frampton does not seem worthy of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction

Peter Frampton is the Roger Maris of rock and roll. He should not have been voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last week, but he was. In part, Frampton is in because of his longevity. In part because he is a first-rate, influential guitar player. And in part because he is a genuinely nice guy. I don’t know anyone who has met Frampton who did not agree with all of those statements.

But – and let’s be real for a moment – Peter Frampton is now a Hall of Famer because of one titanic, singular achievement. His 1976 live album Frampton Comes Alive! is the equivalent of Roger Maris’s 61 home runs in 1961.

Frampton supporters will point out his role as one of the founding members of progressive hard rock outfit Humble Pie in the late 1960s. I never saw Humble Pie live, but those who did rave about how good they were in person. You can hear it on Performance Rockin’ the Fillmore from 1971.

But how many bands have you seen in your life who blew you away at a live show? If that were the threshold, there would be thousands of acts in the Hall. In the past few years, I’ve seen shows by artists as diverse as the Dollyrots and Ray Wylie Hubbard that were extraordinary. I’m not calling for them to go into the Hall.

And I hate to point it out, but of the fans that I have met, most of them didn’t even see the Frampton version of Humble Pie. They saw the band after 1971, by which point Frampton had left to go solo and Clem Clempson was playing guitar. Humble Pie actually grew more commercially successful after Frampton left. They may not have been better, but they sold a lot more records. The fact is, if you liked Humble Pie, you liked them first and foremost because of frontman Steve Marriott. He and Frampton may have formed the band together, but it clearly became Marriott’s band in short order.

During his long career as a solo act, Frampton released 18 studio albums, beginning with 1972’s Wind of Change and running through Frampton Forgets the Words, his instrumental album from 2021. Only three of those studio albums, released between 1975 and 1979, cracked the top 40 in the US. Most did not sell well enough to make the top 100.

But Frampton toured a lot, and he remained a dynamic live performer. And that led to Frampton Comes Alive!, the monumental double live album he released in 1976. It stayed at number 1 for ten weeks. It was the top-selling album of the year. It produced three hit singles and it introduced the talk box guitar effect to millions of fans. It was an undeniable cultural tsunami.

And then .. well, Peter Frampton returned to basically being a very good, hard-working rock & roller. He parlayed the success of Frampton Comes Alive! into one more very successful studio album the following year, and then began a long, gradual slide back out of chart prominence. In all, Frampton had 6 singles that landed in the top 50. Five of them came from Frampton Comes Alive! and the follow-up I’m in You, released 18 months apart in 1976 and 1977.

So Peter Frampton was a very good professional guitar player for a long time and had one spectacular achievement in the midst of that long run. Is that enough to land him in the Hall of Fame? It hasn’t been enough for Roger Maris in baseball. Frampton’s fans will argue that I am selling short the rest of his career, but I think I’m being fair. I saw Robben Ford play a little while back and would suggest that Ford is a better, more innovative guitar player than Frampton. The point is that there are a lot of great guitar players out there. Frampton is in a class with many of them. But they don’t have a Frampton Comes Alive! on their resume.

That is the reason Peter Frampton is in the Hall of Fame and none of those other guitar players are. And I don’t think one achievement – whether it’s the biggest-selling live album of all time or breaking Babe Ruth’s unbreakable home run record – gets you into the Hall of Fame.

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