Ephemeral is not a household word. It means something fleeting with a short lifespan, like a dixie mug, a newspaper, or a concert poster, and the music industry and Detroit are two of the biggest suppliers of ephemera in the world. Both titans pump out products made to be eaten and thrown away. A pop star is only as good as their latest hit and as disposable as yesterday’s news if musical tastes change. The people of Detroit were tuned into ephemera a long time ago, they just renamed it “Planned Obsolescence”.
From our perspective in 2022, who would have thought that disposable cars and music from the 70s would be so expensive and kept today? What does this say about America in the time of the vaunted malaise? Still mass produced schlock was cooler than anything peddled today. See Kanye, Cardi B, Adam Levine, et al., to see how far we’ve come. Maybe the weather will be nice for today’s pop stars, but the jury is still out, maybe forever.
In the meantime, welcome to Cars and Guitar’s #7, where the perfect driving experience and the fusion of music and machine is what we seek. So buckle up, drop it in reverse, and travel back a thousand years to 1976, when satin-clad rock gods and personal luxury cars ruled the earth. This time, let’s look at the 1976 Oldsmobile Cutlass and Peter Frampton’s “Do You Feel Like We Do” from the multi-platinum album Frampton comes to life! We’ll also zoom in on the day’s events, reconstructing the world that spawned these two icons.
For younger readers or people unfamiliar with Peter Frampton, let’s jump straight to the video of a killer performance of “Do You Feel Like We Do” on Burt Sugarmann’s “Midnight Special” from 1976. The Cool Thing About that old TV show was the featured acts had to perform live, no lip syncing was allowed.
If there was any doubt that Frampton and his band had the musical chops to rub shoulders with the best in the business, this tape will appease any naysayers. There are no backing tracks, pitch shifters or vocoders here. He was just a 27-year-old kid at the top of his game when he ruled rock and roll. He plays a searing interpretation of “Do You Feel Like We Do” with the famous talk box guitar and of course, Bob Mayo on keyboards.
Let’s take a look at the other mega star in this story. Oldsmobile was once the crown jewel of General Motors and in 1976 the Cutlass Supreme was the best-selling car in the country. In 1973, GM shook up the auto industry with a major overhaul of its line of A-body midsize cars and adapted them into its new “Colonnade” design language. Three model years later, in 1975, the cars were ready for a refresh and GM chose Oldsmobile (and Buick) to lead the corporate pack.
Gone are the neo-classic single round headlights and curved body lines, replaced by quad rectangular headlights and sharper styling. Olds didn’t have a Grand Prix or Monte Carlo “personal luxury car”, so the General doled out the extra cash and created two coupe body styles. There was the fastback Cutlass S with its aerodynamic, sloping front end, and the more formal Cutlass Supreme with a notched roofline and cascading vertical grille.
The Buick Century Coupe also received a similar two-model update. Sedans and wagons remained virtually unchanged with carry-over sheetmetal married to updated front ends. There was a 442 model for 1976 and that was the last year for the Rocket 455cid engine. 1977 models had to settle for the 403cid V8 as the best performance mill. Believe it or not, Olds even offered a 260cid V8 and a five-speed for the Cutlass as well.
The car was well received, to say the least, selling over 486,485 units that year. To put that into perspective, GM sells maybe 25,000 Camaros a year today. It continued its winning streak and sold 632,755 units in 1977, the highest production year ever for the Cutlass.
The world was a crazy place in 1976. The first commercially available supercomputer was launched by Cray Research, star wars began filming in Tunisia, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that a comatose Karen Anne Quinlan could be disconnected from her ventilator, and Apple Computer was formed by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Caitlyn (Bruce) Jenner won gold in the men’s decathlon at the Summer Olympics in Montreal, and Jimmy Carter was named president. He won the November general election and is the first candidate from the Deep South to win the presidency since the civil war.
World events aside, 1976 was also a great year for music. Stevie Wonder is out Songs in the key of lifethe Eagles released Hotel CaliforniaBob Seger made his debut Night trips, and unleashed Aerosmith Rocks on the general public. All great efforts, but the undisputed heavyweight album of the year was Frampton comes to life!
Released on January 6, 1976, the double live album debuted at 191 and reached number one on the Billboard 200 four months later, on April 10. It stayed on the charts for 10 non-consecutive weeks at the top spot until the end of the year. It was the best-selling album of 1976, selling over 8 million copies in the United States, and went on to become one of the best-selling live albums ever recorded, selling 11 million albums worldwide. .
Frampton comes to life! was voted “Album of the Year” in 1976 rolling stone reader survey. It stayed on the chart for a total of 97 weeks and was still No. 14 on Billboard’s 1977 Year-End Albums Chart. It was ranked No. 41 on rolling stonein the “50 Greatest Live Albums of All Time” list. readers of rolling stone ranked it #3 in a 2012 poll of all-time favorite live albums. It was recorded in the summer and fall of 1975, at Winterland in San Francisco, the Long Island Arena in Commack, New York, and the SUNY Plattsburgh campus in Plattsburgh, New York.
For most Americans at the time, Frampton was not a household name. Seemingly out of nowhere, he was suddenly the biggest rock star in the world. He cut his teeth as a teenage star in Britain and was well known in rock circles for being a member of Humble Pie in the late 1960s. He went solo in 1971 with little commercial success, but when Living went ballistic five years later, it turned the music world upside down.
He also revived country star Pete Drake’s “talking guitar”. It was an electronic device with a tube that allowed the player to speak words and be amplified with the strings of the guitar. Guitarists Joe Perry, Ritchie Sambora and Joe Walsh all used the dialog, but Frampton’s winding solo in the mid-section of “Do You Feel Like We Do” became the definitive standard. Check out this video of Pete Drake with his brand new invention singing the amazing song “Forever” from 1964.
Unfortunately, Living! was Frampton’s zenith, and although the follow-up album, I am in you sold a million copies, it was considered a commercial disappointment. The nail in the coffin was when he was cast with the Bee Gees in Robert Stigwood’s celluloid version Seargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Crispy old film critic Rex Reed summed up the film, writing that it was “Four rock stooges mugging on camera”. Ouch.
From there, Frampton never replicated his former success. Although he’s kept busy with live appearances and new music over the past few decades, he’s kept a low profile. Unfortunately, he was recently diagnosed with a degenerative disease that affects the extremities, especially the hands and fingers, and he announced his retirement. Check out this recent performance which shows him in great shape, vibrant and precise.
Oldsmobile’s retirement was longer. The Cutlass remained a best-seller after it was downsized in 1978, but the brand was seriously damaged when the front-wheel-drive Cutlass based on the GM-10 platform debuted in 1988. It was all downhill at From there and the 107-year-old division was put on death row in 2000, with the last Oldsmobile rolling off the line in 2004. A sad demise for GM’s Rocket division which brought us the V8 OHV, the first production turbocharger, front-wheel drive and the first touchscreen dashboard.
Sometimes, the passage of years can alter the look. Unlike a tattered concert poster or a ticket stub that falls out of your pocket and flies away, Frampton and Oldsmobile are anything but ephemeral. What were once considered disposable and ephemeral, are now works of art from a bygone chapter in American history.