What Ever Happened to the Live Album?

When Peter Frampton stepped onto the stage of the Marin County Civic Center in June of 1975, he was a niche taste, a pink-haired, baby-faced guitarist writing mellow songs after his stint with the noisier Humble Pie. He’d released three solo albums, none of which could be called a commercial smash; most casual music fans had never heard of him.

But he toured ardently and frequently, and the executives at his record label, A&M, knew that audiences responded to Frampton more passionately than record buyers. So they recorded that show and a few others throughout the year and then, in January 1976, released Frampton Comes Alive!, a double album that would end up going platinum six times. In a matter of months, millions of people knew Frampton’s songs; the record sold 16 million copies worldwide, and it took more than 30 years for someone (and not even a rock star, but Garth Brooks) to release a more popular live album.

The live rock and roll album was once a prized way to…

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