BetteBack January 14, 1994: Making A Comeback!

The Boston Globe (Boston, MA)
January 14, 1994 | Steve Morse, Globe Staff


If the ’90s are all about watching people fall, as some pundits say, then that explains why so many celebrities tainted by scandal — from Michael Jackson to Tonya Harding — have received such obsessive media coverage.

But let’s be positive a minute.

The ’90s are also about comebacks. The pop field has been filled with energizing comebacks this past year by Meat Loaf, Boy George, George Clinton, Bette Midler, Duran Duran, UB40 and George Jones, among others. And now comes Peter Frampton, who could write a book on comebacks. His new single, “Day in the Sun,” was the most added new radio track last week.

What are the keys to coming back? Sure, these artists released some good music. But they’ve also been in the right place at the right time, much like Bonnie Raitt and Aerosmith were a few years ago.

“You have to fall really low and then the public will relish you and let you rise again,” says Mitch Schneider, a Los Angeles public relations expert who represents Janet Jackson, Tom Petty and Dwight Yoakam.

“You have to have suffered,” he adds. “Either suffered from drugs or from people forgetting about you. But you need to have carried on, too. You have to keep releasing flop albums or else you can’t come back. You have to serve time at the lower rung of the charts.”

Most of which applies to the above comeback figures, especially Meat Loaf (who fought back from a nervous breakdown), Jones (who fought a drinking problem), Clinton (who toiled in obscurity while young hip-hoppers ripped off his tunes) and Boy George, who made a series of nowhere discs until last year’s “The Crying Game” (from a film soundtrack by the same name) earned him a Grammy nomination for best pop vocal performance.

Suffering in his own way was Frampton, whose 1976 album, “Frampton Comes Alive!,” sold 15 million copies and is still the best-selling live record of all time. But he later endured a car crash (that kept him out for a year) and a death of his friend, Steve Marriott, with whom he was making an album in 1991 before Marriott died in a house fire in England.

No wonder Frampton, now 43, is thrilled with the success of his new single, “Day in the Sun,” which sounds like vintage Frampton with its melodic, guitar-driven structure. “I’ve got my fingers crossed,” says Frampton in a Boston visit this week. “It’s been a long time since radio stations jumped on a track of mine. Maybe I got it right this time. Hey, there’s some great rap music out there, but it’s time to hear some melody again.”

The fates are converging nicely for Frampton. A new Budweiser TV ad follows four golfers who start talking about classic rock figures. When Frampton’s name is cited, one golfer says reverentially, “A moment of silence, please.”

Frampton is likewise hailed in the film “Wayne’s World 2.” Wayne (Mike Myers) describes how it was “standard issue” for a suburban kid to own “Frampton Comes Alive!” in the ’70s. “Mike told me he lost his virginity listening to `Baby I Love Your Way‘ from that album,” says Frampton, who had a cameo role in the film (he was in the crowd at the Waynestock Festival that closes it) but was cut out at the last minute.

Frampton has a new album, “Peter Frampton” (on Relativity Records) coming out Jan. 25. He coproduced it with Kevin Savigar, who toured with Rod Stewart for many years, and it has a full-circle feel harking to his ’70s prime. It’s a more honest, back-to-basics record compared to the computer-programmed music he dabbled with in the late ’80s to no avail.

Frampton had a minicomeback in 1991 when he booked a three-week tour and watched it get extended to seven months. “I ended up playing to 600,000 people, which was pretty good for someone with no new record at the time,” he says. “It made me realize that a Frampton audience was still out there.”

Which is what Bette Midler also realized last summer when she booked her first tour in a decade. “I didn’t realize what would happen,” she told the Globe. “I didn’t plan that people would be lonesome for someone like me. It’s great to see people still like to be entertained and they miss me. When you make an effort for them, they make an effort for you.”

Comebacks can happen in myriad ways. Flamboyant funkateer Clinton, the 52-year-old founder of Parliament-Funkadelic, got a boost from the popular young act, Red Hot Chili Peppers. They performed together at last year’s Grammy awards, causing a sensation when they did Clinton’s “One Nation Under a Groove.” Clinton later told this newspaper: “The vibe was so thorough, the music was so hard, everybody froze in their chairs until it was over, but then everybody went crazy. When it was over, I went `Damn, that was neat!’ ”

Today, a comeback star also often has to take care of business in the video scene. That was a key, for instance, to the resurgence of Bonnie Raitt. “One thing that was critical was her video with Dennis Quaid for the song `Thing Called Love’,” says Raitt record label spokeswoman Judi Kerr. “That brought a lot of attention to Bonnie. It might not have been aired if she didn’t make the decision to put Quaid in it. Video stations didn’t know her at the time, but they knew Quaid, who was really popular then.”

Other keys to comeback success:

– Do a cover song: British reggae group UB40 rode back handsomely last year thanks to a cover of the Elvis Presley hit, “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Radio gave it instant recognition.

– Do a movie track: Oh yes, this same UB40 cover song appeared in the soundtrack to the Sharon Stone film, “Sliver.” Another example of the film gravy train was Boy George’s “The Crying Game.”

– Don’t wait too long: Just look at all the classic rock reunions in recent years. The Doobie Brothers made it back, but others like Ten Years After and Procol Harum did not. “We just waited too long,” says Ten Years After singer Albert Lee.

Many other acts flopped in comeback attempts last year. Cyndi Lauper, Daryl Hall, Terence Trent D’Arby, Bell Biv Devoe and Squeeze all saw their records hit the cutout bins in a hurry. Part of it is today’s impatient climate at major record labels, which “stop promoting your record if it doesn’t do something in six minutes,” says Frampton.

Bidding soon for a comeback is Cheap Trick, the ’70s arena giant that’s been in eclipse in recent years but has a new disc due March 8 from Warner Bros. “We’re poised to have them come back,” says Warners vice-president Bob Merlis, adding that no less a star than Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain has praised Cheap Trick by noting “Nirvana is like Cheap Trick with more distortion.”

“You can’t count anybody out these days,” Merlis says. “Any group can come back. It’s an endless possibility.”

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