Cars And Guitars: 1976 Cutlass & Frampton

Cars And Guitars: 1976 Cutlass & Frampton’s “Do You Feel Like We Do”

Ephemera is hardly a household word. It means something fleeting with a short life span, like a dixie cup, a newspaper, or a concert poster, and the music industry and Detroit are two of the largest purveyors of ephemera in the world. Both titans pump out products made to be consumed and thrown away. A pop star is only as good as their last hit and are as disposable as yesterday’s news if musical tastes change. The folks in Detroit were tuned into ephemera long ago, they just rebranded it “Planned obsolescence.”

Herb Albert and Jerry Moss from A&M Records pumped out a ton of ephemera to promote their newly minted superstar.

From our vantage point in 2022, who’d of thought that the throw-away cars and the music from the ’70s would be so cherished and curated today? What does this say about America during the much-ballyhooed malaise era? When even mass-produced schlock was cooler than anything peddled today. See Kanye, Cardi B, Adam Levine, et al., to see how far we’ve fallen. Maybe time will be kind to today’s pop stars, but the jury is still out, maybe forever.

These GM 8×10 publicity shots are textbook examples of ephemera.

In the meantime, welcome to Cars and Guitar’s #7, where the perfect driving experience and the melding of music and machine are what we’re all about. So, buckle up, drop it into reverse, and floor it 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 Alive! We’ll also zoom the lens in on the events of the day, reconstructing the world that sprouted these two icons.

1977 Olds Cutlass 442 models were mostly carryover from 1976.

For younger readers or folks not familiar with Peter Frampton, let’s get right into 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 this old TV show was the featured acts had to perform live, no lip-synching was allowed.

If there was any question that Frampton and his band had the musical chops to rub shoulders with the best in the business, this tape will quell any detractors. There are no backing tracks, pitch shifting, 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 blistering rendition of “Do You Feel Like We Do” with the famous talk box guitar and of course, Bob Mayo on the 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 rattled the car industry with a significant revamp of its A-body intermediate car lineup and suited them up in 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.

1976 Oldsmobile Cutlass S

Gone were the neo-classic single round headlights and curved bodylines, replaced by quad rectangular headlamps and crisper styling. Olds didn’t have a Grand Prix or Monte Carlo “personal luxury car,” so the General doled out the extra money and created two coupe body styles. There was the fastback Cutlass S with its aero, sloped front end, and the more formal Cutlass Supreme with a notchback roofline and upright waterfall grille.

1976 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Brougham

The Buick Century Coupe received a similar, two-model update as well. The sedans and the wagons carried on mostly unchanged with carry-over sheet metal married to updated front ends. There was a 442 model for 1976 and it was the last year for the 455cid Rocket engine. 1977 models had to make do with 403cid V8 as the top performance mill. Believe it or not, Olds even offered a 260cid V8 and a five-speed for Cutlass as well.

The car was well received, to say the least, selling more than 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 went on to sell 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 released by Cray Research, Star Wars began filming in Tunisia, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that 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 the gold medal in the Men’s Decathlon at the Summer Olympics in Montreal, and Jimmy Carter was nominated for president. He won the general election in November and is the first candidate from the Deep South to garner the presidency since the Civil War.

World events aside, 1976 was a great year for music as well. Stevie Wonder released Songs in the Key of Life, the Eagles released Hotel California, Bob Seger debuted Night Moves, and Aerosmith unleashed Rocks on the general public. All great efforts, but the undisputed heavy-weight album of the year was Frampton Comes Alive!

Released on January 6, 1976, the live double album debuted at 191 and hit number one on the Billboard 200 four months later on April 10th. It stayed on the charts for 10 non-consecutive weeks in the top spot through the end of the year. It was the biggest-selling album of 1976, with over 8 million copies sold in the US, and became one of the best-selling live albums ever recorded, selling 11 million albums worldwide.

Frampton Comes Alive! was voted “Album Of The Year” in the 1976 Rolling Stone readers poll. It stayed on the chart for a total of 97 weeks and was still No. 14 on Billboard’s 1977 year-end album chart. It was ranked No. 41 on Rolling Stone‘s “50 Greatest Live Albums of All Time” list. Readers of Rolling Stone ranked it No. 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.

To most Americans at the time, Frampton wasn’t a household name. Seemingly coming out of nowhere, he was suddenly the biggest rock star in the world. He cut his teeth as a teen 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 Alive went ballistic five years later, he turned the music world upside down.

He also revived old-school country star Pete Drake’s “talking guitar,” an electronic device with a tube that allowed the player to mouth words and be amplified along with the guitar strings. Guitarists Joe Perry, Ritchie Sambora, and Joe Walsh have all utilized the talk box, but Frampton’s meandering solo in the middle section of “Do You Feel Like We Do,” has become the definitive standard. Check out this video of Pete Drake with his then-new invention singing the incredible tune, “Forever,” from 1964.

Sadly, Alive! was the zenith for Frampton, and although the follow-up album, I’m 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 take on Seargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Crusty old movie critic Rex Reed summed up the film by writing it was “Four rock stooges mugging in front of a camera.” Ouch.

From there, Frampton never duplicated his former success. Although he has remained busy with live appearances and new music over the last few decades, he has kept a low profile. Sadly he was recently diagnosed with a degenerative disease that affects the extremities, specifically the hands and fingers, and announced his retirement. Check out this recent performance that shows him in fine form sounding vibrant and on point.

Oldsmobile’s retirement was more elongated. The Cutlass remained a best-seller after its downsizing 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 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 the Rocket division of GM that brought us the OHV V8, the first production turbocharger, front-wheel drive, and the first instrument panel touch screen.

2004 Alero was the end of the line for Oldsmobile

Sometimes, the passing of the years can alter one’s perspective. Unlike a tattered concert poster or a ticket stub that falls out of your pocket and blows away, Frampton and Oldsmobile are anything but ephemera. What was once thought of as disposable and fleeting, are now works of art from a long-gone chapter of American history.

About the author

Dave Cruikshank

Dave Cruikshank is a lifelong car enthusiast and an Editor at Power Automedia. A zealous car geek since birth, he digs lead sleds, curvy fiberglass, kustoms and street rods. He currently owns a '95 Corvette, '76 Cadillac Seville, '99 LS1 Trans Am and big old Ford Van.
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