In this song, Frampton is a drowning man looking for someone to throw him a life preserver. The lyric is rather vague, but it's clear he is seeking guidance, asking another to "show him the way."
The lyric could relate to a specific person or to a higher power; Frampton kept it universal on purpose, but he did have a specific inspiration in mind. "I just met somebody that gave me such confidence," he told Melody Maker in 1976. "My life is completely changed. All the lyrics in that song are about me and her."
The original studio version of this song was released on the 1975 album Frampton, Peter's fourth. At the time, he had a modest following and was building a reputation as a stellar live performer. What he didn't have was a hit.
Frampton's label, A&M, had him compile a live album for his next release. He put one together with six songs - none of which were "Show Me The Way" - and played it for his label boss, Jerry Moss, who asked, "Where's the rest of it?"
With the go-ahead to make it a double album, Frampton included "Show Me The Way." Frampton Comes Alive was released in January 1976; by April, it sold a million copies in America.
"Show Me The Way" got the best listener response and the most airplay, so it was issued as the first single, climbing to #6 in May and giving Frampton his first hit. Frampton Comes Alive was the best-selling album of 1976 and eventually sold over 8 million copies.
On the intro to the live version, Frampton used a talkbox, a device hooked up to his guitar that allowed him to create amplified, distorted vocal sounds with his mouth. A talkbox is made with tubing connected to a compression driver (meant to be part of a P.A. system), with the other end going into the performer's mouth. The unit is then hooked up to the guitar amp.
The talkbox effect was a huge hit. Many musicians responded by buying one or trying to make their own. More than a few young people lost some cavities when they created faulty talkboxes and sent electric current into their mouths.
This was one of the first songs U2 performed as a group. They played it at their high school talent show using the band name Feedback.
Along with "Do You Feel Like We Do," this is one of two Peter Frampton songs used in the movie Dazed And Confused, which follows a group of high school kids in 1976.