I consider the Four Seasons as having been “before my time.” (I conceive of “my time” as running from Percy Sledge singing “When a Man Loves a Woman” in 1964 to Smokey Robinson singing “Sweet Harmony” on his first solo album in 1973, with a second adolescence during my disco bunny days.) “Sherry” (1962), “Big Girls Don’t Cry” (1962), “Walk Like a Man” (1963), and “Rag Doll” (1964) were before I started listening to WLS (Chicago); “My Eyes Adored You” (1974. “December 1963 (Oh, What A Night)” (1975), and “Grease” (1978) after it. All were number one Billboard songs, whereas what I consider the greatest hit of Frankie Valli, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” which surprisingly only reached number two (in 1967) and “Opus 17 (Don’t You Worry ’bout Me),” my favorite Four Seasons song and the only one of which I bought a 45, only reached number thirteen (in 1966).
The absence of “Opus 17” makes me reject the claim to definitiveness in the “The Definitive Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons” compilation disc. It also lacks Valli’s recording (the first, ca. 1965) of what became the one hit of the Walker Brothers, the great, soulful 1966 version “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” (their version also reached #13 btw), though it does include “Silence Is Golden,” a song written by Four Season member (keyboards) and chief songwriter Bob Gaudio, which was the flip-side of “Rag Doll.”
As anyone who has seen “Jersey Boys” (which I only recently did, in Las Vegas; soon there will be a movie version, directed by Clint Eastwood with John Lloyd Young reprising his Tony-award=winning performance as Valli) knows, the group went through a lot of names before taking “Four Seasons” from a Newark. NJ bowling alley where they sometimes performed. And the early 60s ensemble reunited for their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. And Valli has gone on and on and on some more, mostly performing Gaudio songs (though Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees wrote the title song for the movie version of “Grease” for Valli).
Valli had a particularly strong falsetto and those who heard early songs by the group (including its breakout hit “Sherry”) assumed “The Four Seasons” must be black. My favorite line in “Jersey Boys” has a record executive to whom they have tried to sell their music telling them “Come back when you’re black.” “Sherry” topped the R&B charts as well as the pop charts. Reputedly, 200,000 copies of it were sold in the 24 hours of their initial appearance on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” (which aired on Saturday mornings, at least in Minnesota during the 1960s).
Even with later changes of personnel the harmonizing changed very little from what is there on “Sherry.” Valli did not sing entirely falsetto, though his high register is the most distinctive part of the Four Seasons sound. Generally, their upbeat (tempo, not necessarily lyric content) songs teeter into what I would classify as “bubblegum pop” (a term that did not come into widespread usage until 1969 and the Archies’ “Sugar Sugar.” Nonetheless, there was something of a Motown sound before the group signed with Berry Gordy (for a short time, when he was preoccupied with the movie “Lady Sings the Blues”) in such songs as “Let’s Hang On” and, especially “Working My Way Back To You” (my favorite track on the “Definitive” disc in the absence of “Opus 17).
Cole Porter wrote “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” in 1936 for a forgotten MGM musical (Born to Dance) and it has been covered by many, many vocalists (something of a signature song of Frank Sinatra, another Jersey boy, it was also recorded by Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington).
“Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” (1967) written for Valli (solo) by Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio is an enduring standard, often segueing into “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” (first a hit for the Shirelles in 1960). “Can’t” and some of “Will” showed that Valli could croon without his distinctive falsetto. I have to say that I find his falsetto wearing in the heavy dose of a greatest hits album.
Of the 26 tracks, I only want to play about half (Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Walk Like A Man, Dawn, Stay, Rag Doll, Silence Is Golden, Let’s Hang On, Working My Way Back, I’ve Got You Under My Skin, Tell It To The Rain, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Will You Love Me Tomorrow, Who Loves You, Grease). The #1 hit at which I look askance is “December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night!)” form 1975. I like the harmonies of “Toy Soldier,” and Lord knows it has a (n insistent) beat. The other tracks (listed below with their timings) are forgettable and have not made it to my playlist, even in the post-“Jersey Boys” euphoria that led me to buy the album.
TRACKS AND TIMINGS
Big Girls Don’t Cry 2:26
Walk Like A Man 2:18
Candy Girl 2:39
New Mexican Rose 2:48
Dawn (Go Away) 2:47
Rag Doll 3:00
Silence Is Golden 3:08
Bye Bye Baby (Baby Goodbye) 2:33
Toy Soldier 2:32
Girl Come Running 3:00
Let’s Hang On 3:18
Working My Way Back To You 3:05
You’re Ready Now 2:19
I’ve Got You Under My Skin 3:40
Tell It To The Rain 2:38
Can’t Take My Eyes Off You 3:22
Will You Love Me Tomorrow 3:19
My Eyes Adored You 3:32
Who Loves You 4:11
December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night!) 3:21
Silver Star 3:58
The Night 3:21
TOTAL: 72 MINUTES