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Music / Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons

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Clockwise from top left: Nick Massi, Bob Gaudio, Frankie Valli, Tommy DeVito

The classic New Jersey Italian-American rock band with countertenor Frankie Valli in the lead. His soaring falsetto helped provide the group's trademark sound, though later hits do not feature the falsetto. Odds are you've heard one of their songs on an oldies station, as they play in constant rotation. Some of their biggest hits (most of which were written by the songwriting collaboration of Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe) include "Walk Like a Man", "Sherry", and "Big Girls Don't Cry". They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

Frankie Valli began his career in 1953 with his first single, "My Mother's Eyes". He then joined Nick DeVito, Tommy DeVito and Hank Majewski in a group first known as The Variety Trio, then as The Variatones, and finally as The Four Lovers when they got a recording contract with RCA Victor. Said contract led to a minor hit with "You're the Apple of My Eye" in 1956, but the next four singles and an LP failed to chart and RCA dropped them. A subsequent contract with Epic Records only lasted one non-charting single.

The group then met producer Bob Crewe in 1958, who signed them to a three-year contract which had them working as background vocalists and musicians on Crewe's productions, as well as recording individually or collectively under many names. Membership was fluid during that time, eventually settling by 1959 into the classic quartet of Frankie Valli, Tommy DeVito, Nick Massi and Bob Gaudio (formerly of The Royal Teens of "Short Shorts" fame).

After a failed audition at a bowling alley in 1960, the group figured they should gain something from that failure, so they took the name of the bowling alley — The Four Seasons. At the same time, in a handshake agreement, Valli and Gaudio formed The Four Seasons Partnership, which still exists to this day. This "new" group released their first single, "Bermuda", on Gone Records in 1961. It did not chart, and it looked like they would have to settle for background session work yet again, but then Bob Gaudio wrote "Sherry". That song went to #1 in 1962 and began the group's association with Vee-Jay Records, for which they would record several hits including their second and third #1s, "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Walk Like a Man".

By mid-1963, Vee-Jay was struggling to pay the Four Seasons' royalties, which forced them to sue the label and jump over to Philips Records in 1964. Despite this, the hits kept coming: some of the Philips-era hits include "Dawn", "Rag Doll" and "Let's Hang On!". Nick Massi left the group in late 1965, replaced briefly by their arranger Charlie Calello, then by Joe Long. The group's popularity fell by the late 1960s due to changing musical tastes; the 1968 Concept Album Genuine Imitation Life Gazette, while ambitious, was a commercial failure and their contract with Philips ended in 1970.

The group signed with Motown in 1972 as part of the label's (ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to expand its reach to the West Coast. They released one album, Chameleon, on the subsidiary label MoWest, but the parent company didn't seem to have much faith in the band and gave it little promotion, causing it to flop. They recorded some songs for a second album, but Motown wasn't interested and instead they chose to release the band from their contract. Valli attempted to purchase the rights to the unreleased songs but in the end was only able to acquire the rights to one song, "My Eyes Adored You", which he paid $4,000 for. The song would be released by Private Stock Records as a Frankie Valli solo record and would hit #1 in early 1975. This success led to renewed interest in The Four Seasons, who signed with Warner (Bros.) Records that year. By that point, Tommy DeVito and Joe Long had left the group, and Bob Gaudio had quit performing (though he remained on board as a writer and producer). A new version of the band was assembled; Gerry Polci and Don Ciccone joined Valli as a Vocal Tag Team, while the musical backing would be provided by session musicians. This new lineup had hits like "Who Loves You", "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)" (yet another #1) and "Silver Star" but their popularity soon faded again. Valli, meanwhile, had a few solo hits such as "Swearin' to God" and "Grease".

Gaudio and Valli would team up for two more albums, 1985's Streetfighter and 1992's Hope + Glory, both recorded with a crew of studio musicians and released under the Four Seasons name. Neither sold particularly well, and the group has not released any new music since.

There is a movie of the same name, but it has nothing to do with this group. Nor does the Antonio Vivaldi work. The stage show and movie that does profile this group is Jersey Boys.

"Trope Like A Man":

  • Alpha Bitch: "Walk Like A Man" seems to be about a boy who is troubled by one.
  • Artist and the Band: They got their current name in 1970. The were previously known as The Four Seasons and their legal name was The Four Seasons Partnership.
  • Concept Album: 1968's Genuine Imitation Life Gazette. Inspired by The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and co-written by folk artist Jake Holmes, it was essentially their equivalent to The Beach Boys' SMiLE, except it was finished and released (then mostly ignored).
  • Cover Album: Their 1965 album The 4 Seasons Sing Big Hits contained Burt Bacharach covers on one side and Bob Dylan covers on the other side.
  • The Cover Changes the Gender: Covered the Shirelles' "Will You Love Me Tomorrow", though the original was not gender-specific as it was.
  • Crossover: A duet between the Four Seasons and The Beach Boys would have been a surefire hit, right? Sadly, "East Meets West" was released in the early '80s, at a time when both groups were considerably less relevant.
  • Distaff Counterpart: The Rag Dolls were basically Bob Crewe's attempt at a Girl Group equivalent for The Four Seasons. Their name is obviously inspired by one of the guys' hits and their first single, "Society Girl", is a sequel of sorts to "Rag Doll". They only had minor hits with that and "Dusty", but their entire discography (four singles) is prized by 1960s girl group enthusiasts.
  • The '50s: Actually, the early and mid-60s outside of "Apple of My Eye" (1956), but the group's signature sound (sometimes categorized as "Brill Building pop", much like Bobby Darin, Paul Anka, and Neil Sedaka) was a style more associated with the late 1950s and early 1960s than anything. In fact, some don't even realize that the later '70s hits are The Four Seasons.
  • Gossipy Hens: "Mrs. Stately's Garden" from Genuine Imitation Life Gazette is about a group of older women who meet for tea and pass gossip about everyone in town.
  • Jukebox Musical: Jersey Boys is their story.
  • Non-Indicative Name: Their 1967 album New Gold Hits was a regular studio album and not a Greatest Hits Album.
  • One Head Taller: Frankie Valli (5'5") and Bob Gaudio (6'2")
  • One-Woman Song: "Sherry", "Marlena", "Dawn", "Ronnie", and that's just the hit songs that have single word titles.
  • Same Face, Different Name: They released records under a variety of names: The Four Seasons, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, The 4 Seasons Featuring the "sound" of Frankie Valli (yes, that was the actual artist credit), and the Valli Boys. They also did a few novelty songs as The Wonder Who?, complete with "guess who they are" promotional gimmick. And then there's the issue of Frankie Valli's solo recordings, which were Four Seasons records in everything but name (they used the same studio and band personnel, and apart from not featuring Frankie's falsetto nor the other three Seasons, were not radically different in style from the songs released under the Four Seasons banner). Four Seasons compilations usually include some of Valli's bigger solo hits as well, particularly "Can't Take My Eyes Off You"; in fact, some of the group's regular studio albums include Valli solo recordings.
  • Self-Plagiarism:
    • As Wikipedia puts it, "Working My Way Back to You" is in some ways a re-casting of the melody from their previous hit, 'Let's Hang On!'." The same songwriting team did both songs (Sandy Linzer and Denny Randell).
    • Among Frankie Valli's solo recordings, "I Make a Fool of Myself" is a rewrite of "Can't Take My Eyes Off You".
  • Soprano and Gravel: Bass singer Nick Massi would often add short vocal interjections as a contrast to Frankie Valli's falsetto vocals.
  • Spotlight-Stealing Squad: Went from being simply The Four Seasons to being Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. However, it's justified given that as time went on and original members departed the group, the group increasingly became Frankie Valli, writer/vocalist Bob Gaudio, and a crew of studio musicians. And Valli was always the group's drawing card anyway.
    • Originally they were The Four Lovers whose lone hit was "Apple of My Eye" in 1956. It'd be six more years before Frankie Valli would gain another hit. And oddly enough, before The Four Lovers, he did traditional pop, such as "My Mother's Eyes" in 1953.
  • Stage Name: A couple members of the group donned pseudonyms, most notably Frankie Valli himself, born Francesco Castelluccio. Bassist Nick Massi's birth name was Nicholas Macioci while his eventual replacement Joe Long was born Joseph LaBracio.
  • Stepford Suburbia: A recurring theme of Genuine Imitation Life Gazette.
  • Step Up to the Microphone:
    • Nick Massi has a much more prominent singing part than usual in "Dumb Drum" and takes the lead vocal on "Don't Let Go", both Album Filler tracks.
    • Bob Gaudio usually just sang background vocals, but he duets with Valli on "Hope and Glory".
  • Unbuilt Trope:
    • "Patch of Blue" sounds like the guys doing a song In the Style of Bruce Springsteen circa Born to Run, except they recorded and released it five years earlier, in 1970.
    • "The Night", originally released in 1972 (and a hit in the UK in 1975 after getting revived on the Northern Soul scene), has been cited as a landmark proto-Disco song, with a prominent bass part and memorable mix of steady beats and an ominous organ hook, which makes their turn toward a more disco-oriented sound later in the decade seem more logical.
  • Visit by Divorced Dad: "Saturday's Father" is about a dad who gets to be with his kids on Saturdays, but when he brings them back home, he and his ex-wife don't even speak to each other.
  • Vocal Tag Team: When Gaudio reformed the group in the mid-70s, Gerry Polci and Don Ciccone were brought in to share lead vocals with Valli. Many of their bigger hits from this period gave Frankie a more limited role. "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)" featured Polci singing the verses and the chorus (Valli sang only the song's bridge), while "Silver Star" was almost a Polci solo performance (Valli provided some harmony vocals toward the end of the song, but that was it). Don Ciccone didn't sing lead on any singles, but he did sing several album tracks, including "Mystic Mr. Sam" and "Rhapsody". And even when Valli had a more prominent role, it sometimes had a different dynamic from the group's 1960s sound—on "Who Loves You", he sang only the lead, with all of the falsetto provided by other members (Don Ciccone provided most of the falsetto on the recordings from this era). What makes this development especially interesting is that the main impetus for reforming the Seasons in the first place had been the sudden revitalization of Valli's solo career.
    • Their cover of "We Can Work It Out" features Polci, Ciccone, and Valli alternating lead vocals.

Alternative Title(s): The Four Seasons