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Spotlight on Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons

The 60s - Four Seasons

Frankie Valli's first commercial release was "My Mother's Eyes" (as Frank Valley) in 1953. The following year, he joined the Variety Trio and formed the group that evolved into the Variatones (with brothers Tommy and Nick DeVito and Hank Majewski), which between 1954 and 1956, performed and recorded under a variety of names before settling on the name The Four Lovers. The same year, the quartet released their first record, "You're the Apple of My Eye", which appeared on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, peaking at #62. Five additional Four Lovers singles (on RCA Victor Records) were released over the next year, with virtually no sales, airplay, or jukebox play. In 1957, the group's seventh single (this time onEpic) had a similar lack of success.

 

From 1956 until 1960, the group stayed together, performing in clubs and lounges as The Four Lovers and recording on various record labels with various names: Frankie Tyler, Frankie Valley, Frankie Valley and the Travelers, Frankie Valle and the Romans, The Village Voices, and The Topics are some of the 18 "stage names" used individually or collectively by the members of the group.

In 1958, the group started working with producer Bob Crewe, primarily with session work (Crewe wrote "I Go Ape", which Valli recorded with the intention of releasing it as a "solo" single). Later that year, the Four Lovers were performing in Baltimore on the same stage as The Royal Teens, who was riding the wave of success of "Short Shorts", a song that was co-written by then-15-year-old Bob Gaudio, who was also the Royal Teens' guitarist.

The next year, Gaudio replaced Nick DeVito in the lineup, with Gaudio doubling as both keyboardist and guitar, and Charles Calello replaced Majewski on bass (Callelo would soon return as the group's arranger). In 1960, Calello left and was replaced by Nick Massi.

Despite the change of personnel, the fortunes of The Four Lovers did not change in the beginning of 1961, when they failed an audition for a lounge at a Union Township, Union County, New Jersey bowling establishment. According to Gaudio, "We figured we'll come out of this with something. So we took the name of the bowling alley. It was called the Four Seasons." Despite the last few years of frustration of the Four Lovers, this proved to be the turning point of the group: on a handshake between guitarist/keyboardist/composer Bob Gaudio and lead singer Frankie Valli, the Four Seasons Partnership was formed.

The Four Seasons released their first single in 1961 ("Bermuda"/"Spanish Lace" on Gone Records). While the single did not chart, the songs gave the group enough of a following to be signed with Vee Jay Records late that year.

In 1962, the group released their first album featuring the single "Sherry", which was not only their first charted hit but also their first number one song. Under the guidance of producer/songwriter Bob Crewe, The Four Seasons followed up "Sherry" with several million-dollar hits, including "Big Girls Don''t Cry" (their second #1 hit), "Walk Like A Man" (their third #1), "Candy Girl".  In addition, they released a Christmas album in December of 1962 and charted with a unique rendition of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town".

From 1962 to early 1964, only the Beach Boys matched the Four Seasons in record sales in the United States, and their first three Vee Jay non-holiday single releases marked the first time that a vocal group hit #1 on the Billboard singles charts with three consecutive entries (ignoring their version of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.")

Despite the group's success, Vee Jay Records was under financial distress. The label eventually filed for bankruptcy, and a royalty dispute between Vee Jay and The Four Seasons headed to the courtrooms. At the end of 1963, after several successful albums and lack of money from them, The Four Seasons left Vee Jay Records and moved over to Phillip Records, a division of Mercury Records . In the settlement of the lawsuit against Vee Jay in 1965, Vee Jay retained release rights for all material the group recorded for the label and exercised them liberally over the following three years. The group was obligated to deliver one final album to Vee Jay, which they did in the form of a live LP in 1966.

The change of label did not diminish the popularity of the Four Seasons in 1964, nor did the onslaught of the British Invasion and Beatlemania. However, "Dawn Go Away" (recorded for Atlantic Records, which rejected it) was kept from the #1 spot on the Hot 100 by no fewer than three Beatles singles in the March 21, 1964, edition (two weeks later, the top 5 slots were filled by Beatles singles).

In mid-July of that year, the Four Seasons made their fourth trip to the top of the singles charts with "Rag Doll"; additional massive-selling singles from 1964 on their new label included "Ronnie", "Big Man in Town,"Save it For Me", "Bye Bye Baby Goodbye" and "Girl Come Running". In the meantime, Vee Jay continued releasing Four Seasons singles from their vault, including "Stay" and "Alone." The ultimate in Vee Jay recycling occurred on October 1, 1964, when the label produced a double album consisting of reissues of old Four Seasons recordings and the Vee Jay Introducing... The Beatles album (from 1963) and dubbed it The Beatles vs. the Four Seasons ("The International Battle of the Century!").

Nick Massi left The Four Seasons in September 1965. The group's arranger, Charles Calello, (and former member of the Four Lovers), stepped in as a temporary replacement. A few months later, Joe Long was permanently hired. Joe became the mainstay on bass and backing vocals until 1975. Joe also served as concert emcee and conductor. In the meantime, The Four Seasons released recordings under a variety of names, including The Valli Boys, The Wonder Who?, and Frankie Valli (every Valli "solo" recording from 1965 to "My Eyes Adored You" in 1975 had the same personnel and production team as the Four Seasons disks that were recorded at the same time: his first post-1961 single without the Four Seasons was 1975's "Swearin' to God"). And even then, it was produced by Bob Crewe.

More Top 20 singles credited to the Four Seasons followed in 1965, 1966, and 1967, including "Let's Hang On!", "Don't Think Twice" (as the Wonder Who?), "Working My Way Back to You", "Opus 17 (Don't You Worry 'Bout Me)", "I've Got You Under My Skin", "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" (released under Valli's name as a "solo" single), "Beggin'", "Tell It to the Rain", "C'mon Marianne" (their last Top Ten hit of the 1960s), and "I Make a Fool of Myself" (Frankie Valli "solo"). By late 1967, like that of their West Coast brethren, The Beach Boys, the Four Seasons' record sales were tapering off. "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" provided a "last hurrah" for the group in early 1968 (reaching #24 on the Hot 100), just before Valli's last "solo" hit of the 1960s, the #29 "To Give (The Reason I Live)".

By 1969 the group's popularity was deteriorating as public interest moved away from street corner pop or do wop and towards rock with a harder edge, deeper soul music, and music with more socially conscious lyrics. The group's last single on Philips, "Patch of Blue," featured the group's name as "Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons," but the change in billing did not change the act's lack of success in 1970.

After leaving Philips, the newly rechristened act signed onto Motown Records with disastrous results. The first LP, Chameleon, failed to sell after it was released by Motown subsidiary label MoWest Records in 1971. A Frankie Valli "solo" single from 1971 ("Love Isn't Here" on Motown) and three Four Seasons singles ("Walk On, Don't Look Back" on MoWest in 1972, "How Come" and "Hickory" on Motown in 1973) - sank without a trace. A recording that was destined to reach the upper parts of the UK singles chart, " The Night", was not commercially released as a single by Motown in the United States after promotional copies (showing the artist as Frankie Valli) were distributed in 1971.

In late 1973 and early 1974, The Four Seasons recorded eight songs for a planned second Motown album, which the company refused to release to the public. Later in 1974, the record label and The Four Seasons parted ways. On behalf of the Four Seasons Partnership, Valli initially tried to purchase the entire collection of master recordings the group made for Motown; upon hearing the amount needed to buy them all, he arranged to purchase one recording for $4000 (US): "My Eyes Adored You".

Valli took the tape to Private Stock Records owner and founder Larry Uttal, who, after repeated listenings of the Four Seasons recording, wanted to release it as a Frankie Valli "solo" single. While the group remained unsigned in the latter part of 1974, Valli had a new label — and a new solo career.

While the hits for the Four Seasons had dried up in the first half of the 1970s, the group never lost its popularity as a performing act. Longtime member Joe Long stayed in the group until 1975. The new lineup boasted two new lead singers in Don Ciccone (formerly of The Critters) and Gerry Polci, who eased the singing load on an ailing Frankie Valli (who was gradually losing his hearing due to otosclerosis. Eventually, surgery restored most of his hearing).

As "My Eyes Adored You" climbed the Hot 100 singles chart in early 1975, Valli and Gaudio managed to get The Four Seasons signed with Warner Bros. Records as the disco era dawned. At the same time, Uttal was persuaded to release The Four Seasons Story, a two record compilation of the group's biggest hit singles from 1962 to 1970. It quickly became a gold record, selling over one million copies before the RIAA started awarding platinum records for million-selling albums.

In 1975, record sales exploded for both Valli and the Four Seasons as both acts had million-selling singles in the United States ("My Eyes Adored You" hit #1 on the Hot 100 for Valli in March, "Who Loves You" peaked at #3 in November for the group). In the United Kingdom, Tamla Motown released " The Night" as a single and had it reach the #7 position on the UK singles chart.

Valli had his first truly solo hit in the summer of 1975 (all of his prior "solo" hits were in fact Four Seasons productions) when the Bob Crewe-produced "Swearin' to God" followed "My Eyes Adored You" into the upper reaches of the Hot 100, peaking at the #6 position and capitalizing on the growing disco craze. The song was released in three forms: the eight-minute long album version, the ten-minute-long extended 12 inch single version, and the three-minute-long single version.

The album Who Loves You became a surprise million-seller for the group as it was the first Four Seasons album to feature lead vocals by other than Valli. Gerry Polci did the majority of the lead vocals, sharing them with Valli and Ciccone. The title song had Valli doing the lead on the verses, but none of the trademark falsettos in the chorus; "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)" had Polci sing lead in the first verse, Ciccone in the second, and Valli doing lead vocals only in the chorus; "Silver Star" had Polci doing all the lead vocals, with Valli absent from the recording aside from doing some harmony vocals.

The following year had The Four Seasons hitting #1 for the fifth time with "December, 1963". Although the group also scored a minor hit with "Silver Star", "December 1963" also seems to mark the end of the Seasons' hit recording (a remix version of "December 1963" returned them briefly to the upper reaches of the Billboard singles charts almost two decades later).

The success of Who Loves You increased the popularity of the Four Seasons as a touring group and reignited record, but when 1977's Helicon album was released by Warner Bros., the climate was changing again, both for the group and for Valli. The new record yielded only one single, "Down the Hall", which limped onto the Hot 100. At the same time, Valli's string of solo hits had come to an end as he parted ways with Private Stock Records.

Excluding Valli's 1978 "Grease" single, which hit #1 while the motion picture of the same name became the highest-grossing musical in cinematic history, the last Top 40 hit for the group was behind them. Both Valli and the group released singles and albums on an occasional basis, but after "Grease", only a remixed version of their biggest seller, "December 1963" would visit the upper half of the Hot 100 (in 1994).

In 1984, a long-awaited collaboration between the Four Seasons and the Beach Boys, "East Meets West", was released on FBI Records, owned by the Four Seasons Partnership. The record didn't sell as well as expected.

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