Frankie Valli & The 4 Seasons
Jersey Beat: The Music of Frankie Valli & The 4 Seasons
#7 Boxed Set/Live Album/Music DVD for 2007
First Appeared in The Music Box, August 2007, Volume 14, #8
Written by John Metzger
Fri August 10, 2007, 06:00 AM CDT
There was a time when Frankie Valli & The 4 Seasons ruled the pop charts in a fashion that was nearly as dominating as The Beatles and Elvis Presley. While the latter acts became cultural icons, however, Frankie Valli & The 4 Seasons largely was forgotten, despite the fact that the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. Then, along came Jersey Boys, a wildly successful Broadway musical that tells the story of The 4 Seasonsí evolution from the perspective of each of the groupís original members. It succeeded in a climate in which plays based upon the music of The Beach Boys (Good Vibrations) and Elvis Presley (All Shook Up) had failed. Frankie Valli & The 4 Seasons, it seems, just might have the last laugh.
Inspired by the Jersey Boys phenomenon, Rhino has taken another shot at providing a comprehensive overview of The 4 Seasonsí oft-overlooked canon. The result is Jersey Beat: The Music of Frankie Valli & The 4 Seasons, and it effectively says everything that needs to be said about the bandís work. All of the hits ó Sherry, Walk Like a Man, Big Girls Donít Cry, Rag Doll, Canít Take My Eyes Off You, Who Loves You, and December 1963 (Oh What a Night) among them ó are here, of course, but so are numerous, less-familiar b-sides and album tracks. By spreading 76 songs and 12 vintage performance clips across three CDs and one DVD, Jersey Beat: The Music of Frankie Valli & The 4 Seasons proves to be a sterling collection of material that charts the bandís highs as well as its lows. In the process, it beautifully portrays how The 4 Seasons, for better or worse, ambitiously followed the commercial pop market without ever losing sight of its distinctive flavor.
When The 4 Seasons came together in 1961, Valli already had been performing for the better part of eight years, and he had flirted momentarily with success as a member of The Four Lovers. The 4 Seasons formation as well as the genesis of its relationship with producer Bob Crewe, however, couldnít have been better timed. Pop music was in a state of complete disarray, and a huge vacuum had been created when rockís early pioneers ó Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, and Jerry Lee Lewis ó for one reason or another, became less relevant. The market soon would be flooded by a slew of Motown and British Invasion acts, but the gap also gave The 4 Seasons an opportunity to emerge and stake its claim upon the pop charts.
Sherry, The 4 Seasonsí first single, was a breath of fresh air when it was released in 1962. Like all of the groupís early endeavors, the song was deceptively simple. Taking an approach that was similar to Dion & The Belmonts, The 4 Seasons fused doo wop with R&B, while drawing heavily upon the Italian-American, street-corner harmonies of the environment in which it was birthed. Valliís falsetto vocal was an indisputably potent force, but lurking beneath the surface of songs such as Walk Like a Man was the rhythmic drive of early garage rock. The 4 Seasonsí impeccable pop sensibility served as a huge inspiration to Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys, and cuts like Candy Girl and Marlena as well as the orchestrated complexity of Silence Is Golden and Around and Around (AndAroundandAround) highlight precisely how much give and take occurred between the two ensembles over the years.
Save for its formative moments, The 4 Seasons never really stood poised at the forefront of any of rockís movements, per se, which might explain why it so often has been overlooked. Nevertheless, Valli and multi-instrumentalist/principal songwriter Bob Gaudio ó the only two constants in the group ó became, with the help of Crewe, extraordinarily good at identifying, adopting, and synthesizing popular trends in order to create music that fit within whatever framework the current market happened to be using. At the same time, the outfit also subtly laid a foundation for the future.
Jersey Beat: The Music of Frankie Valli & The 4 Seasons makes it readily apparent that virtually every nuance that transpired in popular culture during its existence eventually found its way into The 4 Seasonsí work. Rag Doll, for example, connected Phil Spectorís sculpting of The Ronettesí sound to his work with The Shangri-Las; southern Californiaís sunshine pop movement, particularly the folk-oriented styles of The Turtles and Barry McGuire, was reflected in Betrayed and Everybody Knows My Name; Frank Sinatraís big band arrangements were appropriated for use in Canít Take My Eyes Off You and I Make a Fool of Myself; and Toy Soldier provided at least a partial template to the material on The Zombiesí Odessey & Oracle as well as to Saturdayís Father from The 4 Seasonsí own psychedelic opus The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette. Elsewhere, The Animals lurked within Pity; Genuine Imitation Life improbably paid tribute to The Beatles; hints of Neil Diamondís solo career surfaced in The Proud One, Begginí, and Patch of Blue; and Billy Joel took what he needed from tracks such as Ronnie, while The Doors transformed Címon Marianne into Touch Me. Even Valliís dalliances with disco, both with and without The 4 Seasons ó see December 1963 [Oh, What a Night] and Who Loves You for the former, Sweariní to God and Grease for the latter ó were natural extensions of the ensembleís classic sound.
Not everything that The 4 Seasons did, of course, was durable or accomplished. Peanuts and Lonesome Road never transcend the status of being goofy throwaways, and sitting alongside the irresistibly magnificent, horn-kissed nugget Letís Hang On! is the weird, soul-infused, barbershop quartet-style interpretation of Bob Dylanís Donít Think Twice (Itís All Right). Yet, even here, The 4 Seasons was so serious about what it was doing, and it was so confident in its delivery that the group convincingly sold even its lesser material.
Like all outfits that achieve an extended period of success, The 4 Seasons milked each formula that it unveiled for as long as it possibly could. Given how rapidly the landscape of pop music changed during the í60s and early í70s, however, the groupís long life would not have been possible if the ensemble also hadnít been extremely versatile. Whenever the basic, sonic architecture shifted, The 4 Seasonsí approach fluidly followed suit. Consequently, Jersey Beat: The Music of Frankie Valli & The 4 Seasons is more than just a retrospective. It presents an intriguing encapsulation of the evolution of pop music, and it is likely to be a revelation to all but the bandís biggest fans. Ĺ
Of Further Interest...
Jersey Beat: The Music of Frankie Valli & The 4 Seasons
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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