Friday August 3, 2007
For years now, it's been easy to forget The Four Seasons ever existed, even though, as Nik Cohn once said, if aliens landed and you had three minutes to explain the idiot joy of pop music to them, you'd only have to play them "Sherry", "Rag Doll" or "Big Girls Don't Cry".
But now, out of nowhere, The Four Seasons' reputation is being salvaged. Just released is a fine career-spanning box set called Jersey Beat; their Jersey Boys musical has been a huge Broadway hit; French production team Pilooski have reworked their 1968 single Beggin'; and the Klaxons have recorded their northern soul classic The Night. Oh, and Radio 2 have a four-part documentary in the works. No question, there's something in the air.
Frankie Valli had been recording for three years before he joined the Four Lovers in 1956, the group that became The Four Seasons in 1961. Fame was worked at, sweated for. "We were out there. People think we were an overnight success, but when we weren't singing, we were filling in to feed families. I was a young kid working in a bowling alley, setting up pins. Also a hairdresser, construction worker, florist, I drove trucks. Whatever I had to do."
After aspiring singer Joe Pesci introduced Bob Gaudio to the group, they had themselves a songwriter. When producer Bob Crewe heard Valli's unearthly voice in 1962 he decided he had to work with them: suddenly it all clicked, and they scored three US No1 hits on the bounce with "Sherry", "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Walk Like a Man".
After years of performing "Volare" and comedy schtick for drunks, Valli was a little freaked by this leap. "It took a while to sink in. I wasn't too sure. You know what? I was afraid I was dreaming. I was still working in building maintenance repair for the city of Newark, and I asked for a leave of absence to go on tour. Everyone else in the group laughed - they were already buying cars."
When America fell to the British invasion, The Four Seasons realigned their sound with the Motown fuzz of "Let's Hang On", the blue-eyed soul of "Working My Way Back to You", and - best of all - a version of "I've Got You Under My Skin". "The idea came from a date we played in Florida," says Valli. "Sinatra was appearing and we were invited. Just amazing. I couldn't believe it. So, three or four in the morning the phone rings. It was Bob Gaudio. 'Can it wait?' I say. 'No. I got an idea for a song - it's "I've Got You Under My Skin".' 'What? The song we just heard Sinatra do? How can you make it better?' 'Trust me,' he says, 'I've got the whole thing in my head.' And that's how it came out. Almost symphonic. Beautiful."
But the mainstream's move towards the heavy and the hard stopped their run of hits in 1969. Failure hit them hard, and they left Philips to sign with Motown in 1972. Out of this odd combination came a song called "The Night", with a driving bassline, eerie organ sound and an unstoppable chorus. It flopped in 1972 but became a Northern Soul favourite in Britain a couple of years later. (The Seasons also had a No 1 UK hit in 1976 with "December '63"). "Sometimes you do something, you think you've wasted your time. There were a lot of problems. Then all of a sudden it was a major, major hit in England." Reinvigorated, Valli then enjoyed solo hits and put together a new Seasons line-up before the group ended in 1978.
And that was that, until his nine appearances in "The Sopranos" from 2004 and a year later, when Jersey Boys was a shock Broadway smash, picking up four Tony awards. "Even as we speak," Valli says, "I hear people from New York have started auditions for Jersey Boys in London. It's incredible. And you know why else people love it? Because it's all pretty true. Ninety-eight percent of it is right on the money. You know what? You really gotta see it."
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