The Four Seasons Were Better and More Musically Interesting Than You Think

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
June 19 2014 1:54 PM

Where Do I Start With The Four Seasons?

four_seasons
The Four Seasons in 1966

Philips Records via Wikipedia

Jersey Boys, Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of the Tony Award–winning musical, comes out this Friday. The movie documents the men and music of The Four Seasons, a strange band that despite massive commercial success is frequently met with critical indifference and rolled eyes. Perhaps that’s because their sound—largely doo-wop, though in later decades tinged with disco and rock ’n’ roll—was old-timey from the start, a male chorus belting out saccharine love songs. But the Seasons were truly one of the most talented acts of the ’60s and ’70s.

They started out as The Four Lovers. Throughout the ’50s, the Lovers—comprised of teenage phenomenon Frankie Valli and his ragtag bandmates—wallowed in almost-stardom, landing an Ed Sullivan Show appearance in 1956 but mostly failing to chart. In 1960, the group became The Four Seasons, the result of a partnership between Valli and new bandmate Bob Gaudio. The Seasons are synonymous with Valli, but Gaudio was the band’s linchpin: He wrote most of their hits, including “Sherry,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” and the perfect “Rag Doll.” These tunes were then given life by the Seasons’ virtuoso frontman, and many were even notated as “featuring the ‘sound’ of Frankie Valli.”

Advertisement

That sound, of course, is Valli’s falsetto. It was one of two that dominated airwaves in the ’60s, but where Brian Wilson’s was as gentle as a California breeze, Valli’s was piercing and even nasal in the higher registers—a great untethered wail. It was a divisive voice: Either you loved “Sherry”’s elastic “bay-ay-bee”s or they were nails-on-a-chalkboard painful.

Valli's voice was unapologetic, and that word describes The Four Seasons as a whole. Even when the British Invasion, Dylan's socially conscious songwriting, and the psychedelic era rendered their schlocky ballads a tad passé, the group mostly stuck with their doo-wop sound. Not that this approach affected their success—they were the first vocal group in history to have three consecutive singles hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts; the only act to have a Hot 100 No. 1 hit before, during, and after the years that the Beatles had their Hot 100 No. 1 hits; and from ’62 to ’64 only the Beach Boys matched them in record sales. And they did make a few excursions into the experimental: The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette, their wildly ambitious and elaborate opus, is one of the most overlooked albums in American pop. But it was a commercial flop, and, having been released in 1969, was too belated to accrue the acclaim of concept albums like Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper’s.

That’s unfortunate, because the Seasons’ reputation today sadly frames them as one-trick crooners who were eclipsed by the lads from Liverpool and the arrival of a new and more innovative style of rock ’n’ roll. Their back catalog is rich and varied, and though they never produced a revolutionary record like Pet Sounds, they tread similar musical ground—intricate and overlapping arrangements, pure and soaring melodies—and did it very, very well. Below are 10 tracks that will, I hope, get you to take them a little more seriously.

Sherry” (1962)

Big Girls Don’t Cry” (1962)

Dawn (Go Away)” (1964)

Rag Doll” (1964)

Soul of a Woman” (1969)

Who Loves You” (1975)

Sharan Shetty is a writer for Brow Beat. You can follow him on Twitter

TODAY IN SLATE

The Slatest

Ben Bradlee Dead at 93

The legendary Washington Post editor presided over the paper’s Watergate coverage.

This Scene From All The President’s Men Captures Ben Bradlee’s Genius

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Whole Foods Is Desperate for Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again

The XX Factor

I’m 25. I Have $250.03.

My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I’m 25. I Have $250.03. My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.
Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Free Speech

The Congressional Republican Digging Through Scientists’ Grant Proposals

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 3:13 PM Why Countries Make Human Rights Pledges They Have No Intention of Honoring
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:42 PM The All The President’s Men Scene That Perfectly Captured Ben Bradlee’s Genius
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 5:38 PM Justified Paranoia Citizenfour offers a look into the mind of Edward Snowden.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.