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

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

Where Do I Start With The 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.”


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


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