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The Four Seasons

One of the most popular vocal groups of the '60s, in 2004 The Four Seasons, fronted by falsetto singer extraordinaire Frankie Valli, joined the pantheon of acts - including ABBA, The Beach Boys, Queen and Billy Joel - to have Broadway-style musicals based on their songbooks. The show - Jersey Boys - premiered at the La Jolla Playhouse in California in late 2004, held over three times, and is scheduled for Broadway in late 2005.

Their sound was distinguished by Valli's totally distinctive falsetto lead vocal, with the remainder of the group primarily contributing background and harmony vocals.

The Seasons' lengthy string of hits includes their first to chart - and first No. 1 - Sherry, followed by (among many others), Walk Like a Man; Dawn (Go Away); Rag Doll; Let's Hang On; and C'Mon, Marianne. Concurrently, lead singer Frankie Valli charted with solo hits including Can't Take My Eyes Off You. Their "B" sides and album cuts became hits for The Tremeloes (the Seasons' Silence is Golden), and The Walker Brothers (Valli's The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Any More). Virtually all of the Seasons' hits were written by the team of Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe. Gaudio was also a member of the group; he and Crewe were the Seasons' (and Valli's) producers.

The group's history is rather convoluted, and began several years before their 1962 breakthrough with Sherry. Valli (b. Francis Castelluccio) sang in street-corner groups in his home town of Newark, and (as Frankie Valley) recorded a version of the 1929 George Jessel hit My Mother's Eyes, in 1953. Within a year, he'd formed The Varietones with Hank Majewski and brothers Tommy and Nick DeVito. Signing with RCA Victor, they recorded a marginal hit single, Apple of My Eye, and more than an album's worth of material. During the next few years, Valli recorded for a variety of labels. By 1960, he and Tommy DeVito were calling themselves the Four Seasons (named, evidently, after a local bowling alley), joined by Nick Massi (Macioci) and former Royal Teens keyboardist Bob Gaudio. After a single record (Bermuda) for the Gone label, they signed with Chicago-based Vee-Jay.

It's safe to say that the public had never heard anything quite like Sherry before - Valli's piercing falsetto and the other singers' baritone responses were set against a backing that consisted largely, it seemed, of rhythmic hand-clapping and foot-stomping. The originality was rewarded by a fast rise to the top, as were its successors, Big Girls Don't Cry and Walk Like a Man; all featuring the same "sound."

The hits continued, with the group switching to the new Philips label in 1964 with the No. 1 Dawn (Go Away). For the next couple years, both Philips and Vee-Jay were issuing Seasons singles; the group was charting on both labels. Massi left in 1965, replaced by Charles Calello (who would become a well-known arranger), and then Joe Long. The Seasons' final album for Philips, Genuine Imitation Life Gazette, was a serious effort, inspired by the emerging crop of topical singer-songwriters and co-written by Jake Holmes. While the 1969 album charted, sales were relatively insignificant, and the group found themselves without a recording contract.

There was an album on Motown's MoWest subsidiary in 1972, and Valli returned to the charts with My Eyes Adored You and Swearin' to God in 1974.

Fronted by Valli, the Seasons returned to the charts with a smash in 1976, with the dance-oriented Who Loves You?, followed by the even more popular December 1963 (Oh What a Night). Valli left for more solo records including the newly-written theme from the hit film musical Grease, then returned. Gaudio had stopped performing with the group, though continued as a producer. Among the lead singers form 1976 on were the group's drummer, Gerry Polci; and Don Ciccone, formerly of The Critters. Valli reunited with what was left of the group for a live reunion album, recorded at New York's Madison Square Garden and released in 1981.

The Four Seasons were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

© 2004