By Gillian G. Gaar
The British Invasion of 1964 is said to have swept the charts of American music. But some acts managed to hold their own, including The Beach Boys, The Supremes and The Four Seasons. The New Jersey vocal group, featuring the unmistakable falsetto of Frankie Valli, landed seven singles in the Top 40 during that heady year and even kept the Fab Four from the top spot when “Rag Doll” topped the charts for two weeks — no mean feat at a time when The Beatles were at No. 1 for 20 weeks that same year.
All told, The Four Seasons would have an impressive 27 Top 40 hits during the 1960s, four of them No. 1’s. They’ve since come to be regarded as one of the top vocal groups of all time, having sold an estimated 175 million records worldwide. In 2005, a Broadway musical about the group, “Jersey Boys,” introduced The Four Seasons to a whole new generation, opening to rave reviews and winning four Tony awards, while the show’s original cast recording won a Grammy. Clearly, The Four Seasons’ unique blend of doo-wop, R&B and pop is timeless.
But it wasn’t so easy getting the group off the ground. It begins with Newark, N.J.,-born Francis Castelluccio, who’d wanted to become a singer ever since seeing Frank Sinatra in concert. He joined his first professional group, The Variety Trio, in 1951, then began his recording career in 1953 with the single “My Mother’s Eyes,” credited to Frank Valley (a name he took when country singer Jean Valley introduced him to producer Paul Kapp as her brother). His next group was Frankie Vally and The Travelers, and then The Variatones, who were signed to RCA and released singles as The Four Lovers. He also recorded as Frankie Valle & The Romans and under the name Frankie Tyler.
While working with The Four Lovers, Valli met Bob Gaudio of The Royal Teens when both groups were appearing on Baltimore’s teen dance program “The Buddy Deane Show.” The Royal Teens had their own hit with “Short Shorts,” written by Gaudio, and in 1959 he joined Valli’s group. The classic lineup of Valli, Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi took the name The Four Seasons from a bowling alley lounge in Union, N.J.
The Four Seasons’ first single, the eerie “Bermuda,” was released in 1961 on Gone Records. The record failed to chart, and the group moved to Vee-Jay. While Valli’s tenor was prominent on “Bermuda,” it was pushed to the foreground on “Sherry” (written by Gaudio), and that did the trick: The single topped the charts for five weeks (and hit No. 1 on the R&B chart, as well). The Four Seasons were on their way.
The next few years saw The Four Seasons releasing some of their most memorable hits, most of them written or co-written by Gaudio: “Big Girls Don’t Cry” (No. 1), “Walk Like A Man” (No. 1), “Candy Girl” (No. 3), “Dawn (Go Away)” (No. 3), “Rag Doll” (No. 1), “Let’s Hang On” (No. 3). Valli’s soaring falsetto made the songs stand out from the pack, as did the harmonizing by the entire group.
As a group, The Fours Seasons were prolific; they also released records under the name “The Wonder Who?” with their cover of Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice” reaching No. 12. Valli also released records as a solo artist, becoming the first to record “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore,” later a hit for The Walker Brothers, and reaching No. 2 with “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” in 1967.
But by the mid-’60s, Nick Massi left the group, the first of many lineup changes. Transformations in musical styles also led to lower chart placings, but Valli held The Four Seasons together, putting them back on top in the ’70s with “Who Loves You” and “December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night),” as well as having solo hits with “My Eyes Adored You” and “Grease,” the theme song from the hit film. The Four Seasons were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, and their place in music history was assured.
Then came “Jersey Boys,” which told the story of the group’s career through its songs. It opened on Broadway on Nov. 6, 2005, and became an immediate hit.
Nominated for seven Tony awards, it won four (appropriately enough), including Best Musical. “Jersey Boys: Original Broadway Cast Recording” also won a Grammy for Best Musical Show Album, and it eventually was certified platinum. A London production received equal acclaim, followed by productions in Canada, Australia, and numerous U.S. touring productions. The show is now set to be made into a film, with Valli and Gaudio serving as executive producers.
“I’m still out there, singing,” says Valli’s character at the end of “Jersey Boys.” “Like that bunny on TV with the battery. I just keep going and going and going.”
Undoubtedly, the music of The Four Seasons will keep going and going, as well.