Bob Crewe was one of Rock’s greatest writers and producers
(No. 23 in a continuing series on artists who should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but are not)
By Phill Marder
Bob Gaudio was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 as a member of The Four Seasons. There is no inductee more deserving for Gaudio served as the group’s chief songwriter and producer and did the same for many other successful artists as well as being an active vocalist and keyboardist in the Seasons.
However, his chief songwriting and production partner, Bob Crewe, has thus far been ignored by the Hall of Fame. This is a terrible injustice.
Crewe not only wrote the lyrics for many of the Seasons’ hits, he was involved in the writing and/or production of many of Rock & Roll’s greatest recordings by other artists as well. In fact, Crewe was an industry star before he even met Gaudio, though his own career as a singer failed to take off.
The first major blast came in 1957 when Crewe and his then writing partner Frank Slay Jr. put together a double-sided monster called “Silhouettes” and “Daddy Cool.” Crewe produced both sides of what was to become one of Rock’s early classics for the then-unknown Rays, who took it to No. 3. At the same time, versions of both sides by The Diamonds of Canada, probably the best cover group of the era, climbed to No. 10.
Typical of Crewe, the lyrics were not the usual moon-spoon-June. Instead, they related the story of a man who walks past his girlfriend’s house and, through the window shade, sees her silhouette entangled with another’s. He then threatens to beat down her door only to find he’s on the wrong block. The classic re-emerged during the British Invasion when Herman’s Hermits took it to No. 5. “Daddy Cool” also came back as the Darts, a very successful group in the United Kingdom, hit No. 6 on the U.K. charts with their chosen debut single.
That was one tough act to follow, but Crew, still paired with Slay, did it, coming up with a pair of hits for Billy Ford and Lillie Bryant, who, as Billy and Lillie, scored with “La Dee Dah” and “Lucky Ladybug.” Crewe and Slay then unleashed Freddy Cannon with a string of some of the heaviest, raw records in the history of Rock. The first, “Tallahassee Lassie,” hit No. 6 in 1959. That disc was the first I ever played as a DJ and it created instant problems, the thundering bass drum (suggested by Dick Clark) causing the turntable needle to jump all over the 45. How heavy was this record? Supposedly, Mick Jagger was playing it for inspiration when he penned “Brown Sugar.”
Then, of course, there were Crewe’s lyrics, “Well she comes from Tallahassee. She’s got a hi-fi chassis. Maybe looks a little sassy. But to me she’s real classy.”
Sheer poetry, but Crewe did even better on Cannon’s “Humdinger,” waxing, “she’s a humdingin’ witty ditty California city kitty swell-of-a-belle-of-a-girl!”
Leonard Cohen had nothing on this guy.
As the 60s began, so did Crewe’s collaboration with Gaudio, which rivaled the success of any songwriting pair of the Rock era. From “Sherry,” penned by Gaudio and produced by Crewe, to “Let’s Hang On,” penned with Sandy Linzer and Denny Randell, Crewe had a hand in almost all of the Seasons’ recordings. Crewe and Gaudio also collaborated on the Frankie Valli solo recordings, coming up with “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore,” only to see the Walker Brothers’ carbon copy soar to No. 1 in England while also becoming their biggest hit (#13) in the States. But, of course, there were many other Valli solo successes including “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” which has become one of Rock’s true standards, and “My Eyes Adored You,” an effort co-written with Kenny Nolan that hit No. 1 in 1975, sparking a comeback by the Seasons. With Nolan, Crewe also wrote Labelle’s classic “Lady Marmalade,” another No. 1 success.
Meanwhile, Crewe also was working on productions with The Orlons, Dee Dee Sharp, Ben E. King and Diane Renay, penning Renay’s big hit “Navy Blue,” The Toys, Eddie Rambeau, Oliver and Lesley Gore, among others.
The others included Billy Lee & The Rivieras, a Crewe discovery signed to his new DynoVoice label, which became a major industry player with a string of hits. Crewe changed their name to Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels, produced their recordings, and was involved in the writing of the hits “Jenny Take A Ride” and Sock It To Me, Baby!” plus most of their excellent album cuts.
Crewe rightfully became known to industry insiders as “The Boy Genius.” In 1985, he was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. Considering the recordings he was involved in (and there were many others not documented here), it is hard to believe he has not yet received similar recognition from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.