Thursday, 16 May 2013

Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons - The Original Jersey Boys

When Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons were inducted into the Rock and 
Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, it was vindication for a wide and varied 
career that took the New Jersey born singer from the high-pitched joie 
de vivre of early doo wop and rock and roll hits, to score unlikely 
favour with the 1970s Northern Soul scene, before singing the title 
track for the soundtrack of one of the most successful musical films 
ever made.

None of this might have happened if seven year old Francesco Stephen 
Castellucio had been taken by his mother to see another Frankie, with 
the second name of Sinatra, at the Paramount Theatre in New York. It 
was there and then that little Frankie recognised his destiny, and 
decided to pursue a singing career and become a star. It would be 
another decade before Valli made his public debut, when he was asked up 
onstage for a guest spot by local act, The Variety Trio. The band 
included future Four Seasons Nick Macioci and Tommy DeVito, and once 
The Variety Trio disbanded, the pair became part of the house band at 
The Strand, in New Brunswick, with Valli on bass and vocals.

With a surname affectionately poached from Texas Jean Valley, his 
favourite singer, in 1953 the then Frankie Valley cut his debut single, 
My Mother's Eyes. Around this time, Valli and lead guitarist DeVito 
quit the Strand to form The Variatones, with former Variety Trio member 
Nick Macioci (now Nick Massi) joining on bass guitar and vocals after 
various line-up changes. In 1959, Bob Gaudio, formerly of The Royal 
Teens,  joined on keyboards and tenor vocals, and by 1960s The 
Variatones had morphed first into The Four Lovers before finally 
settling as The Four Seasons, named after a New Jersey bowling alley 
they failed an audition for.

Working with producer Bob Crewe, The Four Seasons found their trademark 
sound, and scored their first number one hit in 1962 with Sherry. The 
song's mix of close harmony and a plaintive yearning was tailor-made 
for the teen market, and the band followed it up with a stream of 
million-selling hits, including Big Girls Don't Cry to Walk Like A Man, 
both of which were shot-through with their trademark sound. Between the 
years 1962 and 1964, only The Beach Boys sold more records in America.

Switching record labels, Valli and The Four Seasons maintained their 
popularity right through the 1960s Beat boom. At the same time, Valli 
had been recording and releasing solo material with varying degrees of 
success. It came as something of a surprise, then, when a 1966 single, 
You're Ready Now, was picked up by UK Northern Soul DJs. Northern Soul 
was a flamboyant dance-crazy scene operating in clubs mainly in the 
north of England, where the focus was on obscure records made by black 
American soul artists of the previous decade. Valli may have been a 
familiar name, but his background did him no harm, as the authentic 
floor-shaker crossed over to reach number eleven in the UK charts.

In 1975, with the Four Seasons still a popular live act, Valli had 
another change of style with My Eyes Adored You, and then, in 1978, 
came Grease. The original stage musical of what would go on to become 
one of the biggest musical film of all team was a loving homage to the 
era in which Valli and The Four Seasons came of age. The songs may not 
have been strictly rock and roll, but who better than to sing the theme 
song to the film than a genuine idol of the era than Valli. Written by 
Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees, Grease the song more resembled a kind of 
disco-lite more than anything. No matter. It was a hit anyway.

As for the rest of the Four Seasons, they too had a number one hit in 
1975 with a Valli-free December 1963 (Oh What A Night), which also 
proved big on the disco scene. Further hits followed, although it was 
only with the original line-ups induction into the Rock and Roll Hall 
of Fame and the world premiere of Jersey Boys in 1995 that one of the 
greatest vocal groups in American pop history began to receive the 
respect and acknowledgement they deserved.

There are many today who may only know Valli from his regular 
appearances as mobster Rusty Millio in acclaimed gangster drama, The 
Sopranos. While various incarnations of the Four Seasons – with and 
without Valli – have toured over the years, in it's way, The Sopranos 
too helped put Valli and the band back on the map. Coming from the 
tough neighbourhood that they did, it would have been easy for Valli 
and co to have fallen into real life gangsterism. As it is, Frankie 
Valli and the Four Seasons produced some of the sweetest sounds of 
their generation, and the world loved them for it.

Commissioned as programme notes for the May 2013 UK tour of New Jersey Nights.


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