The Four Seasons
The Four Seasons (or the 4 Seasons, as they were numerically billed in their heyday) were among the most successful pop singles artists of the rock era. With 46 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 between 1962 and 1995, they were ranked by chart researcher Joel Whitburn as 31st among the top singles acts of the period 1955-2006, and with 39 of those records having charted during the 1960s alone, Whitburn put them in sixth place for that decade. These statistics actually understate the group's chart achievements, however. Since lead singer Frankie Valli maintained a concurrent solo career often using the same songwriters and producers who worked with his band, and since his recordings are usually included with the group's on compilation albums, it is appropriate to factor his chart figures in as well. By that measure, Valli and The Four Seasons taken together were the fourth most successful pop singles act of the '60s, behind only the Beatles, Elvis Presley, and (trailing by a mere 15 points) Ray Charles, and 13th for the 51-year period, ahead of all other American groups.
Despite this massive and long-lasting success and their 1990 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, however, The Four Seasons did not, for most of their career, enjoy the kind of critical approbation and media profile of many of their peers. In seeking to understand why, it may be useful to compare the group with a friendly rival act with which they have many parallels. Like The Four Seasons, the Beach Boys were a band known for their harmonies and influenced by such predecessors as the Four Freshmen. Despite essentially being vocal groups, both The Four Seasons and the Beach Boys were also real bands in which the members also played musical instruments. They both featured distinctive lead singers while also including another group member who was the major creative force, acting as primary songwriter and producer. (In both cases, that member eventually retired from performing to focus on writing and producing for the band.) Both groups entered the charts with their first major hits in the same month, August 1962, and went on to enormous success in the next several years. Both were among the few American performers who managed to withstand the British Invasion led by the Beatles in 1964. As the '60s went on, both adapted their music to changing styles, but ultimately suffered a decline in popularity by decade's end. Both enjoyed major comebacks in the mid-'70s, and in subsequent decades, extending well into the 21st century, both continued to perform regularly on the oldies circuit and record (at least occasionally) while undergoing extensive personnel changes such that only the lead singer remained from the original lineup. In the 2000s, both had their hits performed in Broadway "jukebox" musicals, for the Beach Boys, the flop Good Vibrations, for The Four Seasons, the hit Jersey Boys. Yet the Beach Boys, who have been immortalized in a small library's worth of books, are critically revered, while, as of 2007, not a single biography had been written of The Four Seasons, who are denigrated by some music journalists as a sort of overachieving doo wop group. Why?
One possibility, of course, is simply that the rock critics are right. Another is that the Beach Boys were more media savvy, hiring a publicist who succeeded in planting the idea in the press that their songwriter/producer, Brian Wilson, was a "genius," while The Four Seasons' counterpart, Bob Gaudio, was content to do his work behind the scenes without giving many interviews about it. Then, too, the Beach Boys' story, which centered on the troubled Wilson family with its Oedipal complexes, rivalries, drugs, and sex, was made for media attention, while The Four Seasons kept their problems to themselves. (As was revealed only decades later, however, their career was hardly carefree.) It's also worth noting that The Four Seasons' financial independence -- they owned all of their master recordings and controlled all of their publishing from their work of the 1960s -- while probably advantageous to them monetarily over the long term, meant that there was no major label or major publisher that stood to gain by continuously promoting them and that their classic recordings spent long periods of time out of print. As of the early '70s, the band's commercial nadir and the era when rock critics really began weighing in on what was good and bad, it was hard to find a Four Seasons album in a record store, while discs by the Beach Boys and other of The Four Seasons' '60s contemporaries enjoyed frequent reissue campaigns, accompanied, of course, by fresh reassessments in the press cultivated by record company publicity departments.
Probably, however, the real reason for The Four Seasons' low critical standing has more to do with a crucial choice made at a key moment in their career. One of the important changes in emphasis during the late '60s was the transition from the 45 rpm single as the major element in a recording act's work to the album. Typically, that was a change pioneered by the Beatles, but it was recognized by Brian Wilson immediately, leading to his conception of 1966's Pet Sounds, which stands as the bedrock of Beach Boys worship. At the same time, however, The Four Seasons' brain trust was laboring to launch Valli's solo career as a middle-of-the-road pop singer while trying to maintain the group's popularity almost exclusively through successive hit singles. There was no Four Seasons concept album to compare with Pet Sounds or Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band during the mid-'60s; indeed, at a time when most popular recording artists released two new albums a year, there was no new Four Seasons LP at all (at least, none billed as such) between the appearance of Working My Way Back to You and More Great New Hits in January 1966 and The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette a full three years later. The latter was Gaudio's belated entry in the concept-album sweepstakes, and some revisionist critics have ranked it as one of the best. But at the time of its appearance, it was too little, too late. As a result, The Four Seasons' status as album artists ranks far below that of their peers, and their critical standing has suffered accordingly. Without an album masterpiece for critics to latch onto, they are condemned as a singles act, albeit one of the best and most popular in music history.
The Four Seasons - Genuine Imitation Life Gazette (1969)
This wildly ambitious opus lives up to its reputation as the most bizarre album in the Four Seasons' catalog. With the help of young songwriter Jake Holmes, the straightest of pop groups went psychedelic to create a concept album that casts a satirical eye on American life. The end result is often excessive both lyrically and sonically, but it's also relentlessly inventive, skillfully constructed, and never dull. Genuine Imitation Life Gazette never feels like a cheap cash-in because the group chases its cosmic muse without any worry of pandering to commercial concerns. In fact, fans of concise Four Seasons pop classics like "Dawn" and "Big Girls Don't Cry" will be shocked by songs like "American Crucifixion Resurrection" and "Soul of a Woman," both multi-minute epics that abandon tight pop song structure in favor of symphonic structures spiked with all manner of psychedelic sonic trickery and elliptical, satirical lyrics reminiscent of Van Dyke Parks' late-'60s work. The best of these epics is "Genuine Imitation Life," a critique of artificial pleasures in modern life set to a psychedelicized lounge backing that remains surprisingly sharp by modern standards. These moments are interspersed with shorter songs that combine sharp lyrics with lysergic but catchy melodies: highlights include "Mrs. Stately's Garden," a jazzy, up-tempo pop track with society send-up lyrics worthy of Ray Davies, and "Saturday's Father," a haunting ballad that underscores its tale of a divorced father visiting his kids with a ghostly tapestry of vocal and keyboard textures. Despite all these musical flights of fancy, Genuine Imitation Life Gazette retains a stylistic consistency throughout thanks to the group's stellar vocals. Valli delivers some of his finest leads on songs like "Genuine Imitation Life" and "Saturday's Father" and the rest of the group provides lush, flawless harmonies that match the varying moods of each song. The end result is an album that, while not for all tastes, offers a stunning example of the artistry of the Four Seasons at their most ambitious.
Pop singer Frankie Valli was permanently associated with the group for which he served as lead singer, the Four Seasons. But he also maintained a separate solo career during much of the band's tenure that included several major hits beginning with "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" and including "Grease." He also found work as a film and television actor. In general, Valli's solo recordings were closer to middle-of-the-road traditional pop than his work with the Four Seasons, and he abandoned his trademark falsetto when working under his own name alone. To a large extent, however, his name was interchangeable with that of the group, which was billed often as "Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons." .... more :
Frankie Valli - Timeless (1068)
Frankie Valli's Timeless is a superb adult contemporary recording with stellar arrangements, great song selection, and Valli's distinctive vocal sound. It came after two minor solo hits in 1966 and 1967, "(You're Gonna) Hurt Yourself" and "I Make a Fool of Myself," as well as 1967's Top Five smash "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," none included here. "To Give (The Reason I Live)" from this album, did hit the Top 30 in 1968, but it is far from the best track on the record, being an overstated Bob Crewe/Bob Gaudio original flavored by "The Impossible Dream." The cover of Jimmy Webb's "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" is a nice reading, and no doubt appealed to housewives who liked Glen Campbell's original and Valli's voice. While Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck were approaching this market with more bright uptempo pop, Valli took a more mellow route, performing that lively style with his group, The Four Seasons, whose only appearance here is in a photo (including Valli with Joe Long, Tommy DeVito, and Bob Gaudio, looking down at the solo Valli from a balcony. One of the album's highlights is a big production of Bobby Hebb's "Sunny," Hebb's original also on the Philips label. Valli changes the words a bit "wonderful and great are simple joys...ooh Sunny, you separate the men from little boys/your love was given/from an open hand/as nature intended from woman to man/way down to Earth with you, Sunny I love you." Outside of the last four words, it is highly unlikely the song ever included those other lyrics, it having been written for God or for Hebb's brother, the late Hal Hebb of the Marigolds. "Eleanor Rigby" is interesting, an amalgam of Andy Williams and the Bob Crewe Generation's "Music to Watch Girls By" sound, clearly part of Bob Crewe's formula -- here he has Valli singing like Andy Williams and reconstructing the Beatles to his own style of pop. The great Charles Calello conducts most of the arrangements, under Gaudio's supervision, but there are no Four Seasons harmonies here whatsoever, making it a total solo project, with Valli's voice way out in the mix. Artie Schroeck does the only non-Calello arrangement, and that is of the Neil Sedaka / Carole Bayer Sager composition, "Make the Music Play." It is very middle of the road '60s pop, kind of like her Mindbenders hit of 1966 drifting into Tony Bennett territory. Artie Schroeck wrote "Stop and Say Hello" here, and it is second to "Sunny" as the top song on this superb outing. "Stop and Say Hello" is really moving, and should have been the hit. It's another big production with something rare to this album -- backing vocals -- very faint in the background. G. Knight's "Donnybrook" ends the album on a nice mellow note. The band and strings brimming with some delightful and uplifting phrases to bring the program to a close. The cover photos by Bob Golden are included on a wheel which you can turn by hand, an expensive and elaborate package for an important artist from the '60s.