Where did you first hear these songs? Maybe you grew up with them, humming along as you pulled your Corvair into the drive-in for a shake? Or if youâ€™re young, maybe you caught them when your parents blasted their favorite oldies station in your Chevy Suburban. Perhaps you heard them on the DVDs of The Deer Hunter, Dirty Dancing, Mrs. Doubtfire, The Wanderers, Conspiracy Theory, Love Actually, and countless other movies. Or it could have been The Sopranos that gave you your first exposure. And you didnâ€™t have to be born in the U.S.A. to hear these tunes. There were Spanish, French, and German versions, not to mention the Chinese variations. Even if you are very young and very hip, you must have heard â€œCanâ€™t Take My Eyes Off Youâ€ from the lips of Lauryn Hill, although you may have had no idea where the words and melody originally came from.
Now, if youâ€™ve been lucky enough to see the play Jersey Boys, you understand exactly where this memorable music came from. Rock legends, we know, were born in Memphis and Detroit, Liverpool and London. Jersey Boys tells us how another rock legend began in Belleville, New Jersey, a scruffy, working-class town on the outskirts of Newark. What became a global musical phenomenon, 43 years old and still going strong, started with four kids who could have been voted most unlikely to succeed. They were Italian; they were dropouts; they were gangstas long before it became fashionable. But they loved to sing on street corners and shared a dream that music could take them to a better place. When they got together and became The 4 Seasons, their worldâ€”and the world of pop musicâ€”would never be the same.
Jersey Boys is their storyâ€”a previously untold story now well told by writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice and director Des McAnuff. In the beginning, there was Tommy DeVito, a loudmouthed hustler whose guitar work almost matched his swagger. He brought together Nick Macioci, a bass player and singer with a genius for harmony, and Frankie Castelluccio, a younger kid with one of the best voices anyone for miles around had ever heard. For a while, as these Jersey boys struggled to find their own style, not much happened. It seemed they were more likely to wind up in Sing Sing than in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. After all, knocking over a jewelry store could bring in more cash than a Newark club date. In fact, as Jersey Boys reveals for the first time, Tommy and Nick each spent considerable time in the Rahway (New Jersey) Correctional Facility, and only Frankieâ€™s relative youth kept the judges from sending him away too. As for their musical aspirations, well, that train was on an express track to nowhere. Clearly, something was missing.
Enter Joe Pesci, a neighborhood friend of the guys with ambitions of his own, although no one in his right mind could have predicted that Joe would one day take his wise-guy act to Hollywood and pick up an OscarÂ®. Back in 1959 the only noteworthy thing Pesci did was introduce Tommy, Nick (who had simplified his surname to Massi), and Frankie (who had rechristened himself Valli) to a kid named Bob Gaudio, who was born in the Bronx but moved to Jersey as a teen. Clever enough to adapt his classical piano lessons to the potentially more lucrative field of rock â€™nâ€™ roll, Gaudio was a songwriting prodigy. At 15 he had co-written the smash â€œShort Shortsâ€ for the Royal Teens, and his group had barnstormed the country with the likes of Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, and The Everly Brothers. And here was another plus: he didnâ€™t even have a criminal record! But at 17 Gaudio was already a has-been, a forgotten one-hit wonder who was toiling at a printing plant. Only when Pesci did Gaudio the biggest favor of his lifeâ€”taking him to hear Frankie Valli singâ€”did Bob know that he had a second chance at musical glory. â€œI need to write for that voice,â€ he said.
Now that the group was complete, they were ready for a record producer with a golden ear: Bob Crewe. He knew a hit when he heard it and had written a few himself, like â€œSilhouettesâ€ for The Rays. But for a couple of frustrating years, Crewe didnâ€™t know quite what to do with Frankie, Bob, Tommy, and Nick. The producer had the guys sing background in sessions for other artists and got Gaudio to write catchy songs for just about everyone who walked into the studio. The Jersey boys had talent all right, but they had no sound of their own. They didnâ€™t even have a name. One day they were The Romans, the next day The Topix, the next day something else. What they needed was an identity.
Fate works in funny ways, and it was after auditioning at the cocktail lounge of a local bowling alley that the boys came up with a timeless name under which they could make timeless music. This bowling establishment was called The 4 Seasons. Around that time Gaudio started writing songs that made full use of Valliâ€™s vocal range, which soared from a natural baritone to a stunning falsetto. One day in 1962 some immortal notes suddenly came into Gaudioâ€™s head. He sat down at the piano, and in 15 minutes he had the tune that would make his fortuneâ€”and music history.
After â€œSherryâ€ came out in her red dress, and The 4 Seasons came out on American Bandstand, Gaudio and Crewe really got going. They bounced musical ideas off each other like pinballs racking up the score in a Bally machine. The resultsâ€”â€œBig Girls Donâ€™t Cry,â€ â€œWalk Like A Man,â€ â€œRag Doll,â€ â€œBye Bye Baby,â€ â€œCanâ€™t Take My Eyes Off You,â€ and dozens of other hitsâ€”made them one of the top songwriting teams and the Seasons one of the best-selling groups of all time.
How successful were they? Itâ€™s impossible to count all the 45s, LPs, 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs, VHS tapes, DVDsâ€”and now downloadsâ€”Frankie and the Seasons have sold in 43 years. One hundred million would be a real low-ball estimate. To put the Seasons in proper perspective, look in Joel Whitburnâ€™s A Century Of Pop Music, the definitive tabulation of pop success, based on sales and airplay as recorded in the charts of Billboard magazine. For the 1960s â€”when rock â€™nâ€™ roll came of ageâ€”Whitburn ranks the top recording artists as follows: 1. The Beatles 2. The Supremes 3. Elvis Presley 4. The Rolling Stones 5. The 4 Seasons. Yes, you can judge the Seasons by the company they keep.
As we see so vividly in Jersey Boys, however, success wasnâ€™t the whole story. Sure, screaming fans and gold records were nice. So was going on tour with The Angels (their hit â€œMy Boyfriendâ€™s Backâ€ adds extra spice to the play). But fame eventually brought more heartache than riches. Stardom took a heavy toll on the Seasonsâ€™ friendships, their marriages, their psyches. By the end of the â€™60s, financial mismanagement and personal jealousies had torn the group apart. One of the revelations of Jersey Boys is how well their hit songs fit what was going on backstage. When desperately in debt, the Seasons sing â€œBegginâ€™.â€ When the band is splitting up, Frankie sings â€œStayâ€ and â€œLetâ€™s Hang On!â€ When Nick and Tommy are gone, Frankie wails â€œDonâ€™t You Worry â€™Bout Me.â€ And with the poignant â€œFallen Angel,â€ we get a glimpse of the personal disaster that struck Frankie.
The playâ€™s book is wonderfully rich and thoughtful, weaving the story together from four separate points of view. Each of The 4 Seasons gets several chances to address the audience as narrator. As Tommy says at the beginning, â€œ You ask four guys how it happened, you get four different versions.â€ One of the best features of this album is that it includes not only the songs but also some sparkling bits of dialogue and narration.
Fortunately, the collapse of the original group was not the end of the story. Though Gaudio stopped touring, he and Valli remained partners and put together a new group of Seasons that made a huge comeback in the â€™70s. Over the years, a host of talented singers and musicians have helped Frankie bring the Seasonsâ€™ music to new audiences. They include Charles Calello, Joe Long, Gerry Polci, Don Ciccone, Lee Shapiro, John Paiva, Jerry Corbetta, Larry Lingle, and Robby and Rex Robinson, among many others. In 1994 a dance-club remix took â€œDecember 1963 (Oh, What A Night)â€ to the high regions of the charts for a second time. And as the new century dawned a French rap version of that song (Track 1 on this album) was a passion in Paris. With about 200 cover versions, â€œCanâ€™t Take My Eyes Off Youâ€ is among the Top 10 most played songs in the history of BMI, one of the two main companies that collect and distribute song royalties.
You can buy the original recordings on the Rhino label, and you can still see the one and only Frankie Valli and the latest incarnation of The 4 Seasons in concert in Las Vegas or Atlantic City or dozens of other cities around the U.S. As Frankie says in Jersey Boys, heâ€™s like that bunny on TV, who just keeps going and going, electrifying old and new fans in 2005 as he has since 1962. If you go to groups.yahoo.com and search for the two main message groups devoted to the Seasons (ValliSeasons and FrankieValliandTheFourSeasons), youâ€™ll find plenty of young people among the graybeards. Also worth a visit are www.genuine-imitation-life-gazette.com and www.seasonally.co.uk
Whatâ€™s so thrilling about Jersey Boys is that it re-creates the original excitement. Those of us who remember are transported in a time machine back to 1962. Weâ€”and rock â€™nâ€™ roll and even Dick Clarkâ€”are young once more. Weâ€™re there, in the crowd, standing, cheering, living it all over again. Itâ€™s the kind of spell that only great theater can cast. For todayâ€™s kids, Jersey Boys shows them what they missed. It introduces them to an essential part of their musical heritage. It will keep the legend alive.
The Seasons were no studio creation, and you canâ€™t get the full impact of their sound by listening to a CD player or iPod. They played their instruments and wove their harmonies onstage night after night. That live sound and look of the original 4 Seasons are back in Jersey Boys, and it was no simple feat to pull off. Imagine trying to find four guys who sound like The 4 Seasons, play guitars, and have some acting credentials to boot. When you see and hear John Lloyd Young as Frankie, Daniel Reichard as Bob, Christian Hoff as Tommy, and J. Robert Spencer as Nick, youâ€™ll agree that something of a miracle has been achieved. And if you canâ€™t make it to Broadway just yet, you now have the audio portion of that miracle, produced by Bob Gaudio himself, with music director Ron Melrose, orchestrator Steve Orich, and recording engineer Pete Karam.
The songs of The 4 Seasons were destined to be classic. That was assured every time their unique blend of voices and notes was stored on magnetic tape in the studio. But equally mesmerizing is their storyâ€”a tale both sad and funny, cautionary and inspiring, tragic and triumphant. Thanks to Jersey Boys, we now know the story, and itâ€™s as unforgettable as the songs.