Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



Vocal group formed in Newark NJ in 1956 by Frankie Valli (b Francis Castellucio, 3 May 1934, Newark), lead; Tommy DeVito (b Gaetano DeVito, 19 June 1928, Bellville; d 21 September 2020, Henderson NV) and Hank Majewski, replaced by Nick Massi (b 19 September 1935, NYC), and Nick DeVito, guitar. Originally known as the Four Lovers, they scored no. 62 hit with Otis Blackwell's 'You're The Apple Of My Eye' '56. Ex-Royal Teen Bob Gaudio (b 17 November 1942, NYC) on piano replaced DeVito, and led to a crucial elaboration of their doo-wop-based sound; another major factor was Bob Crewe of Swan Records (b 12 November 1930, Newark NJ; d 10 September 2014), who signed the group '60. Crewe co-wrote with Gaudio, who'd written the Royal Teens' 'Short Shorts', a big '58 novelty; they highlighted Valli's three-octave voice.

Valli's remarkable voice had been discovered by New Jersey country singer 'Texas' Jean Valli, who took him to meet music publisher Paul Kapp, who encouraged the name change. They worked as session singers and under various names, chose Four Seasons (after a local bowling alley) as 'Sherry' stormed up the charts: their upbeat first single for the black Vee-Jay label with Valli's falsetto lead got airplay on black stations before their appearance on American Bandstand revealed Italian-Americans. 'Sherry' and 'Big Girls Don't Cry' were no. 1 '62, 'Walk Like A Man' in '63, 'Rag Doll' '64: with the Beach Boys they were the only name group to retain their popularity during the British Invasion led by the Beatles, even scoring in the UK with nine top 40 entries in '60s (the biggest 'Rag Doll' at no. 2). They had formed publishing companies and became a profit-sharing partnership; their first two LPs interspersed hit singles with covers of Moonglows, Sensations, Skyliners, etc who'd inspired them: they even cheekily covered their own '56 Four Lovers hit. Their 26 U.S. top 40 hits in a decade were as well known in UK for cover versions as for the originals, testifying to the Gaudio/Crewe writing partnership: 'Bye Bye Baby (Baby Goodbye)' (Bay City Rollers), 'Walk Like A Man' (Divine), 'Working My Way Back To You' (Spinners). Valli's falsetto set off with precise harmonies even charted under a pseudonym (the Wonder Who) '65 with a cover of Bob Dylan's 'Don't Think Twice'.

The hits tailed off as they went progressive after the Beatles' Sgt Pepper: their Genuine Imitation Life Gazette '69 was an expensive flop (and the album Gaudio wrote for Frank Sinatra didn't do too well either: Watertown '70); producer Crewe was dumped as they left Philips, buying the rights to their master tapes as they had when leaving Vee-Jay, ensuring healthy future earnings. Massi had left '65 replaced by Joey Long, bass; DeVito was bought out '70 by Gaudio and Valli. They flirted with Motown's new Mowest label (LP Chameleon '72; UK hit single 'The Night' '75), concentrated on cabaret and Valli's solo career: he had four hits '60s including the future MOR classic 'Can't Take My Eyes Off You' '67, four more '74-6 included no. 1 'My Eyes Adored You' (the only Motown-era cut they liked enough to buy back).

A restructured group with new personnel made a comeback on the disco boom, now called Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, with Gerry Polci, on drums and joint lead vocals; Don Ciccone, bass (ex-Critters); John Paiva, guitar; Lee Shapiro, keyboards: now on WB, LP Who Loves You '75 was no. 38, biggest LP since '64 except hits compilations; including the title track (no. 3 USA/6 UK), 'December '63 (Oh What A Night)', no. 1 both USA/UK. Valli's solo career continued in tandem with Bee Gee produced 'Grease' (from film; no. 1 USA/3 UK '78). It was surprising he was singing at all, having overcome hearing problems mid-'70s via surgery. Anthologies continued; new Seasons tours and records (Helicon '77, Reunited Live '81).

A musical show Jersey Boys was a hit in New York 2005 and was still running in 2014 when a film version was released, directed by Clint Eastwood.