Monday, 16 January 2017
Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons
The world of the Four Seasons, to me at least, can be a quite daunting and confusing one at first. A band whose history can be traced back all the way to the early 50s, a band who were credited both with and without their leader, who also had a solo career at one point running side by side, and a band who issued a series of albums seemingly never released in the UK.
Indeed, there are those who believe that the band’s back catalogue has been treated quite poorly, resulting in many albums falling out of print. Indeed, go on to Amazon, and you may struggle to find a CD edition of many of their original studio records. But help is at hand. A couple of boxsets issued by Rhino in the UK a few years ago were designed to give a flavour of most of what both Valli solo, and the band, released from the 60s onwards. Buy them both, and you will end up with a very big chunk of the back catalogue. Collecting the singles can still be a lengthy process, but given that a lot of the band’s albums seemed to be designed to showcase a lot of the A-sides and/or B-sides, and then padding them out with some “new” material, then the boxsets even provide an introduction to the band’s 45s.
Frankie Valli, stylised as Frankie Valley, released his first single in the USA in 1953. It was the beginning of a long run of poor selling singles in Valli’s homeland, and by 1956, he had formed The Four Lovers, essentially an early incarnation of The Four Seasons. The band issued an album, “Joyride”, and a number of mostly under-performing 45’s in the US, and by 1958, had turned into a mainly touring band, with their studio work limited to session musician duties. However, the band did continue to issue a regular run of 45’s under other names, with Valli issuing singles under the name of “Frankie Tyler”, whilst the run of singles issued during 1960 appeared under a bewildering variety of pseudonyms, including Billy Dixon & The Topics and The Village Voices.
By the early 60s, a contract the band had signed was due to expire, and the group were rechristened as The Four Seasons, taking their name from a bowling alley where they had conducted a failed audition. Having gone through a variety of line up changes, the “classic” line up of the band was now in place, with Valli joined by Bob Gaudio, Nick Massi and Tommy DeVito. Bob Crewe collaborated with the group for some years as producer and co-writer, primarily working with Gaudio.
The first Four Seasons single was the US only 1961 release “Bermuda”/”Spanish Lace”, issued on Gone Records. By 1962, the band had signed to the Vee-Jay label in the USA (briefly home, of course, also to The Beatles) and Stateside in the UK. Their next single, issued on both sides of the Atlantic, was “Sherry” - and became a huge hit. The band’s doo wop sound was especially characterised by Valli’s impossibly high pitched falsetto voice.
“Sherry” was later included on the band’s debut album, the not inspiringly titled “Sherry & 11 Others”, issued in late 1962. Indeed, many of the band’s albums over the next five years would have titles that suggested they were nothing more than a collection of recent A-sides and B-sides, with some extra material used to pad the album out (such as the awkwardly titled “Dawn (Go Away) And 11 Other Great Songs”) or in some cases, suggested they were actually compilation albums, when they weren’t (“Working My Way Back To You & More Great New Hits” included several non-hits). By 1964, the band had left the Vee-Jay label (and, as a consequence, Stateside) and were signed to Philips on both sides of the Atlantic. Several UK 45’s would continue to eek out on the Stateside label for the rest of the year.
In 1965, the band started to create albums that had a bit more of a cohesive feel. A planned album of Bob Dylan covers eventually morphed into the “Sing Big Hits by Bacharach, David and Dylan” LP, which included their cover of “Don‘t Think Twice It‘s All Right“. For some strange technical/legal reason that I don‘t understand, logistics prevented it from being issued as a single by The Four Seasons, so the band - just like in the old days - adopted a pseudonym and released the single under the name of “The Wonder Who”, the first of three singles they released in this way. The last of these, “Lonesome Road”, actually included a B-side specifically credited to The Four Seasons, which probably gave the game away. It’s generally considered that the singles chosen to be issued under the “Wonder Who” banner were those whose sound was not necessarily very Four Seasons-esque.
By 1966, a decision was taken to try and market Valli as a solo artist, as well as continuing with his involvement in the band. Initially, Valli’s recordings were done during regular Four Seasons sessions - indeed, the full title of his first solo album issued the following year was “The Four Seasons Present Frankie Valli Solo”. Again, it followed the old path of cobbling together tracks that were issued as singles alongside newer material - of the twelve songs included on the UK edition, seven of them had previously surfaced on UK 45’s over the preceding 18 months. Despite the plan to have Valli’s solo career running alongside that of the band, the Four Seasons actually went rather quiet in this period. There were some singles, but there were no new albums by the band during the second half of 1967 nor any of 1968 at all. A second Valli solo effort, “Timeless” (again featuring heavy Four Seasons involvement), was released in mid 68.
When the band did reconvene in 1969, they did so with what is regarded by many as something of a lost classic, the concept album “The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette”, which promptly flopped. Nonetheless, it is a record that is now seen as a turning point in the band’s career, with it’s socially conscious lyrics, and “Pet Sounds”/psychedelic inspired music, with titles like “American Crucifixion Resurrection“ sounding unlike anything the band had done up to that point. Even the packaging was inspired, housed in a newspaper style sleeve, with the album title doubling up as the title of the paper. It’s follow up was the non-UK 1970 album “Half And Half”, so titled as one side consisted of Valli solo material, and the other consisted of Four Seasons material. A photo of the Four Seasons appeared on the front, with a photo of Valli alone on the rear. By 1971, the band were off the label, but Philips in the UK decided to reissue “Beggin’” and “Rag Doll” as singles the same year, whilst reissues of earlier Valli solo efforts “You‘re Ready Now“ and “The Proud One“ also resurfaced in 1970/71.
Valli’s solo career then went temporarily on hold, as the newly rechristened Frankie Valli And The Four Seasons signed briefly to Warner Bros, issuing a one off (ultra rare) single in the UK and New Zealand called “Whatever You Say”, long rumoured to have been withdrawn from sale and thus never making it past the promo stage. They then moved onto what probably seemed like an unlikely home - Motown. The band’s first 45 was issued on the Tamla imprint in the UK, but their next album and all subsequent singles were issued on Motown’s Mo West label, usually home to R&B artists from the West Coast of the States. The LP, issued in 1972, was the now highly lauded “Chameleon”, in which the band adopted a soulful vibe that suited their new home. By now, Valli was the only original member left, although Bob Gaudio still worked with the band in the studio. Mo West issued several singles in the UK to try and promote the album, but neither the LP (subjected to so-so reviews when first released) nor these singles troubled the charts.
The band did begin work on a potential follow up album - fans have been petitioning for the release of this material, as several albums worth of tracks were recorded - but in the end, the band left the label in 1974. One track that originated from the sessions was “bought” by Valli from the label, and issued as his next solo single. “My Eyes Adored You” was the first release on the new Private Stock label, and would later be included on Valli’s third solo album, “Close Up”. Motown meanwhile decided to try and cash in after the single was a major success in the US, and went back into the vaults to release “Inside You”, marketed as a Valli solo LP in late 75. A couple of tracks from “Chameleon” were included again, with “The Night” appearing in an alternate version, with a different vocal take during the first verse, along with outtakes and material previously only issued on 45 in the USA. “The Night“, never even issued as a single in the USA, had gained a following on the Northern Soul scene, and MoWest reissued the original single (albeit with a new catalogue number), which saw it dent the top 10. The single was even later repressed on the Tamla imprint in the early 80s, but retained it’s MoWest catalogue number. Despite there now being numerous copies of this single in existence, it’s Northern Soul connections have helped to keep it’s value higher than other Valli singles, and you will be hard pushed to find one for less than a tenner.
As for The Four Seasons, they re-emerged with a slightly altered lineup, with new member Gerry Polci taking the lion’s share of the vocals to ease the strain on Valli’s voice, as he was suffering from hearing loss at the time. Signed to Warner Bros (again), their 1975 album “Who Loves You” was an attempt to align the band with the new disco explosion - and worked. The album spawned no less than three hit singles - the title track, “December 1963 (Oh, What A Night)” and the incendiary “Silver Star”. For a while, Valli’s solo career and the revamped Four Seasons ran side by side, with Valli then getting a boost solo wise when he recorded the title track to the 1978 movie “Grease”, issued as a single and another big chart hit.
As the hits started to dry up thereafter, Valli’s solo career came to a (temporary) end following the release of 1980’s “Heaven Above Me”, whilst The Four Seasons took eight years to follow up 1977’s “Helicon”, when the (again) renamed Frankie Valli And The Four Seasons issued 1985’s “Streetfighter”, an album which was heavily rooted in that 80s sound, but as the only Four Seasons studio album from the decade, thus sounds unlike anything they ever did before or after, and as such, has a strange “one off” charm. The band essentially continued to exist mainly as a touring act, although there was a US only album in 1992, “Hope + Glory”, whilst Valli issued a solo album in 2007 of covers, “Romancing The 60s”. A Christmas album was issued at the end of 2016, credited to Valli as a solo artist, but with the pun-fuelled title of "Tis The Seasons".
In recent times, the Four Seasons have had something of a retro tinged renaissance. The “Jersey Boys” musical sparked interest, whilst most of the band’s latter period singles were mostly reissues or remixes of earlier hits, with “Beggin’” a big enough hit in the UK to entice The Saturdays to record it and issue it as a B-side in 2009. The band still exist, with yet another altered line up - none of the current members, other than Valli, were present on “Hope + Glory”. Valli and Gaudio are still connected business wise, having formed The Four Seasons Partnership just prior to the release of that first US 45 on Gone. I don’t fully understand the mechanics of this, but go online, and you will stumble across fan websites who seem to lay some of the blame of the handling of the back catalogue at the partnership itself, suggesting a reluctance by Valli and Gaudio to revisit their past.
OK. This is how it seems to have worked. The early Four Seasons albums seem to have been attempts to shoe horn recent A-sides and B-sides on to a long playing album, with the album then being padded out by new material, to encourage people to buy the record. Hence, the titles displaying the name of one of the hits that was included on the album, followed by the less than inspiring “...and 11 Others” or similar.
Vee Jay issued several compilation albums by the band in the US in 63 and 64, and “Folk Nanny” is listed on Discogs as being a compilation release, partly because it did include material that had resurfaced before - “Stay“ had been a US 45 in late 1963, and had previously appeared on the “Ain‘t That A Shame“ LP. But, despite being deemed a compilation album (it even got reissued in the US under the new title “Stay & Other Great Hits” later on), it does appear - with all the ’official’ studio albums - in the Rhino Box. As for “New Gold Hits”, it’s title suggests another proper best of album, but in fact, this too followed the path of the earlier LP’s, by including recent 45 material, padded out with brand new recordings.
In the mid 90s, Curb Records reissued a number of the band’s earlier albums on CD. They all featured the legend “Original Classic Hits” along the bottom of the front sleeve, despite the fact that several of the songs of course had never actually been released as singles. The albums formed part of a series, so “Big Girls Don’t Cry” had a ’Volume 2’ legend on the front, and “New Gold Hits” was ’Volume 7’ - and so on. Confusingly, “Who Loves You” became ’Volume 8’, despite the fact that this had been recorded as a genuine studio album, spawning hit singles as opposed to being used to cobble together old ones. So, if you try to work out what an official studio album is from the Curb reissues, then it will totally confuse matters.
The LP discography below is based on what has been included in the Rhino boxset. Where the album was originally released in the UK, I have listed it’s original catalogue number - where there was no UK release (to my knowledge), the original US LP is detailed instead. I have also included the Valli solo albums in here, as it makes sense to do so, and you will see that the Rhino box for the Valli albums has also been based on US releases - “Our Day Will Come“ was issued in the UK as “Fallen Angel“.
The Motown material, being owned by that label, has had a different history. In 2008, the label’s Hip-O-Select imprint issued the (US only) double CD set “The Motown Years”, which - unreleased stuff aside - gives you a complete overview of the band’s time on the label. The first CD is essentially an expanded version of “Chameleon”, and the second an expanded “Inside You”.
On CD1, extra tracks include both sides of the US only “How Come” and “Hickory” 45's, along with tracks that later made it onto the UK - but not US - edition of “Inside You”, “Walk On Don’t Look Back” (originally a UK and US stand alone 45) and an edited version of “Charisma”. CD2 is bolstered by both sides of the “You’ve Got Your Troubles” 45, and “The Scalawag Song”, issued as a promo only US 45.
The specialist reissue label Ace did do a series of 2-on-1 CD reissues in the early 90s, which from what I can gather, would have seen the selected albums making their CD debut, but these have long been deleted. Certainly, the way I started to get deeper into the band and Valli’s solo career was to start with the two boxsets and the Motown CD - after that, it becomes a bit easier to work out where to go next in terms of what you want to collect.
SELECTED RETROSPECTIVE CD RELEASES
The Classic Albums Box (18xCD, Rhino 81227 95959)
The Motown Years (2xCD, Hip-O-Select B0010777-02)
Selected Solo Works (8xCD, Rhino 81227 95940)
Sherry/I’ve Cried Before (7”, Stateside SS 122)
Big Girls Don’t Cry/Connie-O (7”, Stateside SS 145)
Walk Like A Man/Lucky Ladybug (7”, Stateside SS 169)
Ain’t That A Shame/Soon (7”, Stateside SS 194)
Candy Girl/Marlena (7”, Stateside SS 216)
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town/Christmas Tears (7”, Stateside SS 241)
Dawn (Go Away)/No Surfin’ Today (7”, Philips BF 1317)
The Four Seasons Sing EP (7”, Stateside SE 1011)
Peanuts/Silhouettes (7”, Stateside SS 262)
Ronnie/Born To Wander (7”, Philips BF 1334)
Alone/Long Lonely Nights (7”, Stateside SS 315)
Rag Doll/Silence Is Golden (7”, Philips BF 1347)
Save It For Me/Funny Face (7”, Philips BF 1364)
Since I Don’t Have You/Sincerely (7”, Stateside SS 343)
Big Man In Town/Little Angel (7”, Philips BF 1372)
Bye Bye Baby/Searching Wind (7”, Philips BF 1395)
Toy Soldier/Betrayed (7”, Philips BF 1411)
Girl Come Running/Cry Myself To Sleep (7”, Philips BF 1420)
Let’s Hang On/On Broadway Tonight (7”, Philips BF 1439)
Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright/Sassy (7”, Philips BF 1440)
You’re Gonna Hurt Yourself/Night Hawk (7”, Philips BF 1467)
Working My Way Back To You/Too Many Memories (7”, Philips BF 1474)
Opus 17/Beggars Parade (7”, Philips BF 1493)
On The Good Ship Lollipop/You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You (7”, Philips BF 1504)
I’ve Got You Under My Skin/Huggin’ My Pillow (7”, Philips BF 1511)
You’re Ready Now/Cry For Me (7”, Philips BF 1512, later reissued as BF 320 226)
The Proud One/Ivy (7”, Philips BF 1529, later reissued as 6051 011)
Tell It To The Rain/Show Girl (7”, Philips BF 1538)
Beggin’/Dody (7”, Philips BF 1556)
Can’t Take My Eyes Off You/The Trouble With Me (7, Philips BF 1580)
C’mon Marianne/Let’s Ride Again (7”, Philips BF 1584)
Lonesome Road/Around And Around (7”, Philips BF 1600)
I Made A Fool Of Myself/September Rain (7”, Philips BF 1603)
Watch The Flowers Grow/Raven (7”, Philips BF 1621)
Hits Of The Four Seasons EP (Cassette, Philips MCP 1000)
To Give (The Reason I Live)/Watch Where You Walk (7”, Philips BF 1634)
Will You Love Me Tomorrow/Silhouettes (7”, Philips BF 1651)
Saturday’s Father/Goodbye Girl (7”, Philips BF 1685)
Electric Stories/Pity (7”, Philips BF 1743)
Rag Doll/Working My Way Back To You (7”, Philips BF 1763, in picture sleeve)
The Girl I’ll Never Know/A Face Without A Name (7”, Philips BF 1795)
Beggin’/Walk Like A Man (7”, Philips 6051 012)
Rag Doll/Let’s Hang On/I’ve Got You Under My Skin (7”, Philips 6051 018)
Whatever You Say/Sleeping Man (7”, Warner Bros K 16107)
You’re A Song/Sun Country (7”, Tamla Motown TMG 819)
The Night/When The Morning Comes (7”, Mo West MW 3002, later reissued as MW 3024)
Walk On Don’t Look Back/Touch The Rainchild (7”, Mo West MW 3003)
My Eyes Adored You/Watch Where You Walk (7”, Private Stock PVT 1)
Touch The Rainchild/Poor Fool (7”, Mo West MW 3028)
Swearin’ To God/Why (7”, Private Stock PVT 21)
And I Will Love You/Sun Country (7”, Mo West MW 3030)
Who Loves You (Edit)/(Disco Version) (7”, Warner Bros K 16602)
Our Day Will Come/You Can Bet (I Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere) (7”, Private Stock PVT 42)
December 1963 (Edit)/Slip Away (7”, Warner Bros K 16688, later reissued in “Classic Hits Of The 70s“ picture sleeve)
Fallen Angel/Carrie (7”, Private Stock PVT 51)
Silver Star (7” Mix)/(LP Version) (7”, Warner Bros K 16742)
Life And Breath/Thank You (7”, Mo West MW 3034)
We’re All Alone/You To Me Are Everything (7”, Private Stock PVT 66)
We Can Work It Out/Harmony Perfect Harmony (7”, Warner Bros K 16845)
Swearin’ To God EP (7”, Private Stock PVT 78)
Easily/What Good Am I Without You (7”, Private Stock PVT 98)
Rhapsody/Helicon (7”, Warner Bros K 16932)
Second Thoughts/So She Says (7”, Private Stock PVT 111)
Down The Hall/I Believe In You (7”, Warner Bros K 16982)
I Need You/I’m Gonna Love You (7”, Private Stock PVT 124)
Grease +1 (7”, RSO 012)
Save Me Save Me/No Love At All (7”, Warner Bros K 17251)
Harmony Perfect Harmony EP (7”, Warner Bros K 17072, 1980 reissues list it as the “December 63“ EP)
Passion For Paris (An American In Paris) (Short Version)/(Long Version) (7”, MCA 572)
Passion For Paris (An American In Paris) (Short Version)/(Long Version) (12”, MCAT 572)
Where Did We Go Wrong/Doctor Dance (7”, MCA 624)
Soul (Edit)/If It Really Wasn’t Love (7”, MCA 645)
Soul (New Mix)/If It Really Wasn’t Love (12”, MCAT 645)
Heaven Must Have Sent You/Medley (7”, Warner Bros K 17764)
The Book Of Love/Deep Inside Your Love (7”, MCA 980)
Let’s Hang On/Rag Doll (7”, Prism Leisure FOUR 71)
Walk Like A Man/Sherry (7”, Prism Leisure FOUR 72)
Working My Way Back To You/I’ve Got You Under My Skin (7”, Prism Leisure FOUR 73)
You’re Ready Now/My Eyes Adored You (7” Prism Leisure FOUR 74)
Big Girls Don’t Cry (Original)/(Enhanced Original Mix) (7”, Curb ZB 42287)
Big Girls Don’t Cry (Club Mix)/(Original)/(Dirty Dancing Rap)/(Enhanced Original Mix) (12”, Curb ZT 42288)
Can’t Take My Eyes Off You/December 1963 (7”, Polygram VALLI 1)
Can’t Take My Eyes Off You/December 1963 (Cassette, Polygram VALMC 1)
Can’t Take Me Eyes Off You/December 1963/My Eyes Adored You (CD, Polygram VALCD 1)
Oh What A Night (Ben Liebrand Remix)/(Edit) (7”, Polygram VALLI 2)
Oh What A Night (Ben Liebrand Remix)/(Edit) (Cassette, Polygram VALMC 2)
Oh What A Night (Ben Liebrand Extended Remix)/(Instrumental)/(Ben Liebrand Remix) (12”, Polygram VALX 2)
Oh What A Night (Ben Liebrand Remix)/(Instrumental)/(Ben Liebrand Extended Remix) (CD, Polygram VALCD 2)
Grease (The Dream Mix) +1 (7”, Polydor PO 136)
Grease (12” Groove Version)/(7” Original Groove) +1 (12”, Polydor PZ 136)
Grease (The Dream Mix)/(12” Groove Version)/(7” Original Groove) +1 (CD, Polydor PZCD 136)
Beggin’ (Pilooski Re-Edit/Radio Edit)/(Original) (7”, 679 Records 679L146)
Beggin’ (Pilooski Re-Edit)/(Speaker Killer Remix)/Who Loves You (12”, 679 Records 679L146T)
Beggin’ (Pilooski Re-Edit/Radio Edit)/(Original) (CD, 679 Records 679L146CD)
ORIGINAL ALBUMS LATER FEATURED IN THE BOXSETS & “THE MOTOWN YEARS”
Sherry & 11 Others (LP, Stateside SL 10033)
Big Girls Don’t Cry And Twelve Others (US LP, Vee Jay VJLP 1056)
Ain’t That A Shame And 11 Others (LP, Stateside SL 10042)
Folk Nanny (US LP, Vee Jay VJLP 1082)
Born To Wander (LP, Philips BL 7611)
Dawn And 11 Other Great Songs (LP, Philips BL 7621)
Rag Doll (LP, Philips BL 7643)
Entertain You (LP, Philips BL 7663)
Sing Big Hits by Bacharach David & Dylan (LP, Philips BL 7687)
On Stage With (US LP, Vee Jay VJLP 1154)
Working My Way Back To You (LP, Philips BL 7699)
New Gold Hits (US LP, Philips PHS-600-243)
Solo (LP, Philips SBL 7814)
Timeless (LP, Philips SBL 7856)
Genuine Imitation Life Gazette (LP, Philips SBL 7880)
Half And Half (US LP, Philips PHS-600-341)
Chameleon (LP, Mo West MWSA 5501)
Closeup (LP, Private Stock PVLP 1001)
Inside You (LP, Mo West MWS 7007)
Our Day Will Come (US LP, Private Stock PS 2006)
Who Loves You (LP, Warner Bros K 56179)
Valli (LP, Private Stock PVLP 1014)
Helicon (LP, Warner Bros K 56350)
Lady Put The Light Out (LP, Private Stock PVLP 1029)
Is The Word (LP, Warner Bros K 56549)
Heaven Above Me (LP, MCA MCF081)
Streetfighter (LP, MCA MCF3316)
Hope & Glory (US CD, Curb D2-77546)
OTHER NOTABLE UK LP’s
Gold Vault Of Hits (LP, Philips BL 7687, 1965 compilation including “Let‘s Hang On“)
2nd Gold Vault Of Hits (LP, Philips BL 7751, 1966 compilation including “Walk Like A Man“)
Lookin’ Back (LP, Philips BL 7752, 1966 compilation including material from the US “Big Girls Don‘t Cry“ LP)
Seasoned Hits (LP, Fontana SFJL 952, 1967 compilation including “Beggin‘”)
Edizione d’Oro (2xLP, Philips DBL 003)
The Four Seasons Story (LP, Private Stock DAPS 1001)
Fallen Angel (LP, Private Stock PVLP 1005, 1976 UK release of “Our Day Will Come“ in new p/s with extra track, “Fallen Angel“)
Reunited Live (LP, Warner Bros K 66098)
Romancing The 60s (CD, Universal B0009908-02)
Two Classic Albums Plus The Four Lovers And Rare Singles (4xCD, Real Gone Music RGMCD 065, includes on disc 4 “The 4 Seasons Greetings Album”)
‘Tis The Seasons (CD, Rhino 81227 94312)