Saturday, October 10, 2009

Doo Wop, Baroque, Girls - and More Girls

It was about time that I got familiar with Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons! Being a huge Beach Boys fan, this was, of course, a very natural thing to happen to me. Still, it wasn’t automatic, I think. Or maybe it was. Frankie Valli and his magnificent harmony singing friends are in every case a must-hear for all Beach Boys fans. I approached this group by listening to Anthology: Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons (thanks to Tampere City Library).

Everyone knows there was some form of a rivalry between the Beach Boys and the Four Seasons. Both bands became popular at the same time, around year 1962 and performed music that was stylistically quite similar – but not completely similar. While both groups incorporated a great deal of multipart doo wop vocal harmonies and nonsense syllables, Frankie Valli’s group concentrated even more on doo wop. Brian Wilson’s Boys might also be described being more straightforwardly rock’n roll oriented, especially in the early stages of their career. On the other hand, The Four Seasons didn’t sing about surfing or cars, but they surely shared one interest with the Beach Boys: girls. The Four Seasons, who were originally from Newark, New Jersey, released their first album in 1962 (as did The Beach Boys), and their first hit song was Sherry.

After a small getting used to period I found myself enjoying The Four Seasons very, very much. Frankie Valli is of course both similar to and different from Brian Wilson. Both have performed absolutely lovely falsetto vocals but their singing style is somewhat different in lower areas. While Brian rarely used his voice to anything else but pure prettiness in the 60s, Frankie Valli wasn’t afraid to show different aspects of his voice. Frankie Valli resembles Graham Nash a lot, and (perhaps a bit confusingly) has more rock’n roll angst in his voice and singing style than Brian Wilson.

The songs… Ronnie! I love, love, love that tune! Marlena, Dawn (Go Away), and Rag Doll are not much less excellent - not to mention Silence Is Golden, a song of which The Tremeloes made a hit. The Four Seasons’ most obvious bubblegum connection is Bye, Bye, Baby (Baby Goodbye), a major hit for Bay City Rollers in the 70s. I give Four Seasons extra points for that one but the absolutely bubblegummy BCR version, in my opinion, is more enjoyable. I know, I’m totally blinded and enchanted by bubblegum and bubblegummyness... I can’t help it, bubblegum is sticky (=impossible to give up).

Back to the Four Seasons.. Save It For Me is already beginning to sound very sophisticated, á la The Association, and Today!/Summer Days (And Summer Nights) Beach Boys. Other lovely hit songs from the mid-60s include Girl Come Running, Let's Hang On!, Working My Way Back to You, Opus 17 (Don't You Worry 'bout Me), I’ve Got You Under My Skin, C’mon Marianne… The list is almost endless. A special case is Can't Take My Eyes off You, a magnificently superb song that was released as a Frankie Valli solo single in 1967. The song is ear-melting, and I love playing it myself too.

The Four Seasons survived pretty well in the middle of the British Invasion and remained as a popular live act. The end of the 60s was however a hard time for the band. Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons signed onto Motown Records and released new material with modest success. In the mid 70s Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons (as separate acts) returned to scoring million selling hits. Since then the group has gone through dozens of personnel changes. Their latest North American tour apparently took place as recently as in 2007. Jersey Boys, a musical play about the Four Seasons has been around for years and it has even been taken to Melbourne, Australia. A quick look to YouTube revealed that there is/was even a “Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons Tribute On Ice". Everything really is on ice these days…

Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons are irreplaceable. I’m sure they will always have a place in my heart – there right next to the Beach Boys.

Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons at YouTube

Official Frankie Valli Page

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