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The Four Seasons are an American rock and pop band that became internationally successful in the 1960s and 1970s. The Vocal Group Hall of Fame has stated that the group was the most popular rock band before the Beatles. Since 1970, they have also been known at times as Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. In 1960, the group known as the Four Lovers evolved into the Four Seasons, with Frankie Valli as the lead singer, Bob Gaudio (formerly of the Royal Teens) on keyboards and tenor vocals, Tommy DeVito on lead guitar and baritone vocals, and Nick Massi on electric bass and bass vocals.
The legal name of the organization is the Four Seasons Partnership, formed by Gaudio and Valli after a failed audition in 1960. While singers, producers, and musicians have come and gone, Gaudio and Valli remain the group's constant (with each owning fifty percent of the act and its assets, including virtually all of its recording catalog). Gaudio no longer plays live, leaving Valli the only member of the group from its inception who is touring as of 2015.
The Four Seasons (group members 1960-1966) were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, and joined the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999. They are one of the best-selling musical groups of all time, having sold an estimated 100 million records worldwide.
Before the Four Seasons:
Frankie Valli's first commercial release was "My Mother's Eyes" (as Frankie Valley) in 1953. The following year, he and guitarist Tommy DeVito formed the Variatones (with Hank Majewski, rhythm guitar, Frank Cattone, accordion, and Billy Thompson, drums), which between 1954 and 1956 performed and recorded under a variety of names before settling on the name The Four Lovers. The same year, the quartet released their first record, "You're the Apple of My Eye", which appeared on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, peaking at #62. Five additional Four Lovers singles (on RCA Victor) were released over the next year, with virtually no sales, airplay, or jukebox play. In 1957, the group's seventh single (this time on Epic) had a similar lack of success.
From 1956 until 1958, the group stayed together, performing in clubs and lounges as the Four Lovers and recording on various record labels with various names: Frankie Tyler, Frankie Valley, Frankie Valley and the Travelers, Frankie Valley and the Romans, the Village Voices, and the Topics are some of the 18 "stage names" used individually or collectively by the members of the group. In 1958, Charles Calello replaced Nick Massi on bass in the lineup.
In 1959, the group started working with producer/songwriter Bob Crewe, primarily for session work (Crewe wrote "I Go Ape", which Valli recorded with the intention of releasing it as a "solo" single). Later that year, the Four Lovers were performing in Baltimore on the same stage as the Royal Teens, who were riding the wave of success of "Short Shorts", a song co-written by then-15-year-old Bob Gaudio, who was also the Royal Teens' keyboardist. In late 1959, Gaudio was added to the Four Lovers on keyboards and guitar, as a replacement for rhythm guitarist Hank Majewski. Early the following year, Nick Massi returned to replace Calello, who remained the band's musical arranger.
In 1960, despite the changes of personnel, the fortunes of the Four Lovers had not changed--they failed an audition for a lounge at a Union Township, Union County, New Jersey bowling establishment. According to Gaudio, "We figured we'll come out of this with something. So we took the name of the bowling alley. It was called the Four Seasons." Despite the last few years of frustration of the Four Lovers, this proved to be the turning point for the group. Later, on a handshake agreement between keyboardist/composer Bob Gaudio and lead singer Frankie Valli, the Four Seasons Partnership was formed.
The rise of the Four Seasons:
The Four Seasons signed as artists to Crewe's production company, and they released their first Crewe-produced single under their new name in 1961 ("Bermuda"/"Spanish Lace" on Gone Records). The single did not chart. The group continued working with producer Bob Crewe as background vocalists, and sometimes leads under different group names, for productions on Crewe's own Topix label. As a follow-up, Bob Gaudio wrote a song that, after some discussion between Crewe and Gaudio, was titled "Sherry". After the song was recorded, Crewe and the members of the group solicited record labels to release it. It was Frankie Valli who spoke with Randy Wood, West coast sales manager for Vee-Jay Records (not the founder of Dot Records) who, in turn, suggested the release of "Sherry" to the decision makers at Vee-Jay. "Sherry" made enough of an impression that Crewe was able to sign a deal between his production company and Vee-Jay for its release. They were the first white artists to sign with Vee-Jay.
In 1962, the group released their first album, featuring the single "Sherry", which was not only their first charted hit but also their first number-one song. Under the guidance of Bob Crewe, the Four Seasons followed up "Sherry" with several million-selling hits, generally composed by Crewe and Gaudio, including "Big Girls Don't Cry" (their second #1 hit), "Walk Like a Man" (their third #1), "Candy Girl", "Ain't That a Shame", and several others. In addition, they released a Christmas album in December 1962 and charted with a unique rendition of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town".
From 1962 to early 1964, only the Beach Boys matched the Four Seasons in record sales in the United States, and their first three Vee-Jay non-holiday single releases marked the first time that a rock band hit #1 on the Billboard singles charts with three consecutive entries (ignoring their version of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town").
In 1962 they were invited to perform their hit "Big Girls Don't Cry" on the show American Bandstand.
From Vee-Jay to Philips:
Despite the group's success, Vee-Jay Records was in financial distress. The label had released several early Beatles singles in America. When the Beatles became wildly popular, Vee-Jay was swamped with orders, and they shipped more than two million Beatles records in a single month. The huge demands of mass production, the cash-flow problems involved, and the loss of the Beatles when Trans-Global (a firm licensed by EMI to distribute its products) canceled Vee-Jay's contract on August 3, 1963, due to non-payment of royalties, found Vee-Jay hard-pressed to stay afloat. Vee-Jay continued to produce one Beatles album (in various forms) in defiance of the cancellation. After over a year of legal negotiations, Capitol Records was finally able to stop Vee-Jay, effective October 15, 1964.
While the label went through internal turmoil with the Beatles and Capitol Records, a separate royalty dispute between Vee-Jay and the Four Seasons headed to court. In January 1964, after several successful albums but a lack of money from Vee-Jay, the Seasons left Vee-Jay and moved to Philips Records, then a division of Mercury Records. In the 1965 settlement of the lawsuit, Vee-Jay retained release rights for all material the group recorded for the label. Vee-Jay exercised those rights liberally over the following year. The group was obligated to deliver one final album to Vee-Jay, which they did in the form of a "faux" live LP. (When Vee-Jay was finally declared bankrupt in 1966, the Four Seasons' Vee-Jay catalog reverted to the band to settle unpaid royalties, and the tracks were then reissued by Philips.)
The change of label did not diminish the popularity of the Four Seasons in 1964, nor did the onslaught of the British Invasion and Beatlemania. In fact, the Seasons were the only act to have had a Hot 100 #1 hit before, during, and after the years that the Beatles had their Hot 100 #1 hits. However, "Dawn (Go Away)" (recorded for Atlantic Records, but never released by them), was kept from the #1 spot on the Hot 100 by no fewer than three Beatles singles in the March 21, 1964, edition (two weeks later, the top five slots were filled by Beatles singles). In a two-record set dubbed The Beatles vs the Four Seasons: The International Battle of the Century!, Vee-Jay created an elaborate two-disc package that the purchaser could use to write on and score individual recordings by their favorite artist. The discs were reissues of the albums Introducing... The Beatles and Golden Hits of the Four Seasons, featuring each original album's label, title and catalog number. Today, this album package is a collector's item.
One group, several acts:
Nick Massi left the Four Seasons in September 1965. The group's arranger, Charles Calello (a former member of the Four Lovers), stepped in as a temporary replacement. A few months later, Joe Long was permanently hired and became a mainstay of the group on bass and backing vocals until 1975, with Calello returning to arranging. In the meantime, the Four Seasons released recordings under a variety of names, including the Valli Boys, the Wonder Who?, and Frankie Valli. Every Valli "solo" recording from 1965 to "My Eyes Adored You" in 1974 was recorded by the Four Seasons at the same time and in the same sessions as other Four Seasons material. Valli's first post-1960 single without the Seasons was 1975's "Swearin' to God".
More Top 20 singles followed in 1965, 1966, and 1967, including "Let's Hang On!", "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" (as the Wonder Who?), "Working My Way Back to You", "Opus 17 (Don't You Worry 'bout Me)", "I've Got You Under My Skin", "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" (released under Valli's name as a "solo" single), "Beggin'", "Tell It to the Rain", "C'mon Marianne", and "I Make a Fool of Myself" (Frankie Valli "solo"). In addition, other Crewe/Gaudio songs that did not become hits for either Valli or the Four Seasons became international hits in cover versions, such as "Silence Is Golden" (The Tremeloes) and "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine (Anymore)" (The Walker Brothers). However, 1968's "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" was the group's last Top 40 hit for seven years (reaching #24), just after Valli's last "solo" hit of the 1960s, the #29 charted "To Give (The Reason I Live)".
The end of the 1960s and move to Motown:
By 1969 the group's popularity had deteriorated as public interest moved towards rock with a harder edge and music with more socially conscious lyrics. Aware of that, Bob Gaudio partnered with folk-rock songwriter Jake Holmes to write a concept album titled The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette, which discussed contemporary issues from the group's standpoint as men in their thirties, including issues such as divorce ("Saturday's Father") and Kinks-style satirical looks at modern life (e.g., "American Crucifixion and Resurrection", "Mrs. Stately's Garden", "Genuine Imitation Life"). The album cover was designed to resemble a newspaper's front page, pre-dating Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick by several years; however, the album was a commercial failure, although it did catch the attention of Frank Sinatra, whose 1969 album Watertown was also done by Gaudio, Holmes and Calello. However, the group's new direction led to the departure of Tom DeVito in early 1970 and the group's departure from Philips shortly thereafter. The Seasons' last single on Philips, 1970's "Patch of Blue," featured the group's name as "Frankie Valli & the 4 Seasons," but the change in billing did not alter the act's lack of success.
After leaving Philips, the Four Seasons recorded a one-off single for the Warner Brothers label in England. John Stefan, the band's lead trumpeter, had arranged the horn section parts for these recordings. These songs showed how versatile the Four Seasons were, introducing a fresh new R&B breakaway style from their already famous sound. This single was never released in the USA. The songs were "Sleeping Man" backed with "Whatever You Say". Following that single, the group signed to Motown with disastrous results. The first LP, Chameleon, failed to sell after it was released by Motown subsidiary label MoWest Records in 1972. A Frankie Valli "solo" single from 1971 ("Love Isn't Here" on Motown) and three Four Seasons singles ("Walk On, Don't Look Back" on MoWest in 1972, "How Come" and "Hickory" on Motown in 1973) sank without a trace. A song from Chameleon that was destined to become a Northern soul hit, reached the upper parts of the UK Singles Chart. "The Night", was not commercially released as a single by Motown in the United States after promotional copies (showing the artist as Frankie Valli) were distributed in 1971.
In late 1973 and early 1974, the Four Seasons recorded eight songs for a planned second Motown album which the company refused to release to the public. Later in 1974, the record label and the band parted ways. On behalf of the Four Seasons Partnership, Valli initially tried to purchase the entire collection of master recordings the group had made for Motown. Upon hearing the amount needed to buy them all, Valli arranged to purchase one recording for $4000 (US): "My Eyes Adored You". Valli took the tape to Private Stock Records' owner and founder Larry Uttal, who, after repeated listenings of the Four Seasons recording, wanted to release it as a Frankie Valli "solo" single. While the group remained unsigned in the later part of 1974, Valli had a new label--and a new solo career.
While the hits for the Four Seasons had dried up in the first half of the 1970s, the group never lost its popularity as a performing act. Longtime member Joe Long stayed in the group until 1975. The new lineup boasted two new lead singers in Don Ciccone (formerly of the Critters) and Gerry Polci, who eased the singing load on an ailing Frankie Valli (who was gradually losing his hearing due to otosclerosis, though eventually surgery restored most of it). As "My Eyes Adored You" climbed the Hot 100 singles chart in early 1975, Valli and Gaudio managed to get the Four Seasons signed with Warner Bros. Records as the disco era dawned. At the same time, Uttal was persuaded to release The Four Seasons Story, a two-record compilation of the group's biggest hit singles from 1962 to 1970. It quickly became a gold record, selling over one million copies before the RIAA started awarding platinum records for million-selling albums.
In 1975, record sales exploded for both Valli and the Four Seasons as both acts had million-selling singles in the United States ("My Eyes Adored You" hit #1 on the Hot 100 for Valli in March, "Who Loves You" peaked at #3 in November for the group). In the United Kingdom, Tamla Motown released "The Night" as a single and saw it reach the #7 position on the UK Singles Chart. "My Eyes Adored You" was also a Top 10 hit in the United Kingdom, in February of that year. Valli had his first truly solo hit in the summer of 1975 when the Bob Crewe-produced "Swearin' to God" followed "My Eyes Adored You" into the upper reaches of the Hot 100, peaking at the #6 position and capitalizing on the growing disco craze. The song was released in three forms: the eight-minute album version, the ten-minute extended 12-inch single version, and the four-minute single version. This record featured Patti Austin on bridge vocals, before she became well-known. Valli followed this with a discofied #11 hit version of Ruby & the Romantics "Our Day Will Come", also featuring Austin.
The album Who Loves You became a surprise million-seller for the group, as it was the first Four Seasons album to prominently feature lead vocals by anyone other than Valli ("Sorry" on Half & Half had featured Gaudio, DeVito and Long minus Valli, while "Wall Street Village Day" on Genuine Imitation Life Gazette featured Valli on just a couple of 'bridge' section lead vocal lines). Gerry Polci did about half of the lead vocals, sharing them with Valli and one lead by Ciccone ('Slip Away'). The title song had Valli doing the lead on the verses, but none of the trademark falsettos in the chorus. It was a Top 10 British hit in October 1975, relaunching their career there. "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)" had Polci singing lead on the verses, Ciccone featured on specific sections, and Valli doing lead vocals only on the two bridge sections and backup vocals on the chorus. "Silver Star" had Polci doing all the lead vocals, with Valli on harmony vocals.
The Four Seasons opened 1976 atop the Billboard chart with their fifth #1 single, "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)", co-written by Bob Gaudio and his future wife Judy Parker. The single also hit number one in the United Kingdom. Although the group also scored minor chart placements with "Silver Star" (#38), "Down the Hall" (#65 in 1977) both sung by Polci, and "Spend the Night in Love" (#91 in 1980) which again featured Polci as main Lead vocalist and Valli singing the bridge section and contributing to backup group vocals, "December, 1963" marked the end of the Seasons' hit-making run. Both singles were hits in the United Kingdom, with Silver Star making the Top 10. (A dance remix version of "December 1963" returned them briefly to the upper reaches of the Billboard singles charts almost two decades later.)
The success of Who Loves You increased the popularity of the Four Seasons as a touring group and reignited recording unit, but when 1977's Helicon album was released by Warner Bros., the climate was changing again, both for the group and for Valli. The new record yielded only one USA single, "Down the Hall", which limped onto the Hot 100. In the UK they had chart hits with both "Down The Hall" and "Rhapsody" (with verses sung by Don Ciccone and Valli appearing to notable effect only as lead voice over group harmonies on the chorus). At the same time, Valli's string of solo hits had come to an end as he parted ways with Private Stock Records. Helicon saw Polci and Ciccone heavily featured as lead vocalists, Valli, besides his co-lead chorus vocal on "Rhapsody" and some backing vocals, only taking a brief bridge lead vocal on two songs that were largely sung by Polci, though on "New York Street Song (No Easy Way)", Valli also clearly stands out over the group harmonies on two notable a cappella sections. Plus Valli took one solo lead vocal role on the album's concluding song, the brief Gaudio-Parker-penned "I Believe in You".
Excluding Valli's 1978 "Grease" single, which hit #1 while the motion picture of the same name became the highest-grossing musical in cinematic history, the last Top 40 hit for the group was behind them. Both Valli and the group released singles and albums on an occasional basis, but after "Grease", only a remixed version of their biggest seller, "December 1963" would visit the upper half of the Hot 100 (in 1994). In January 1981, Warners released Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons Reunited Live. Produced by Bob Gaudio, it was a double album of concert recordings which included the two studio recordings "Spend The Night in Love" and "Heaven Must Have Sent You (Here in The Night)" sung by Valli. The latter became a UK single but failed to chart, while the former was released as a single in America, inching its way into the Hot 100.
In 1984, a long-awaited collaboration between the Four Seasons and the Beach Boys, East Meets West, was released on FBI Records, owned by the Four Seasons Partnership, which included most of the surviving Beach Boys (including Brian Wilson). However, the record did not sell well. Even after the rise and fall of the group's sales in the disco era, the Four Seasons, in one version or another (the group became a sextet as Jerry Corbetta, formerly of Sugarloaf, joined the lineup), continued to be a popular touring act, with Valli being the only constant in the midst of a fluctuating lineup. Although Gaudio is still officially part of the group (he and Valli are still equal partners in the Four Seasons Partnership), he now restricts his activities to writing, producing, and the occasional studio work. In August 1985, MCA Records released the group album Streetfighter which yielded two singles in the title track and "Book Of Love", a post-disco-style revamp of the Monotones' 1957 recording. In September 1992, a group album was released entitled Hope + Glory on the MCA/Curb label.
The latest edition of the Four Seasons, including Valli, conducted a North American tour in the latter half of 2007. Incidental to this tour, the massive 3CD + 1DVD box set ...Jersey Beat... The Music Of Frankie Valli & the 4 Seasons was released in mid-2007, marketed as the most comprehensive collection of Four Seasons music yet. The album title Jersey Beat is a play on Jersey Boys, a wildly successful Broadway musical about the Four Seasons, as well as on "Mersey Beat", a term first coined as the title of a music magazine published in Liverpool, U.K., from 1961 but subsequently also used to describe Liverpool's "beat music" culture of the early 1960s.
In 2008, the Four Seasons' "Beggin'" was revived not by one but by two acts. Pilooski made an electro remix of that song, while rap act Madcon used it as the basis of their song "Beggin'". The latter went to number 5 in the UK charts and was a hit across Europe. The song was featured in a TV commercial for adidas shoes entitled "Celebrate Originality". The Adidas commercial is a popular hit on YouTube and features a house party with famous celebrities such as David Beckham, Russel Simmons, Kevin Garnett, Missy Elliott, Katy Perry, and Mark Gonzales. Since 2008 Frankie Valli has continued to tour worldwide with a new group of Four Seasons consisting of Todd Fournier, Brian Brigham, Brandon Brigham, and Landon Beard providing him with backup vocal harmonies.
Also known as ...:
From 1956 until "My Eyes Adored You" in 1975, records which the Four Seasons recorded had the following artist credit (a sampling):
1960 and after:
The Four Seasons,
Hal Miller and the Rays,
Johnny Halo featuring The Four Seasons,
The 4 Seasons,
The Wonder Who?,
The Valli Boys,
Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons
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Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons