Bob Lefsetz: Welcome To My World - "Four Seasons Primer"

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Friday, July 11, 2014
50s
60s
The Four Seasons
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Bob Lefsetz: Welcome To My World - "Four Seasons Primer"

SHERRY

It was not like today, there was no Disney Channel, never mind Disney Radio. All we had were three networks, a few independents and...our transistors. They were the iPods of the day, everybody was constantly buying new ones, for a few years there they were all the rage.

And when you finally got a transistor, you listened to baseball. At least I did. I was addicted to the Yankees. Did I ever tell you I was there when Roger Maris hit his 61st?

Anyway, when it comes to popular music...

My parents played show tunes, I knew "Oklahoma!" by heart, but the rest of the Top Forty lived in the ether, you'd hear bits and pieces here and there. And that's how I knew "Sherry." It was all about Frankie Valli's voice, "Sherry BAY-A-BY!" There was nothing else like it on the radio, and unique doesn't only stand out, you remember it. And although "Sherry" sounds horribly dated, it's just as infectious today, because it's simple and basic, it's got a memorable tune, great vocals and hooks galore. It was innocent, and all about the music, it encapsulated the early sixties, before Vietnam, before the riots, when the baby boomers were just coming into their own in a world where your mother didn't have to work and you had backyard barbecues and everybody believed in the U.S.A. and everybody was happy (well, as long as you weren't black or gay or...)

BIG GIRLS DON'T CRY

My mother bought the single.

She was a hipster, but popular music was not her thing, she was a theatre rat. But this was just so infectious, she couldn't resist.

"Big Girls Don't Cry" is like "Like A Virgin," the unexpected superior follow-up to the initial hit. You had to hear it on the phonograph, those drums were big, the chorus immediately hooked you and, once again, Frankie's falsetto enraptured you... "Big girls don't CRY-I-I!"

This was a monster hit, not much more than a year before the Beatles invaded our consciousness and revolutionized the music business.

WALK LIKE A MAN

I heard this at the bowling alley, Nutmeg Bowl on Kings Highway (not Tom Petty's). Not only was the PBA on every Saturday afternoon, bowling was my first love, before skiing. I'd go with school, I'd bowl with the league on Saturday morning and even if we did three strings, with french fries in between, we always ended up spending time at the jukebox. Where this was a favorite.

Forget the lyrics, forget the message, it was all about the SOUND!

DAWN (GO AWAY)

I had to own this one, I heard it and couldn't get enough of it, to this day it's my favorite Four Seasons track. I loved the way it started off so rich and a cappella, and then the drumbeat and then...that chorus!

Go away, I'm no good for you. Fat chance! Come closer!

If you can't sing along with this, you didn't live through this.

RONNIE

The second horse of the 1964 trifecta.

Sure, it once again starts off with an indelible chorus.

But what you've got to know is the Beatles wiped most American acts off the chart, except for...the Four Seasons and the Beach Boys. And as much as we loved the Fab Four, we had a fantasy our homegrown favorites would last. And in 1964, they did.

I bought this one too, even though it's not quite as good as what came before and...what came after.

RAG DOLL

It was the same time of year as now, early summer, and the only thing as big as this number one record was..."I Get Around" and ultimately "A Hard Day's Night."

We don't have this kind of dominance these days. A song that is positively everywhere.

This was the victory lap, as good as "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Rag Doll" made it seem like American music would sustain. Alas, it didn't. Not on the Top Forty, not for years.

Sure, the Four Seasons had more hits. But not immediately. And that's important. It was not like today, where tracks could live on the chart for the better part of a year, they were on the radio a couple of months at best. And the Beatles continued to top the chart and the Four Seasons did not.

There was a hit in '65, but "Bye, Bye, Baby (Baby Goodbye)" was simplistic, formula, almost a cheap shot, when the Beatles were testing limits with every release, pushing us beyond our preconceptions and pleasing us all the while. Sure, "Bye, Bye, Baby (Baby Goodbye)" got airplay, but you couldn't hold it up as a paragon of excellence, as a badge of identity.

LET'S HANG ON

This was more like it, but still an extension of the formula.

We liked hearing our old favorite on the radio in the fall of '65, but no one believed the Four Seasons mattered anymore, unlike before the Beatles. This was a hit song. But even though it made it all the way to number 3, it was a step below what came before.

WORKING MY WAY BACK TO YOU

Ditto. Jimi Hendrix was all over FM, as well as Cream, Motown made inroads on Top Forty and in 1969 we got this cut that was very good, but dated. But don't say there weren't hooks. In comparison to so much of today's music, this is a MASTERPIECE!

DECEMBER, 1963 (OH, WHAT A NIGHT)

The last hurrah, when most people were no longer paying attention. Yes, this went to number one in 1976, when anybody who cared about music was listening to FM.

Most interesting for having someone other than Frankie Valli singing lead, this is one step above a throwaway. Put it in context and you'll squirm. Once upon a time the Four Seasons stood for something, we defended them, they MATTERED!

But no longer.

GREASE

Frankie Valli was the voice, but Bob Gaudio was the genius, his only failing was being born too early, before the album rock era when millions sat at home reading the credits.

Gaudio's gotten credit, but he still deserves a victory lap. Despite the hoopla of "Jersey Boys," most people still don't know him.

But Bob Gaudio did not write and produce "Grease," that work was done by Barry Gibb (with help from Albhy Galuten and Karl Richardson on the production side).

That's how hot Barry was, he could bring back the dead.

Sure, Frankie had a solo hit in '74, with "My Eyes Adored You," but that was before most people had even heard the word "disco."

This was a real comeback, this was relevant, not that we believed it could last, and it didn't. But for one moment in the spring of '78, Frankie Valli was once again a star.

And it's not his falsetto vocal, but it's still him. And I always loved this record. Which is why we journeyed downtown on some godforsaken stormy night to see him perform at a free show. After all, it was FRANKIE VALLI!