Despite this massive and long-lasting success and their 1990 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, however, the Four Seasons did not, for most of their career, enjoy the kind of critical approbation and media profile of many of their peers. In seeking to understand why, it may be useful to compare the group with a friendly rival act with which they have many parallels. Like the Four Seasons, the Beach Boys were a band known for their harmonies and influenced by such predecessors as the Four Freshmen. Despite essentially being vocal groups, both the Four Seasons and the Beach Boys were also real bands in which the members also played musical instruments. They both featured distinctive lead singers while also including another group member who was the major creative force, acting as primary songwriter and producer. (In both cases, that member eventually retired from performing to focus on writing and producing for the band.) Both groups entered the charts with their first major hits in the same month, August 1962, and went on to enormous success in the next several years. Both were among the few American performers who managed to withstand the British Invasion led by the Beatles in 1964. As the '60s went on, both adapted their music to changing styles, but ultimately suffered a decline in popularity by decade's end. Both enjoyed major comebacks in the mid-'70s, and in subsequent decades, extending well into the 21st century, both continued to perform regularly on the oldies circuit and record (at least occasionally) while undergoing extensive personnel changes such that only the lead singer remained from the original lineup. In the 2000s, both had their hits performed in Broadway "jukebox" musicals, for the Beach Boys, the flop Good Vibrations, for the Four Seasons, the hit Jersey Boys. Yet the Beach Boys, who have been immortalized in a small library's worth of books, are critically revered, while, as of 2007, not a single biography had been written of the Four Seasons, who are denigrated by some music journalists as a sort of overachieving doo wop group. Why?
One possibility, of course, is simply that the rock critics are right. Another is that the Beach Boys were more media savvy, hiring a publicist who succeeded in planting the idea in the press that their songwriter/producer, Brian Wilson, was a "genius," while the Four Seasons' counterpart, Bob Gaudio, was content to do his work behind the scenes without giving many interviews about it. Then, too, the Beach Boys' story, which centered on the troubled Wilson family with its Oedipal complexes, rivalries, drugs, and sex, was made for media attention, while the Four Seasons kept their problems to themselves. (As was revealed only decades later, however, their career was hardly carefree.) It's also worth noting that the Four Seasons' financial independence -- they owned all of their master recordings and controlled all of their publishing from their work of the 1960s -- while probably advantageous to them monetarily over the long term, meant that there was no major label or major publisher that stood to gain by continuously promoting them and that their classic recordings spent long periods of time out of print. As of the early '70s, the band's commercial nadir and the era when rock critics really began weighing in on what was good and bad, it was hard to find a Four Seasons album in a record store, while discs by the Beach Boys and other of the Four Seasons' '60s contemporaries enjoyed frequent reissue campaigns, accompanied, of course, by fresh reassessments in the press cultivated by record company publicity departments.
Probably, however, the real reason for the Four Seasons' low critical standing has more to do with a crucial choice made at a key moment in their career. One of the important changes in emphasis during the late '60s was the transition from the 45 rpm single as the major element in a recording act's work to the album. Typically, that was a change pioneered by the Beatles, but it was recognized by Brian Wilson immediately, leading to his conception of 1966's Pet Sounds, which stands as the bedrock of Beach Boys worship. At the same time, however, the Four Seasons' brain trust was laboring to launch Valli's solo career as a middle-of-the-road pop singer while trying to maintain the group's popularity almost exclusively through successive hit singles. There was no Four Seasons concept album to compare with Pet Sounds or Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band during the mid-'60s; indeed, at a time when most popular recording artists released two new albums a year, there was no new Four Seasons LP at all (at least, none billed as such) between the appearance of Working My Way Back to You and More Great New Hits in January 1966 and The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette a full three years later. The latter was Gaudio's belated entry in the concept-album sweepstakes, and some revisionist critics have ranked it as one of the best. But at the time of its appearance, it was too little, too late. As a result, the Four Seasons' status as album artists ranks far below that of their peers, and their critical standing has suffered accordingly. Without an album masterpiece for critics to latch onto, they are condemned as a singles act, albeit one of the best and most popular in music history.
As might be expected, both the Four Seasons' massive success and their career missteps were engendered by who they were as people. The story inevitably begins with Valli, born Francis Castelluccio in Newark, NJ, on May 3, 1934. (Most biographies incorrectly cite 1937, but the correct date finally appeared in the press in the mid-2000s.) He began to sing in his youth, and was heard by vocalist Texas Jean Valley, who took him to auditions. Valli acknowledged Valley by adopting the same name, though it took him a while to decided how to spell his version. In 1953, while still in his teens, he was signed to the Corona subsidiary of Mercury Records and released a revival of the Georgie Jessel hit "My Mother's Eyes" as his debut single under the name Frankie Valley. It was the first of a series of records he would cut, mostly without success, over the next nine years. The only exception was "You're the Apple of My Eye," by the Four Lovers, released by RCA Victor Records in April 1956. Valli was joined in the group by Tommy DeVito (born June 19, 1928, in Montclair, NJ; vocals and lead guitar), his brother Nick DeVito (vocals), and Hank Majewski (vocals). Valli had joined the group, previously known as the Variety Trio, in 1954, and they then became the Variatones; in addition to singing lead, he sometimes played bass and maracas. They became the Four Lovers when RCA signed them up. "You're the Apple of My Eye," their first release, peaked at number 62 on Billboard's Top 100 chart on June 16, 1956. Unfortunately, that turned out to be the peak of the Four Lovers' success on records, despite more single and EP releases in 1956 and 1957, and even an LP, Joyride, released in September 1956.
Between 1958 and 1961, Valli and the group continued to perform primarily in clubs in New Jersey and around the New York metropolitan area while also getting chances to record, together or separately, under a variety of names (Frankie Tyler, Frankie Valli & the Romans, Frankie Vally and the Travelers, Hal Miller and the Rays, the Village Voices, Billy Dixon and the Topics), all without success. Not surprisingly, there were personnel changes during this period. In 1961, Majewski dropped out and was replaced by Hugh Garrity and then Nick Massi (born Nicholas Macioci on September 19, 1926, in Newark, NJ; died December 24, 2000), who also served as vocal arranger. Nick DeVito departed and was replaced briefly by Charles Calello (who would continue to work with the group as musical arranger), then, in a key shift, by singer/keyboardist Bob Gaudio (born Robert Gaudio on November 17, 1942, in New York, NY [The Bronx]). Gaudio had been a member of the Royal Teens and had co-written their Top Five 1958 hit "Short Shorts." Meanwhile, the former Four Lovers had been signed to a personal services contract by songwriter/producer Bob Crewe, who used them as demo singers and as backup vocalists and musicians on some of his productions as well as recording them on their own. In November 1961, Valli, Tommy DeVito, Massi, and Gaudio first recorded for Crewe under a new name, the Four Seasons, taken from a bowling alley in Union, NJ, that also had a lounge where they'd auditioned. The track was a revival of the Bell Sisters hit "Bermuda," released by Gone Records, and it was yet another failure.
By his account, Crewe went to New Jersey to see the group perform one night and was impressed by Valli's ability to ascend effortlessly from his high tenor range into falsetto. Crewe suggested to Gaudio that he write a song taking advantage of that ability, and the result was "Sherry," which they then recorded, and which Crewe sold to Vee Jay Records, the independent black-owned, Chicago-based label known for R&B artists like Jerry Butler. Released in July 1962, "Sherry" entered the charts in August and peaked at number one in the pop charts in September, as well as topping the R&B charts in October. (It is notable that only one of the Four Seasons, the 19-year-old Gaudio, was under 28 when "Sherry" took off, while the Beach Boys ranged in age from 15 to 21 when "Surfin'" hit the charts the same month, and the Beatles were between 19 and 22 when their first hit, "Love Me Do," charted in the U.K. two months later.) The Four Seasons quickly followed with the Crewe/Gaudio composition "Big Girls Don't Cry," released in October, which repeated the success of "Sherry," hitting number one pop and R&B in November. Also in October, Vee Jay released the LP Sherry & 11 Others, which peaked in the Top Ten in December. Taking advantage of the group's popularity, the label also rushed out a Christmas album, The 4 Seasons Greetings, along with a holiday single, "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," which reached the Top 40. The group's next regular single, Crewe and Gaudio's "Walk Like a Man," appeared in January 1963 and was number one pop by the start of March. (It only went to number three R&B.) It lasted on top for three weeks, meaning that for the 27-week period between September 15, 1962, and March 16, 1963, the Four Seasons had spent 13 weeks -- nearly half the time -- at number one with their first three singles, an unprecedented run of initial success. Vee Jay quickly put out another LP, Big Girls Don't Cry and Twelve Others, and it rose into the Top Ten.
Naturally, this popularity led to a heavy concert schedule, which may help explain why the next single was a revival of the Fats Domino hit "Ain't That a Shame!," rather than a new, original song. Released in April 1963, it broke the group's string of chart-toppers, peaking only in the Top 40 in May. The LP Ain't That a Shame and 11 Others, released in May, reached number 47. Its lead-off track was "Candy Girl" (written by Larry Santos), which became the next single, peaking in the Top Five in August, with B-side "Marlena" (by Gaudio) also reaching the Top 40. By this time, relations between the Four Seasons and Vee Jay had cooled, as the group felt they were owed royalties that were not forthcoming. They appear to have done only one more recording session for the label, at which they cut the uncharacteristic tracks "Starmaker" and "Silver Wings," neither of which featured Valli's falsetto. Vee Jay included these previously unreleased recordings on a compilation LP, Golden Hits of the 4 Seasons, released in August, which reached the Top 20. In September, the company pulled "New Mexican Rose" (written by Calello and Crewe) from the Ain't That a Shame LP as the next single; it peaked in the Top 40 in November. Meanwhile, the dispute between the group and the label became the subject of litigation. Declaring themselves free of their Vee Jay contract, the Four Seasons re-entered the recording studio on November 20, 1963, to cut their next single, "Dawn (Go Away)" (co-written by Gaudio and Sandy Linzer). It was released on Philips Records, a European firm distributed in the U.S. by Mercury, in January 1964. It entered the charts on February 1, 1964, and would have hit number one if not for the Beatles, whose initial American hits "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You" held it at number three for three weeks. The song had an unusual class consciousness; the narrator is a lower-class boy who tells a girl from a higher social strata that she should break up with him and stick with a boy from her own income bracket instead. "Think what your family would say," he advises. "Think what you're throwing away. Now, think what the future would be with a poor boy like me."
Vee Jay countered the Four Seasons' defection by embarking on an extensive repackaging campaign that included compilation albums drawn from its existing catalog of the group's tracks as well as singles. For example, "Stay," a revival of the Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs hit that had first appeared on the Ain't That a Shame LP, was issued as a single in January 1964 and peaked in the Top 20 in April. Vee Jay had also come out with a compilation LP called Folk-Nanny, attempting to take advantage of the folk music fad; the label quickly retitled the disc Stay & Other Great Hits and got it into the Top 100. The group, meanwhile, had had the same idea; their February 1964 LP release Born to Wander, subtitled "Tender and soulful ballads (folk flavored)" and showing them strumming acoustic guitars on its cover, also nodded toward folk music. Lacking any hit singles, however, it struggled to reach the Top 100 and was quickly followed in March by Dawn (Go Away) and 11 Other Great Songs, which rose into the Top Ten. The same month saw the release of the group's next new single, Crewe and Gaudio's "Ronnie," which peaked in the Top Ten in May. Vee Jay soon countered with a single release of a revival of the Shepherd Sisters hit "Alone" culled from the Big Girls Don't Cry LP that peaked in the Top 40 in July. Vee Jay continued to put out albums and singles of old material over the next year and a half, notoriously including the double-LP The Beatles vs. the Four Seasons (which combined Introducing the Beatles and Golden Hits of the 4 Seasons), but disc jockeys had gotten wise to the subterfuge and tended to stick with actual newly recorded Four Seasons discs instead.
The next newly recorded single was Crewe and Gaudio's "Rag Doll," released in June 1964. Inspired by his encounter with a young female street urchin begging money after cleaning the windshield of his car while he was stuck at a stoplight, Gaudio turned the tables on "Dawn (Go Away)." This time, the narrator is the well-off one, and his folks are telling him to give up a poor girl. (A young Billy Joel no doubt took notice of the boy's reply: "I love you just the way you are.") "Rag Doll" returned the Four Seasons to the top of the charts for the first time in 16 months, hitting number one in July 1964; in August, it became the group's first gold single. The inevitable LP named for the song made the Top Ten. The Four Seasons continued to score with successive hit singles released during the remainder of 1964 -- Crewe and Gaudio's "Save It for Me" (Top Ten, September), Gaudio's "Big Man in Town" (Top 20, December), Crewe and Gaudio's "Bye, Bye, Baby (Baby, Goodbye)" (Top 20, February 1965) -- assuring that they would rank second only to the Beatles as the most successful singles artists of the year. It is significant, however, that their focus seemed to be almost entirely on singles; there was no new LP for the lucrative Christmas market in 1964. The next album release came in March 1965 with The 4 Seasons Entertain You, released simultaneously with a new single, Crewe and Gaudio's "Toy Soldier," that was added to later editions of the LP. Both were disappointing sellers. The album only reached the Top 100, while the single was their first to miss the Top 40 since they had broken through with "Sherry." Crewe and Gaudio's "Girl Come Running," released in May 1965, marked an uptick, peaking in the Top 40 in July, and the Motown-influenced "Let's Hang On!" (written by Crewe, Linzer, and Denny Randell), released in September, became the Four Seasons' biggest hit in 19 months, reaching number three in Billboard in December. (In Cash Box magazine, it went all the way to number one.)
But there were changes in the offing for the group. Frankie Valli decided to launch a solo career, albeit while remaining at the helm of the group. He cut a new Crewe/Gaudio composition with Crewe as usual producing, "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine (Anymore)." Perhaps because of the competition with "Let's Hang On!," "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine (Anymore)," released in October on another Mercury subsidiary, Smash Records, failed. (That might help explain why an identical arrangement of the song by the Walker Brothers became a transatlantic hit the following year.) Actually, the group also had a third single in release at the same time. As part of a new LP devoted to songs written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David on one side and Bob Dylan on the other, they had cut a unique arrangement of Dylan's "Don't Think Twice." In their stage act, Valli had long performed an impersonation of the 1940s singer Rose Murphy, known for her high-pitched rendition of "I Can't Give You Anything but Love." (The Four Seasons had recorded that song in her style on their debut album.) Dylan, of course, was the hot singer/songwriter of 1965 with his own hits, such as "Like a Rolling Stone," covers of his songs like the Byrds' "Mr. Tambourine Man," and copies of his style including Barry McGuire's "Eve of Destruction." By performing "Don't Think Twice" in the manner of Rose Murphy, the Four Seasons were having a little fun with the otherwise seriously regarded bard of folk-rock protest. They decided to release the song as a single in advance of The 4 Seasons Sing Big Hits by Burt Bacharach...Hal David...Bob Dylan, but with two other singles also in the pipeline, and given the track's novelty quality, they opted to put it out under a thinly veiled pseudonym as "the Wonder Who?" Amazingly, it reached the Top 20 (the Top Ten in Cash Box), infuriating some Dylan fans, no doubt, but amusing everyone else. (There were a few more releases by the Wonder Who?, but the gimmick really wore off after the first hit.) The Bacharach/David/Dylan album, a modest seller, was one of three Four Seasons albums released in November 1965. There was also a compilation of Philips singles, The 4 Seasons' Gold Vault of Hits, which reached the Top Ten and eventually went gold. And there was a new album on Vee Jay that constituted a settlement of the band's legal problems with its former label. Recorded Live on Stage purported to be a concert recording, but it was really a studio version of the Four Seasons' stage show, with audience sounds dubbed in. Vee Jay pulled "Little Boy (In Grown Up Clothes)" as a single and got it into the charts, but that was one of the label's last accomplishments before it declared bankruptcy. Soon after, the Four Seasons acquired ownership of their back catalog of Vee Jay recordings.
The other significant change at this time was Nick Massi's sudden and unexpected decision to leave the Four Seasons. According to Valli, there was friction between DeVito and Massi that led to the split, along with Massi's distaste for the business conflicts surrounding the group. (Among those conflicts might have been the nascent Valli solo career, which meant potential extra income for the lead singer and for Gaudio as songwriter, especially since the two had agreed upon a 50/50 partnership for their activities outside the group, an agreement that specifically excluded Massi and DeVito.) Massi was replaced temporarily by Calello, then by Joe Long (born Joseph LaBracio on September 5, 1941), who took over bass singing and bass playing duties.
Valli tried the solo route a second time with the December 1965 release of Crewe and Calello's "(You're Gonna) Hurt Yourself," which became his first solo chart entry and peaked in the Top 40 in February 1966. (Thus, for the week of January 15, 1966, the Four Seasons in effect had three singles -- "Let's Hang On!," "Don't Think Twice," and "[You're Gonna] Hurt Yourself" -- in the Hot 100 simultaneously under three different names.) The Four Seasons released a new single and album in January 1966, Linzer and Randell's "Working My Way Back to You" and Working My Way Back to You and More Great New Hits. The single and title track had another Motown-influenced arrangement that sounded like it would have fit into the Four Tops' repertoire without much trouble. It peaked in the Top Ten in March. Despite its title, which implied another hits-plus-filler collection, the album was the group's first collection of all-original material since the Rag Doll LP, and it marked a big advance in artistic ambition. In the wake of Dylan's breakthrough and the Beatles' Rubber Soul, and with the Rolling Stones' Aftermath and the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds on the horizon, Gaudio clearly had gotten the message that albums could be devoted to songs that were statements of personal expression, not just teen romance. It happened, however, that his and the group's worldview did not coincide with much of the restless, left-leaning sentiments that were finding favor among draft-age young of the mid-'60s. Several years older and coming out of a working-class background, the Four Seasons had a somewhat different sensibility, which Gaudio displayed in "Everybody Knows My Name," a song with a folk-rock arrangement reminiscent of "Eve of Destruction" and "I Got You Babe" in which a celebrity tells an ordinary person, "You've got much more than me," because "You've got a home, you've got a family." And in Crewe and Gaudio's "Beggars Parade," considerable skepticism was expressed about the combination of "Bowery bums" and "bankers' sons" who were out protesting instead of holding down jobs. It may not have been such ideas that kept the Working My Way Back to You album from getting any higher than halfway up the Top 100, but they didn't help.
Nevertheless, the hit singles kept coming, and the next one, released in April 1966, was Linzer and Randell's "Opus 17 (Don't You Worry 'Bout Me)." With its flashy horn chart, the rollicking track was yet another Motown knockoff, and it peaked in the Top 20 in June. The Four Seasons followed with a change of pace, a pop/rock arrangement of Cole Porter's 1936 standard "I've Got You Under My Skin," which they took into the Top Ten in October. The group had a number of albums in release in the fall, but they were all compilations and reissues. Having taken possession of their Vee Jay material, the Four Seasons determined to issue their own versions of the tracks on Philips. Thus, the confusingly titled 2nd Vault of Golden Hits, released in November, contained hits recorded prior to those on 1965's Gold Vault of Hits as well as more recent ones. (It eventually went gold.) The 1962 holiday album reappeared as The Four Seasons' Christmas Album. And there was another compilation of assorted Vee Jay cuts, Lookin' Back. All of these LPs charted, but they may have confused record buyers. In the midst of them came the next new single, "Tell It to the Rain" (written by Mike Petrillo and Angelo Cifelli). A rousing pop/rocker with an elaborate arrangement including a sound effect of thunder, it peaked in the Top Ten in January 1967. Gaudio and Peggy Farina's "Beggin'," a bluesy rocker, followed in February and made the Top 20 in April.
Switching from Smash to Philips, Valli had continued to release solo singles with only modest success ("You're Ready Now," April 1966; "The Proud One," October 1966), at least in part because the record label's executives don't seem to have been enthusiastic about his solo work, probably worrying that it deflected attention from the group's records. For the next solo single, Valli and Gaudio decided to hire an independent promotion firm to pitch it to radio. With that, in April 1967, Valli finally hit the jackpot with the Crewe/Gaudio ballad "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," crooning the song's romantic lyrics over a middle-of-the-road pop arrangement by Artie Schroeck. The gold-selling single peaked at number two in Billboard in July; in Cash Box, it hit number one. (The song went on to become a pop standard, quickly covered by the likes of Al Martino, Andy Williams, and Jerry Vale, among many others.)
In May 1967, the Four Seasons released both a new single and a curiously titled album. The single was L. Russell Brown and Raymond Bloodworth's "C'mon Marianne," another vibrant rocker that reestablished Valli's trademark falsetto and peaked in the Top Ten in July. The album was called New Gold Hits, which suggested it was yet another compilation, even though only two of its ten tracks, "Beggin'" and its B-side, "Dody," had been released previously. (There was also an alternate version of "Tell It to the Rain.") But even if it had been given a more appropriate title, the LP probably would not have made much of an impression in a season that also included the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. As it was, it peaked in the Top 40. (One of its tracks was another Wonder Who? performance, a cover of the 1928 standard "The Lonesome Road." When it was released as a single in July, the Four Seasons had another of those periods with three singles in the Hot 100 under different names: for the charts of July 29, August 5, and August 12, "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," "C'mon Marianne," and "Lonesome Road" were all in the lists at the same time.)
If New Gold Hits wasn't really a compilation, Valli's debut solo album, released in July, arguably was, since more than half of the tracks on the LP, the full title of which was The 4 Seasons Present Frankie Valli Solo, had been released previously on singles. The album reached the Top 40. The group alternated single releases with Valli thereafter; Valli's "I Make a Fool of Myself" (by Crewe and Gaudio) was released in August and peaked in the Top 20 in October; the Four Seasons' psychedelic-tinged "Watch the Flowers Grow" (by Brown and Bloodworth) followed in October and peaked in the Top 40 in November; Valli's "To Give (The Reason I Live)" (by Crewe and Gaudio) came in December and peaked in the Top 40 in February 1968; and the group's revival of the Shirelles hit "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" came out in February and peaked in the Top 40 in March. What is striking about this steady-as-she-goes period of mid-chart hitmaking is not so much what happened as what didn't. Valli and the Four Seasons seemed focused on the next single at a time when albums had achieved at least equal importance to artists' careers. At least on the group singles, they were making some concessions to current styles in pop/rock, just as Valli and Gaudio now sported goatees (Valli's seemed to come and go) -- their only acknowledgement of the long-hair fashion trend -- and the group was dressing for photo shoots in casual outfits instead of matching stage costumes (at least occasionally), but never scruffy jeans. Valli was aiming his solo career straight down the middle of the road, but the group too clearly remained more comfortable playing the Copacabana than it would have been at the Fillmore Auditorium.
Gaudio, however, seems to have recognized that the Four Seasons had to make more of an effort to keep up with the more serious and artistic tendencies in rock in the late '60s. He teamed up with folksinger Jake Holmes for the next group single, the socially conscious "Saturday's Father," released in June 1968. The song had something of the domestic flavor and musical style of the Beatles' "She's Leaving Home," but with a crucial difference. It took the point of view of a divorced father allowed visitation rights to his children only on Saturdays, rather, than, say that of a child of a divorced couple. That was a perspective that no doubt registered with the over-30 members of the Four Seasons, but not with the youthful record buyers they were trying to reach. The single missed the Billboard chart entirely, even though it went halfway up the Cash Box chart. Its failure signaled a period of commercial eclipse for both Valli and the Four Seasons. Valli's second solo album, Timeless, released in July 1968, was a minor seller. The group finished the year with yet another hits collection, the double-LP Edizione d'Oro (Gold Edition), which, appropriately, went gold over time, and a more uptempo single, Linzer and Petrillo's "Electric Stories," which was a minor chart entry.
The Four Seasons finally delivered their intended album opus in January 1969 with The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette. The album came in an elaborate package made up to look like a newspaper, complete with mock headlines and stories. The songs were all written by Gaudio and Holmes, and Gaudio took over production credit from Crewe. He pulled out all the stops in his attempt to make a musically eclectic Sgt. Pepper-style collection a year and a half after the Summer of Love. Some music critics would later give the results high marks, but at the start of 1969 the album struggled to make it into the Top 100. Valli and Four Seasons singles also struggled on the Hot 100 over the next year, and when in May 1970 Philips released Half & Half, an LP that interspersed Valli solo and Four Seasons tracks, it barely made the Top 200. By the end of the year the label had cut ties with both the solo singer and the group, even though Valli's 1966 single "You're Ready Now," hailed as a Northern soul classic, had belatedly become a hit in the U.K. (As they had with Vee Jay, the Four Seasons acquired their master recordings from Philips. The immediate effect of this was that all their albums quickly went out of print, since Philips no long had the right to press them.)
The Four Seasons toured Great Britain for the first time in seven years in 1971. They did so without Tommy DeVito, who left on the eve of the tour. At the time, hearing problems were cited as the reason, but a darker one was only revealed decades later: DeVito, who had been responsible for the group's finances, had run up significant gambling debts, as well as a large unpaid tax bill. Valli and Gaudio agreed to cover the arrears by buying him out of the group, and from then on "the Four Seasons" was a partnership solely between the two. In the meantime, the personnel of the band began to fluctuate, with Valli, Gaudio, and Long joined by guitarist Bob Grim and drummer Gary Wolfe. The numerical confusion was eased by the group's being billed as Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons. That's how they were known on their first new release in ten months, the single "Whatever You Say," issued by the British division of Warner Bros. Records in September 1971. (Actually, however, the billing had been tried out first on the single "Patch of Blue" a year earlier.) The disc failed, and the label association was severed. Grim departed before the end of the year and was replaced by Demetri Callas, who gave way to Clay Jordan in 1972. Wolfe also left and was replaced by Paul Wilson in 1972, and the group added a second keyboard player, Al Ruzicka. Both Frankie Valli as a solo act and Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons signed to Motown Records, which initially released their recordings on its newly formed MoWest subsidiary. A Valli solo single, "Love Isn't Here (Like It Used to Be)," appeared in February 1972, followed by the album Chameleon (containing both solo and group tracks and credited to Frankie Valli/The Four Seasons) in May. Neither reached the charts, nor did a series of other singles released during the next two years, the only exception being the final group single, "Hickory," which got to number 90 in Cash Box in the spring of 1974. (Belatedly, another Motown group single, "The Night," became a Top Ten hit in the U.K. in 1975, three years after its initial release.) Meanwhile, the personnel changes continued, the most significant being Gaudio's retirement from stage work in 1972, although he continued to write and produce for the group. With Jordan and Ruzicka also leaving in 1972, Billy DeLoach came in on keyboards and guitar, only to be replaced in 1973 by 19-year-old keyboardist Lee Shapiro, hired directly out of the Manhattan School of Music. Drummer Wilson also left in 1973, his replacement being Gerry Polci (born in Passaic, NJ, in 1954). That still left room for another guitarist, a spot that was filled by Don Ciccone (born in New York, February 28, 1946; formerly of the Critters) in 1974, resulting in a performing lineup of Valli, Long, Shapiro, Polci, and Ciccone.
Valli and the Four Seasons were without label representation after Motown's release of "Hickory." In leaving the company, Valli and Gaudio did not buy back their masters, except for one unreleased track, the Bob Crewe/Kenny Nolan ballad "My Eyes Adored You," also produced by Crewe, for which they paid $4,000. Valli contracted with newly formed Private Stock Records for the track's release as a single in October 1974, and it became his biggest solo hit since "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," hitting number one in March 1975 and becoming his second gold single. Private Stock promptly released a Valli album, Closeup, which got halfway up the Top 100, and a more dance-oriented follow-up single, Crewe and Randell's "Swearin' to God," which peaked in the Top Ten in July. Meanwhile, Valli and Gaudio signed the Four Seasons (minus Joe Long, who dropped out after ten years and was replaced by guitarist John Paiva, with Ciccone switching to bass) to a new contract with record executive Mike Curb's Curb Records, distributed by Warner Bros., which released the disco-styled single "Who Loves You" (written by Gaudio and Judy Parker, who later became his wife); it peaked in the Top Five in November. Tellingly, the track was billed to the Four Seasons, not Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons. Although he and Gaudio retained ownership of the group name, Valli was beginning to think of the Four Seasons as a separate entity that might not always include him as a performer. He continued to pursue his resurgent solo career with a revival of the Ruby & the Romantics hit "Our Day Will Come," released in October 1975, with a Top 20 peak in December. The Four Seasons' Who Loves You LP followed in November, peaking in the Top 40, with the same month seeing the appearance of a Valli Our Day Will Come album, a two-LP anthology called The Four Seasons Story on Private Stock (which brought the group's old hits back into print), and a Valli hits collection, Frankie Valli Gold, each of which charted. In December, Warner/Curb selected the track "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)" as the second single from the Who Loves You LP. In one sense, the song was a nostalgic look back at the Four Seasons' early days; in another, with its disco beat and lead vocals sung alternately by Polci, Ciccone, and Valli, it was a look forward. In either case, it was very catchy, and it hit number one and was certified gold in March 1976, completing the Four Seasons' comeback.
It also marked the apex of that comeback. Subsequent Valli and Four Seasons singles in 1976 were not nearly as successful, although Valli's "Fallen Angel" and the group's "Silver Star" (without any lead vocal contribution from Valli) made the Top 40. ("Silver Star," in fact, went Top Five in the U.K.) In April 1977, the Four Seasons followed Who Loves You with Helicon, on which Valli continued to reduce his participation. Both the LP and the single "Down the Hall" were minor chart entries. It had become apparent that Valli would be separating completely from the group, and he did so at the end of a tour in November. His full-time solo career was given an enormous boost when he was chosen to sing the newly written Barry Gibb title song for the movie version of the Broadway musical Grease, performing the song over the opening credits and, of course, on the multi-platinum soundtrack album. A single was released by RSO Records in May 1978 and rose to number one in August, by which time it had been certified as Valli's third gold single; later, it went platinum. Unbeknown to the public at the time was that Valli was suffering from a rare hearing disease, otosclerosis, that of course threatened his career. He underwent several operations and ultimately overcame the problem during this period. The success of "Grease" led to a new chart album for him on Warner/Curb, Frankie Valli...Is the Word, released in August 1978. But after the modest showings of follow-up singles, Valli left the label.
Meanwhile, the Four Seasons, intended to be a stand-alone entity without Valli, disbanded in 1979. In 1980, Valli and Gaudio resuscitated the group for a Valli/Four Seasons reunion tour with a new lineup including Polci, Ciccone, keyboardist and musical director Robbie Robinson, keyboardist Jerry Corbetta (born September 23, 1947, in Denver, CO; formerly of Sugarloaf), guitarist Larry Lingle (born April 4, 1949, in Kansas City, MO), and bassist Rex Robinson. The tour actually began in May 1980 without Valli, but he joined it after recovering from his last ear operation, in time to record a live album in July. He also signed a new solo contract with MCA Records that resulted in a single, "Where Did We Go Wrong," a duet with Chris Forde that charted briefly during the summer, and an album, Heaven Above Me. The Four Seasons also had a short chart run with a new single, "Spend the Night in Love," on Warner/Curb in December, in advance of the double Reunited Live LP that appeared in early 1981. The reunion continued, as Valli toured with the group under the banner Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons while continuing to cut the occasional solo single. Ciccone left in 1984 and was replaced by Vince Colaiuta. Polci also dropped out in 1984, and Paulinho da Costa stepped in as drummer. That year, Valli and Gaudio formed FBI Records and cut a single, "East Meets West," pairing Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons with the Beach Boys. In September 1985, Valli & the Four Seasons returned to full-time record-making with Streetfighter, the first new group studio album in ten years, released by Curb, now distributed by MCA. The album had a contemporary 1980s sound, but it did not sell. Nevertheless, the group remained active on the concert circuit, and with the rise of CD reissues in the mid-'80s Valli and Gaudio licensed the old recordings to Rhino Records for such collections as the four-LP/three-CD box set 25th Anniversary Collection in November 1987. (Again, this followed a long period during which the material had been out of print.) A remix of "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)" landed on the British charts in October 1988. That year, Colaiuta left the group, as did da Costa; the drummer was replaced by Chuck Wilson. The lineup of Valli, Corbetta, Lingle, Chuck Wilson, Robbie Robinson, and Rex Robinson remained stable until 1992, when Corbetta left and the band was joined by guitarist Fino Roverato, multi-instrumentalist Warren Hamm, and keyboardist Tim Stone. The group returned to the studio in 1992 for a new album, Hope + Glory, which was billed to Four Seasons. Again, it went for a contemporary sound but did not attract popular attention. (With its release, the group still owed Curb one more album on its contract.) Lingle left after 12 years in 1993, and Chuck Wilson after six years in 1994; the new drummer was named Zoro. Another remix of "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)" took off in the U.S. in August 1994, peaking in the Top 20 in October and making for a combined chart run of the two versions at 54 weeks, making it the longest-charting single in the history of the Hot 100 up to that time. In 1994, Valli and Gaudio began leasing the Vee Jay and Philips recordings to the British reissue label Ace, which started to put them out as CD two-fers. In 1995, Curb began a U.S. reissue campaign, re-releasing eight Four Seasons albums on compact disc.
Valli and the Four Seasons continued to perform during the second half of the 1990s, as keyboardists Stone and Robbie Robinson left, to be replaced by a new musical director, Rich Callaci, in 1998. The performing lineup from that point to the mid-2000s was Valli, Callaci, bassist Rex Robinson, guitarist Fino Roverato, multi-instrumentalist Hamm, and drummer Zoro. Meanwhile, Valli and Gaudio were involved in developing the Four Seasons story into a Broadway musical. Unlike ABBA's Mamma Mia!, which welded a fictional tale to the group's music, or musical revues like Billy Joel's Steppin' Out, the Four Seasons musical was a stage biography that, because of the neglect the band had suffered in the press, was being told publicly for the first time. Jersey Boys, its script based on the lives and careers of Valli, Tommy DeVito, Massi, and Gaudio (but to some extent fictionalized), opened on Broadway on November 6, 2005, and became the hit of the 2005-2006 season, winning the Tony Award for best musical. The show helped revitalize the group's career. The mail-order firm Collectors' Choice Music licensed a batch of Four Seasons albums that had not been part of the 1995 Curb reissue series for CD release in 2006. Rhino released Jersey Beat: The Music of Frankie Valli & the 4 Seasons, a three-CD/one-DVD box set, in 2007, and Universal Motown followed with the first new Frankie Valli solo album in 27 years, Romancing the '60s, a set of covers of '60s hits the singer had not performed earlier. ~ William Ruhlmann