The Four Seasons
The Four Seasons
With their distinctive style of music—perhaps best described as power doo-wop—The Four Seasons have enjoyed a long and extremely successful career in popular music. Coming together in the mid-1950s, they had their first major hit “Sherry” in 1962. It was followed by a string of other hit songs including “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” and “Let’s Hang On to What We’ve Got.” Along with The Beach Boys, The Four Seasons were the only American group to survive the “British Invasion” of the pop charts in the mid-1960s. Their hit songs have become pop standards and their concerttours continue to attract enthusiastic audiences made up of longtime fans and younger people whose acquaintance with the group comes from “oldies” format radio stations.
The Four Seasons have undergone numerous personnel changes over the years but the essence of the group has remained with lead vocalist Frankie Valli and songwriter/manager Bob Gaudio. Valli and Gaudio own the master tapes of all the group’s recordings, the right to use the musical group name “The Four Seasons,” and also own the rights to the music and lyrics of all the Four Seasons’ songs. These properties have generated millions of dollars in revenue for Valli and Gaudio’s joint enterprise, called the Four Seasons Partnership.
The roots of the Four Seasons can be traced to the working class neighborhoods of Newark, New Jersey in the mid-1950s when Frankie Valli (born Francis Stephen Castelluccio) joined the Variety Trio, avocai group made up of Hank Majewski, and brothers Nick and Tommy Devito. The addition of a fourth member made the trio a quartet and so the group’s name was changed to the Variatones. Though still a teenager, Valli was an experienced singer. In 1953, under the name Frankie Valley, he had recorded a few songs for Corona Records. The son of a barber, Valli had decided to be a singer at age seven. “I was always singing, as far back as I can remember. In those days, big bands would come and play in theaters like the Paramount (in New York) or the Adams Theater in Newark. My mom used to take me once a week to the Adams, so I saw every major big band at the tail end of that era,” Valli recalled to Steve North of the Two River Times. Receiving no formal vocal training, Valli honed his voice by listening to records of favorite performers, such as the Four Freshmen, the Hi-Lo’s and the Modernaires. He sharpened his falsetto by imitating female singers including Dinah Washington and Rose Murphy.
The Variatones played at clubs in New Jersey and the surrounding area. In 1956, they were signed by RCA records and renamed the Four Lovers. Their RCA recording of “Apple of My Eye” was a minor hit which earned them three appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show. Despite this notoriety, the group had trouble garnering many fans. “When we went out of town, we used to lie and tell everybody we were playing at the big resorts. Only we were really performing in a bowling alley in Philly,” Valli told John Anderson of SmartMoney. Changes came to the Four Lovers in 1960 when Hank Majewski left the group and was replaced by Nick Massi. In the same year, the Four Lovers were taken under the wing of Bob Crewe, a New York-based record producer. In 1961, Nick Devito resigned from the group and Bob Gaudio joined it. In addition to being a keyboard player and vocalist, Gaudio was a talented songwriter able to supply the group with original material. As member of the Royal Teens, Gaudio had written and recorded the novelty hit “Short Shorts” in 1958. After retitling themselves The Four Seasons, taking the name from a bowling alley lounge which had refused to give them a booking, the group was set with the moniker and personnel—Valli, Gaudio, Massi, and Tommy Devito—that would take them to the top.
It was at this point, just before stardom, that Valli, who had day job as barber, and Gaudio, who worked at a printing plant, decided to form a partnership. The deal was made while they sat in Valli’s parents’s apartment in a low-income housing project in Newark. “We said, ‘Neither of us know where we’re going to wind up, but maybe we should hedge our bets. You get 50 percent
Members in the 1960s include Tommy Devito (born June 19, 1935), vocals, guitar; Bob Gaudio (born November 17, 1942 in Bronx, NY), vocals, keyboard, and principal songwriter; Nick Massi (born September 19, 1935), vocals, bass; Frankie Valli ,(born May 3, 1937 in Newark, NJ), lead vocals. Earlier members included Nick Devito and Hank Majewski . Later members include Don Ciccone , bass; John Pavia , guitar; Gerry Polci , vocals, drums; Lee Shapiro , keyboard.
Began as the Variatones in early 1950s; became the Four Lovers and signed with RCA records in 1956. Recorded a minor hit, “Apple of My Eye,” for RCA in 1956. Appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, teamed with independent record producer Bob Crewe in I960; songwriter and keyboardist Bob Gaudio joined in 1961; The Four Seasons, had first major hit with the Gaudio composition “Sherry,” for Vee-Jay Records in 1962; other hits for Vee-Jay include “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” and “Candy Girl;” signed with Philips Records, 1964; released “Dawn,” “Ronnie,” “Rag Doll,” “Save It for Me,” “Let’s Hang On!,” “Working My Way Back to You,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” and “C’Mon Marianne;” as the Wonder Who?; had a hit with “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” in 1965; signed with Motown and released unsuccessful album Chameleon in 1972; signed with Warner-Curb Records, 1975; released “Who Loves You?” and “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night);” rereleased “December, 1963,” 1994. Frankie Valli solo hits include “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” 1967; “My Eyes Adored You” and “Swearin’ to God,” 1975, and “Grease, “1978. Popular nightclub and touring act in the 1980s and 1990s.
Awards: Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1995.
Addresses: Management company —International Creative Management, 8942 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90211.
of me, and I get 50 percent of you, ‘” Gaudio recalled to Charles P. Alexander of Time. The deal, which has never been based on anything more official than a handshake, has endured. Despite ups and downs in their relationship over the decades, neither Valli nor Gaudio has seriously considered breaking the arrangement. “That would be like telling your brother that he couldn’tcome to dinner anymore. We’re family,” Gaudio explained to Alexander.
Major success came to the Four Seasons in September of 1962, when their recording “Sherry” for Vee-Jay Records went to the top of the charts. Originally called “Terry,” the song had been written by Gaudio in 15 minutes. The lyrics were concocted merely as a way for Gaudio to remember the tune but producer Crewe and the other group members thought they should be retained. Only change was the girl’s name in the title. “Sherry was a non-existent person…. It was just a song and the name made it easier to sing, “Sherrrrry Sherry Baby.” It was impossible to do that with the name Linda or Laurie. See, we were creating a sound,” Valli told Tim Ryan of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.
The success of “Sherry” was quickly followed by another number one hit, “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” another Gaudio composition. The title phrase was taken from an old movie in which the leading man (sometimes identified as Clark Gable, sometimes as John Payne), slaps the leading lady, then taunts her by saying “Big girls don’t cry.” Over the next five years, The Four Seasons enjoyed a string of top ten hits, most written by Gaudio. Combining simple lyrics about young romance with a driving, infectious beat, Four Seasons material appealed to that part of the audience which continued to be drawn to the East Coast street corner harmonies of the 1950s and early 1960s. Their hits include “Walk Like a Man,” “Candy Girl,” “Dawn,” “Ronnie,” “Rag Doll,” “Save It for Me,” “Let’s Hang On,” “Working My Way,” “Tell It to the Rain,” and “C’Mon Marianne.” One non-Gaudio hit was a version of Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” which Valli told Ryan was “the most sophisticated song we ever recorded.” In 1965, the Four Seasons, billing themselves as The Wonder Who?, released a rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright,” with Valli singing in his highest pitched falsetto. The song went to number 12 on the Billboard chart. Valli abandoned the falsetto in favor of a rich baritone on his solo recording of the romantic ballad “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” which was a hit in the summer of 1967.
It took some time for success to sink into the minds of the Four Seasons. Valli, for example, continued living with his parents in a Newark housing project. “I don’t think I really believed the success until about 1964. I drove an old car until thatyear; I was afraid to buy a new one…. Ithought someone would pinch me and I’d wake up from this wonderful dream I was having,” Valli told North.
Though the Four Seasons had withstood the British Invasion of American pop music led by the Beatles in 1964, by the late 1960s their popularity began to wane. In response to this drop in public favor, the group made some false moves, most notably a socially conscious concept album called The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette. Released in 1968, the album featured an eight-page newspaper insert. The experimental album received a good deal of publicity but sold poorly. By the early 1970s, the Four Seasons were at a low ebb with Valli as the only original member still performing with the group. Gaudio, who had taken over management of the group in the late 1960s, stopped performing in 1971. Gaudio’s retreat from the stage annoyed Valli. “Frankie felt like I’d deserted him. It was our toughest time,” Gaudio told Anderson. In 1972, the Four Seasons signed with Motown Records’ California-based subsidiary MoWest and released the album Chameleon which drew little attention.
In 1975, their contract with MoWest having expired, Valli and Gaudio took Valli’s solo recording of the song “My Eyes Adored You,” to Private Stock Records. Written by Bob Crewe and Kenny Nolan, the low key romantic tune put Valli back at the top of the charts. It was quickly followed by another Valli solo hit, the disco-influenced “Swearin’to God.” Meanwhile, Gaudio recruited new personnel for the Four Seasons, including John Pavia, Lee Shapiro, Don Ciccone, and Gerry Polci, and signed a contract with Warner-Curb Records. In the autumn of 1975, the revised group had a major hit with “Who Loves You?” In the spring of 1976, the Four Seasons enjoyed an even bigger success with “December ‘63 (Oh, What a Night).” Written by Gaudio and his future wife Judy Parker, the song was a bouncy coming of age ditty that played on the nostalgic view many people in the 1970s had developed towards the 1950s and early 1960s. In an unusual turn, lead vocals on the recording were done by Gerry Polci, instead of Valli.
As a solo artist, Valli had the biggest hit of his career with the title song from the movie Grease in 1978. Written by Barry Gibb of Bee Gees fame, the disco-style song detracted from the early 1960s setting of the film and was not a part of the stage musical on which the film was based. Nevertheless, the Grease title song was a tremendous success in the summer of 1978, as was the movie itself. Although Gaudio had nothing to do with the Grease record ing, Valli keptto their agreement and split the profits from the song with him. Similarly, Gaudio shared his earnings from outside projects with Valli. Notable among Gaudio’s other projects is the soundtrack to Neil Diamond’s movie The Jazz Singer in 1981.
Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons are a popular attraction in nightclubs and other live entertainment venues. Though he likes the challenge of new material, Valli understands that audiences come out to hear the hits. “If I went to see someone I had admired all my life, I’d feel disappointed if I didn’t hear certain songs … a lot of people come to our shows to forget about what’s going on. It’s kind of like therapy,” Valli told Winnie Bonelli of the Passaic Herald & News. Reissues of Four Seasons recordings enjoy steady sales with many purchases being made by people who weren’t alive during the group’s heyday.
“Apple of My Eye,” RCA, 1956.
“Sherry,” Vee-Jay Records, 1962.
“Big Girls Don’t Cry,” Vee-Hay Records.
“Rag Doll,” Philips Records.
“December, 1963 (Oh What a Night),” Warner Curb Records, 1975, rereleased, 1994.
Helande, Brock, The Rock Who’s Who, 2nd edition. New York: Schmirmer Books, 1996.
Rees, Dafydd and Luke Chapman, Encyclopedia of Rock Stars, New York: Dorling Kindersley, 1996.
Stambler, Irving, Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock, and Soul, revised edition, New York: St. Martin’s, 1989.
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, March 5, 1998.
Passaic Herald & News, July 10, 1992, p. B1-2.
People, July 27, 1992, p. 122.
SmartMoney, February 1997, p. 79-81.
Time, May 11, 1987, p. 54.
Two River Times (NJ), September 2, 1992, p. 1-2.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame website, www.rockhall.com.
Additional information provided by International Creative Management, Inc.
Four Seasons, The
Four Seasons, The
Four Seasons, The, one of longest-lived and most successful white doo-wop groups of the 1960s, led by high-note warbler Frankie Valli. Membership: Frankie Valli (real name, Francis Castelluccio), voc. (b. Newark, N.J., May 3, 1937); Bob Gaudio, voc. (b. Bronx, N.Y., Nov. 17, 1942); Tommy DeVito, voc. (b. Bellville, N.J., June 19, 1935); Nick Massi (real name, Nicholas Macioci), voc. (b. Newark, N.J., Sept. 19, 1935).
The Four Seasons scored a series of smash hit singles between 1962 and 1967 featuring the piercing falsetto lead voice of Frankie Valli. One of the few American white groups other than The Beach Boys to challenge The Beatles for chart supremacy, The Four Seasons became so popular that they were able to launch Valli on a successful simultaneous solo recording career in 1965. The Four Seasons and Frankie Valli enjoyed renewed success in the mid-1970s, but have since been relegated to the oldies revival circuit. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.
Frankie Valli started out as a solo singer in 1952 and formed The Varietones with guitarist brothers Nick and Tommy DeVito and bassist Hank Majewski around 1954. Changing their name to The Four Lovers in 1956, the group signed with RCA Victor Records and scored a minor hit with “You Are the Apple of My Eye”. They subsequently languished on the lounge circuit for several years. In the meantime, another N.J. group, originally formed in 1957, achieved a major hit as The Royal Teens with the novelty song “Short Shorts” in early 1958. Among the members were songwriter-keyboardist Bob Gaudio and, for a brief time in 1959, Al Kooper.
By 1960, Gaudio and Nick Massi had replaced DeVito and Majewski in The Four Lovers. With a name change to The Four Seasons around 1961, the group recorded the unsuccessful single “Bermuda” for George Goldner’s Gone label before signing with Vee Jay Records with the help of writer-producer Bob Crewe. With Gaudio and Crewe acting as principal songwriters, The Four Seasons scored a top pop and rhythm-and-blues hit with Gaudio’s “Sherry” in the late summer of 1962. “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like a Man,” written by Crewe and Gaudio, became top pop and smash rhythm-and-blues hits, followed by the pop-only hits “Candy Girl” (a smash), “Stay,” and “Alone.” Near the end of 1964, Vee Jay assembled early recordings by The Beatles and hits by The Four Seasons as The Beatles Versus The Four Seasons, today one of the most valuable of all rock collectors’ items.
By 1964, The Four Seasons had switched to Philips Records, where the smash hits continued with Crewe and Gaudio’s “Ronnie,” “Save It for Me,” and the classic top hit “Rag Doll,” as well as “Dawn (Go Away),” “Let’s Hang On,” and “Working My Way Back to You.” The Four Seasons’s sound was so popular that the group was able to score a major hit as The Wonder Who with a dreadful version of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice.” They also recorded the album The Four Seasons Sing Big Hits by Burt Bacharach…Hal David…Bob Dylan, certainly one of the worst albums of the 1960s—bad enough to make even the most casual Dylan fan cringe.
In 1965, Massi left The Four Seasons, yet the group continued to achieve hits with “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “Tell It to the Rain,” and “C’mon Marianne.” During this time Valli initiated his solo recording career with the smash hit “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” In 1968, The Four Seasons attempted to be progressive and socially conscious with The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette, but the album sold poorly. Tommy DeVito retired around 1971 and Bob Gaudio ceased performing with the group in the early 1970s, taking over for Crewe as producer.
With Frankie Valli as the mainstay, The Four Seasons recorded for Mowest and Warner Brothers in the early 1970s, while Valli recorded for Motown and Private Stock. Between 1974 and 1976, Valli scored smash hits with “My Eyes Adored You” and “Swearin’ to God” on Private Stock, while The Four Seasons achieved smashes with “Who Loves You” and “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” on Warner/Curb. The Four Seasons had no more major hits and Frankie Valli scored his last major hit with the title song to the 1978 movie Grease. Valli and Bob Gaudio reformed The Four Seasons in 1980 and formed FBI Records in 1984. The Four Seasons were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.
The Four Lovers: Joyride (1956). The Royal Teens: Short Shorts: Golden Classics (1958). The Four Seasons: Sherry and 11 Others (1962); Four Seasons’ Greetings (1963); Big Girls Don’t Cry and Twelve Others (1963); Ain’t That a Shame and 11 Others (1963); Golden Hits (1963); Stay and Other Great Hits (reissued as Folk-Nanny; 1964); More Golden Hits (1964); Dawn (Go Away) and 11 Other Great Songs (1964); Born to Wander (1964); Rag Doll (1964); The Four Seasons Entertain You (1965); Sing Big Hits by Burt Bacharach…Hal David…Bob Dylan (1965); Gold Vault of Hits (1965); Girls, Girls, Girls, We Love Girls (1965); Recorded Live on Stage (1965); Working My Way Back to You (1966); Second Vault of Golden Hits (1966); Lookin’ Back (1966); The Four Seasons’ Christmas Album (1966); New Gold Hits (1967); Edizione D’Oro (Gold Edition)—29 Golden Hits (1968); The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette (1968); Half and Half (1970); Brotherhood of Man (1970); Chameleon (1972); Who Loves You (1975); The Four Seasons Story (1975); Fallen Angel (1975); Helicon (1977); In Resonance (1982); 24 Original Classics (1984); Streetfighter (1985); 25th Anniversary Collection (1987); Anthology (1988); Rarities, Vol. 1 (1990); Rarities, Vol. 2 (1990); Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 (1991); Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (1991); 20 Greatest Hits: Live (1990); Greatest Hits (1991); Hope + Glory (1992); The Dance Album (1993); Oh What a Night (1994); Christmas Album/Born to Wander (1995); Original Classics Vol. 1: Sherry and 11 Other Hits (1995); Original Classics Vol. 2: Big Girls Don’t Cry and 12 Other Hits (1995); Original Classics Vol. 3: Ain’t That a Shame and 11 Other Hits (1995); Original Classics Vol. 4: Dawn (Go Away) and 11 Other Hits (1995); Original Classics Vol. 5: Rag Doll and 10 Other Hits (1995); Original Classics Vol. 6: Let’s Hang On and 11 Others Hits (1995); Original Classics Vol. 7: New Gold Hits (1995); Original Classics Vol. 8: Who Loves You (1995). The Four Seasons and the Beatles: The Beatles Versus the Four Seasons(1964). Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons: Reunited Live (1981). Frankie Valli: Solo (1967); Timeless (1968); Inside You (1975); Closeup (1975); Gold (1975); Our Day Will Come (1975); Valli (1977); Lady Put the Light Out (1978); Hits (1978); Frankie Valli…Is the Word (1978); Very Best (1979); Heaven Above Me (1980); Motown Superstar Series, Vol. 4 (1981); Greatest Hits (1996).