The songs contained within don’t offer many clues, either. Here was a band who just five years earlier had topped the pop charts with “Dawn (Go Away),” which contained wide-eyed lyrics like: “I want you to think what your family would say / Think what you’re throwing away / Now think what the future would be / With a poor boy like me.”
Compare that to the opening lines of “American Crucifixion”: “Unbound slaves stand outside the gate / With lengths of broken chain they wait / Empty stomachs filled with hate / No one told the heads of state / The prince of peace is sleeping late.”
Besides its civil rights and anti-war lyrics, the album also boasted innovative chamber-pop arrangements and gorgeous vocal harmonies that, in their best moments, rivaled The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds.” Small wonder that Brian Wilson and John Lennon both numbered it among their favorite albums.
2. Chameleon: The Four Seasons signed to Motown for this appropriately titled 1972 album, which took the Motor City Sound in previously unexplored directions. The must-hear track is “The Night,” a bass-heavy single that could practically be mistaken for the German trance band Can, at least until the group’s trademark harmonies barge in at the half-minute mark.
The single never charted in America, but it did become an underground hit in Britain’s Northern Soul scene, where dance-club deejays would tape white labels over their vinyl singles so that rival crate-diggers couldn’t see what they were playing. Nearly three years later, “The Night” reached No. 7 on the UK singles chart. It has since been covered by Lene Lovich, Soft Cell, and Pulp.
3. Watertown: You won’t find this one on any Four Seasons playlist, mainly because they didn’t record it. “Watertown” was a concept album that Gaudio co-wrote and produced for Frank Sinatra while the Four Seasons were on hiatus. A profoundly moving song-suite with a storyline that I won’t ruin here, it was singled out by “The Paris Review” as Sinatra’s best album, his most enduring contribution to American culture, and his “one chance to be truly felt by listeners hundreds of years from now.” By this point, Sinatra had more than fifty albums under his belt. This would be the first to not make it into the Top 100.
4. Can’t Take My Eyes Off You: The fourth reason to respect America’s best-known white vocal group is that they have, well, soul. “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” — a 1967 single written and produced by Gaudio and Bob Crewe that was released under Frankie Valli’s name — has since been covered by nearly 200 artists, from Isaac Hayes and Aretha Franklin to Nancy Wilson and Lauryn Hill
So there you have it. If you’re still not convinced that The Four Seasons are worth taking seriously, that’s fine. But you’re missing out.