By Bill Forman
n a culture that still clings to the Horatio Alger myth, rags-to-riches stories are pretty much a dime a dozen. After all, with enough grit and determination, any child in America can grow up to be the President of the United States, a self-made millionaire, or a successful reality-show star.
One such success story is The Four Seasons, four working class kids who started out singing doo-wop on street corners, spent a few months behind bars for attempted burglary, and went on to become the chart-topping vocal group whose music and lives are celebrated in the mega-hit musical “Jersey Boys.”
During its decade-long run on Broadway, “Jersey Boys” racked up more than two billion dollars in box-office receipts, won a handful of Tony Awards, and inspired the Clint Eastwood-directed feature film of the same name. It also ensured that Frankie Valli’s piercing falsetto on signature songs like “Rag Doll,” “Walk Like a Man” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry” – all of which reached Number 1 on the ‘60s pop charts – will be ringing in our ears for decades to come.
Subsequent forays into disco like “December 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” – as well as Frankie Valli solo singles like “These Eyes Adored You” and the work of Bob Gaudio (keyboardist/backing vocalist in the Four Seasons) with Neil Diamond and Barba Streisand – have made it easy to characterize the Four Seasons’ music as a throwback to some bygone era that has little or no relevance to the here and now.
But that would be a mistake. Ultimately, the Four Seasons’ mainstream success is less revealing than the musical risks they took along the way, many of which didn’t pay off.
With that in mind, here are four reasons to respect the Four Seasons:
1. The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette: This 1969 album looked and sounded nothing like what the world had come to expect from The Four Seasons. The original cover was a mock newspaper front page with the banner headline “American Crucifixion And Resurrection,” accompanied by below-the-fold stories like “Human Torch Has Misgivings” and “Tomorrow’s New In Brief,” with an eight-page “newspaper” insert inside. Apart from an easily overlooked “the 4 seasons edition” in the upper-right corner of the masthead, the cover gives no indication who the actual recording artist is.