Jersey Beat
Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons

3 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson

The surprise success of “Jersey Boys,” the Broadway show based on the music of the 4 Seasons, and the positive reviews lead singer Frankie Valli received for his role of Rusty Millio in “The Sopranos” inspired Rhino Records to dust of the old 4 Seasons 45s and put together “Jersey Beat,” a comprehensive anthology of the group’s career. The 4 Seasons have had more greatest hits packages than regular releases, but “Jersey Beat,” compiled by Rhino Records, is the end all and be all for fans with all the hits, misses, B-sides and album favorites by The 4 Seasons, their comical offshoot The Wonder Who, and solo recordings by Valli. You get all 4 Seasons and an Indian summer’s worth of material in a sprawling 3-CD career retrospective containing 76 tracks spanning 30 years (1962-92). If that’s not enough, there’s a DVD with 40 minutes of concert footage and interviews accompanied by an 84-page booklet crammed with photos and an encyclopedic history of the group. Close attention has been paid to the backing tracks and the boisterous harmonies, making “Jersey Beat” a shrine to the 4 Seasons brand of street corner serenade.
The focal point of the group was singer Frankie Valli, whose grimace-inducing falsetto could shatter windows in the Sistine Chapel from an ocean away. The rest of the group was comprised of keyboardist Bob Gaudio (the driving force behind the music, he co-wrote the hits with producer Bob Crewe), guitarist Tommy DeVito and bassist Nick Massi. It was Massi who also provided the groups distinct bass vocals heard in many of the early hits. The road-weary Massi would give way to Charles Calello in 1964. Calello was replaced a year later by Joe Long, who stayed with the group through 1979. There’d be numerous other personnel changes throughout the Seasons’ 30 year career, including the addition Don Ciccone of the Critters (who had hits with “Younger Girl” and “Don’t Let the Rain Fall Down on Me”) and an unlikely recruit, Jerry Corbetta of Sugarloaf, who was responsible for the dark, keyboard dominated 70s hit “Green Eyed Lady.”
The Voice
Picture a penalty shot in a soccer game…The shot is cued up and half a dozen defenders jump in the air to block it while covering their private parts with their hands. It’s the same feeling of dread a man gets when the doctor gets familiar with him and asks him to turn his head and cough… Trying to sing along to Frankie Valli’s pre-pubescent falsetto can have a similar effect. In order to hit notes that only NASA can track you may have to risk never having children or sounding like Mickey Mouse for the rest of your life. Big boys do indeed cry when they try to sing like Frankie…That’s why it’s best to just listen to him and enjoy the talent he and his fellow Seasons had for making their songs sound like summer block parties.
The Hits and Near Misses
Released in 1962, “Sherry” was the group’s first number one hit, and for many listeners, it was their first exposure to the 4 Seasons. It really wasn’t that unusual in the early 60s to hear a man sing in falsetto; it was a staple of Doo Wop music. When Doo Wop added a little sophistication and became pop and R &B, singers like Frankie Lymon, Clyde McPhatter and Jackie Wilson produced tones that would shame the average Joe singing along in the shower into silence. But Frankie Valli? He could hit notes that could make German Shepards run in circles whining, “Is that you calling me mom?” Yet his voice seldom cracked, and thanks to the other Seasons peppy back ups, their hits were sung on street corners by everyone from 8 to 80. “Sherry” is a prime example, with Valli (“I’m gonna make-a you my-i-ine!”) up high, and Massi providing the doofus bass (“Why don’t you come ouuuuut…”), the rest of the boys do a call and response that sounds like the horny male cats that used to hang out on my porch waiting for me to let out our pedigree Angora. Written by Bob Gaudio, “Sherry” was originally called “Jackie” in honor of then first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, but “Sherry” was easier to sing, and also happened to be the name of New York City DJ Jack Spector’s daughter, which didn’t hurt airplay.
Most of the group’s biggest and best-known songs are on the first two CD’s. The third disc is sensory flagellation – for fans only.
“Big Girls Don’t Cry” is a cha-cha party sequel, recorded during the same productive session that produced “Sherry.” Gaudio got the idea for the song while watching “Tennessee Partner,” a western starring Ronald Reagan, Rhonda Fleming, and John Payne. When Payne’s slapped Fleming’s character, she refused to acknowledge the pain (sorry, had to say it), Instead she stiffened her back, saying, “Big girls don’t cry.” Despite its unsavory inspiration, “Big Girls Don’t Cry” is another stomping sing-a-long with Valli and the boys smartly trading vocals with comfortable spontaneity: “Big girls they don’t cry, (Who says they don’t cry?)…Big girls do cry (That’s just an alibi).
A Drum roll ushers in “Walk Like A Man,” with Valli’s attention-getting outer-space short wave vocal -- “oooo-weee-ooo-ooo-ooo-ooo-weee-ooou.” It’s true that Frankie doesn’t exactly sing like a man, but the tune’s highlighted by that infectious hand clapping that made the boy’s earliest material sound spontaneous, and it’s all propped up by Nick Massi’s trademark foghorn bass vocal (why doooon’t youuuu…”).
“Candy Girl” features skating-rink keyboards, tympani, and a near Bossa Nova beat, with Valli reaching for the sky at the end of every verse. The way the boys answer Frankie’s corset-tight vocal holds the song together. It’s not a choice tune, but the Seasons provide suitable background for Frankie to do his interpretation of a Vienna choirboy.
“This Little Boy (In Grown Up Clothes)” is an example of the 4 Seasons dipping their big toe in a Motown arrangement before there really was a Motown. The horns add some punch, particularly the smoggy sax. The production is a bit shrill however, an indication the producers couldn’t find a good master of this one to use and had to make due with a scratchy acetate