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.”
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
There’s an unrequited/forbidden love story going on in “Dawn (Go Away).” You can tell the drummer loved this assignment; he plays off of the boy’s clap-happy beat, snapping his sticks against his snare: “Think (think) what a big man you’ll be... Think (think) of the faces you’ll see... Just (think) think what the future would be with a poor boy like me. Meeeeeee!”
When band’s hit it big in the early 60s, they always tried to reprise their hits. (Tommy James took “Think We’re Alone Now” reversed it and came up with the equally successful “Mirage.”) “Big Man’s World” is “Dawn” meets “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” Add in a few slick passes on the Farfisa organ and an under taxed percussionist keeping time to the drums on triangle, and you’ve got a listenable tune that probably took all of 10 minutes to write.
With a solemn boom...boom...boom intro (that was also used for The Ronettes “Be My Baby”) “Rag Doll” has everything good that exemplifies the group’s sound; gradual use of Valli’s most impassioned falsetto fury, and close knit back ups with a lyrical twist. During the verses the boys sing in unison and Valli responds to them “(Sad rag doll) I‘d change her sad rags into glad rags if I could (If I could).” Then the process is reversed: “My folks won’t let me because they say she’s no good (She’s No Good).” If there’s a hint of genuine emotion here that was previously missing, it’s because the song was based on a sad, true story. Bob Gaudio was waiting at a traffic light in New York City in 1964 when a young girl offered to clean his windshield for spare change. Gaudio was struck by her tattered, unwashed appearance and gave her $5. Her astonished look left an indelible impression. Too bad the “rag doll” wasn’t around to collect an additional check when the song hit #1.
“Save It For Me” has a beginning that brings to mind the interstellar instrumental “Telstar” with the piano and organ escalating toward the stratosphere. Valli’s falsetto is in full flight, and it works against the boys pleading. “Save it for me...Just sit tight and leave on the light, because I’m coming home to your arms, I’m coming home to you aaaaaarms!”
The Seasons were rooted in Doo Wop, but had also grown up listening to the gaudy production numbers of Frank Sinatra, Al Martino and other Italian-American singers. “Bye Bye Baby (Baby Goodbye)” has a show tune arrangement with the drummer whip-snapping his high hat and snare (like I said, the guys who occupied the drum seat loved the gig and you can hear it in this performances). The three back up Seasons get more than their usual workout, high stepping through the chorus.
No 4 Seasons collection, even if it was only a 45, would be complete without “Let’s Hang On!” I have to admit a fondness for this song, especially the fuzzed out guitars and bass. Like their other big hits, “Let’s Hang On!” takes advantage Valli’s groin pull lead vocal and the other’s ability to dance around Valli while slightly bending the choruses, “Let’s hang on to what we got, don’t let go to what we got”… “Let’s hang on to what we got, ain’t the world, but we’ve got a lot…”
Sung leisurely, but with a pumping bass, horns and ringing tambourines supporting the back up vocals, “Working My Back To You” isn’t the Season’s most captivating hit, but has moments when Valli’s prostate exam lead takes off. The group’s sound was getting more sophisticated, even if their lyrics weren’t. “I used to love to make you cry, it made me feel like a man inside. But if I’d been a man in reality, then you’d still be here babe in love with me.” The 1980 remake by the Spinners was even more vanilla than the Seasons’ take and barely worked up a sweat.
“C’mon Marianne” is one the group’s more up tempo hits, and there’s more involvement from the other Seasons who sound as if they’re calling from a heavenly cloud in a distant studio as they open the song. It’s as close to a rocker as these guys ever got, showcasing a cutting lead guitar, a rarity on a 4 Seasons record. Wonder if Iggy Pop was a 4 Seasons fan? His “Lust For Life” has a somewhat similar ring.
“Watch the Flowers Grow” sprinkles bits of psychedelia into the group’s sound, indicating the group was listening to The Beach Boys psych workouts (“Good Vibrations,” “Wild Honey,”) but after some twisting guitar and chanting vocal the song quickly drops it’s meditative robes and becomes more of a pop tune. Still, it’s good to hear the back up Seasons contributing more than just an ooh and an aah.
After numerous failed attempts, Valli finally got his solo career off the ground with “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You.” There are no back ups vocals, just Frankie’s voice in a moderate falsetto, wrapped in strings, finger-snaps and faraway coronets. His most endearing (and enduring record), “My Eyes Adored You,” is sentimental fluff, but it’s the type of “coulda woulda shoulda” story about the girl who got away that even a metal head would get soggy over. If it’s happened to you (and boy, has it happened to me), you know if things had worked out between you and a certain girl your life would be much better than it is now: “Carried your books from school, playin’ make believe you’re married to me. You were fifth grade I was sixth when we came to be. Walking home every day over Barnegat Bridge and Bay, till we grew into the me and you and went our separate ways. My eyes adored you, though I never laid a hand on you, my eyes adored you. Like a million miles away you couldn’t see how I adored you. So close so close and yet so far.” It’s one of the few songs Valli recorded with lyrics that carry some weight. If no ones ever said to you “I’ve been there, I understand,” then the words to this song will.
Finishing off CD 1 is “Cousin Brucie Go Go,” the theme song for DJ Bruce Morrow’s very popular WABC AM radio show. Cousin Bruce is a longtime New York City radio maven who was on a first name basis with The Beatles, Supremes, Dave Clark Five and you guessed, it The 4 Seasons. (Brucie’s still on satellite radio today, sporting a toupee that looks it can shelter every man who’s ever sung in the group.) To say Cousin Brucie had clout in the 60s is to say Donald Trump’s got bling. It helped that he was as friendly as everyone’s favorite cousin and excelled at charity work. Brucie got big stars to record theme songs for his radio program and this is one of them. (“Can’t you feel the groovy beat now baby…Come on let’s go, go, go, what a groovy show, c’mon let’s go, go go with Cousin Brucie.”) File this 1:26 promo under the category of strange but interesting. You’ll be amused the first time you listen to it, even if you don’t know who Cousin Brucie is (no excuses, I just told you). Besides, it’s also a chance to hear the word “groovy” in a song.
Singing groups in the early 60s often recorded more cover tunes than originals (mainly because they released an average of four albums per year, instead of per career), so the 4 Seasons often found themselves huddled around a mike hoping to piggy back on a rival’s recent successful 45.
The original version of “Peanuts” by Little Joe and the Thrillers was sung at optimum nosebleed range, making it a perfect vehicle for Valli. This is pure street corner Doo Wop, and although Valli sounds disingenuous even for him (he’s more in his Wonder Who comic persona), the boys pick him up in the background.
“Stay,” a chart topper for Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs, is also made for Valli’s hernia-promoting falsetto and the boys relentless encouragement. Valli sings the verses au natural (no, not naked, but in his normal singing voice) and climbs about 86 octaves higher when he hits the chorus. This is almost as credible as the original and infinitely superior to Jackson Browne’s hippie-evisceration version done in 1977.
Sticking with their block party hand-clapping style, the Seasons do a credible, barely recognizable version of “Ain’t That A Shame,” one of Fats Domino’s signature tunes. The swinging horns and foot-tapping beat keeps things from turning into an embarrassment. Not one you’d pull out when critiquing the band, but the boys shouldn’t be ashamed of it either.
“Silence is Golden” is a cover in reverse. The 4 Seasons did it first, sticking it on a B-side. It caught the attention of The Tremeloes, who turned it into a #1 in the U.K. I’ve never heard a bad take of this song, although you might feel the urge to cringe in a bomb shelter at the thought of Valli’s ice-breaking falsetto wrapping itself around the title line. He’s wise enough not to drive his vocal chords too far up the falsetto fairway. A little slower than the original, this stake pours on the sadness, and gives the rest of the Seasons a chance to be a little more active. You can bet they added this to the playlist in concert if they needed to stretch for time.
Frankie tackles “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” as a solo act. Originally recorded by the Walker Brothers (who weren’t even cousins, let alone brothers), The Walker’s version capitalized on their hefty voices, so their version eclipses Valli’s. (Besides, “Make It Easy On Yourself” was their only other Top 20 hit here in the U.S.). Valli copies the Brother’s arrangement, pumping up the weepy strings, but he doesn’t have the vocal weight to make as powerful an impression of one Walker, let alone two. Still, there’s a ray or two of sunshine in Valli’s take.
One of the group’s last big hits was a cover of Carole King’s “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.” King’s version would help propel her “Tapestry” album to the position of top selling album of all time (since eclipsed by Peter Frampton, Michael Jackson and the Eagles). The Seasons’ version takes advantage of the boys’ background singing, which sounds as if they’ve been marinating in despair. After a quick fade, “Tomorrow” creeps back in on the backend of a clavinet and serenading strings, and with the boys each occupying different pockets on the harmony scale the back up vocals are a highlight reel. “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” is one of those songs that can sound great no matter who does it.
The Altered Egos… The Wonder Who
By late 1965 the 4 Seasons were so popular they had to start releasing 45s under the not-so well-veiled alias, “The Wonder Who?” (Get it?) . The most popular and best of the 4 singles they released as The Wonder Who was a remake of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice (It’s All Right),” which came about when Valli was clowning around with his own falsetto, turning it into a nasal squeak (Topogigio sings!) Anytime someone can tweak the pretentiousness of Bob Dylan I’m all for it. (It’s not Dylan’s fault he’s was thrust up on a pedestal, his fans put him there. But he’s) not exactly humble about it.) Valli runs the falsetto to ridiculous heights throughout, turning a very serious song into a comedic romp. Yes, this took the air out of the Dylan as messiah image, and record buyers rewarded the Seasons sense of humor by driving it up to #12 on the charts. “Don’t Think Twice” is virtually impossible to sit through without cracking a smile, and that’s exactly what the boys wanted. Another Wonder Who single included on “Jersey Beat” is “Lonesome Road,” which the band plucked from the movie “Showboat.” Valli sounds more like a seven year-old than ever before. “C’mon, c’mon and sock-it-to-me,” Frankie urges. This is indeed a bizarre, but funny indulgence.
What a Concept…An Album With a Theme
Among the most interesting songs on “Jersey Beat” are a quartet of songs from “Genuine Imitation Life Gazette,” the 4 Seasons attempt to come to grips with the psychedelic era and compete with The Beatles. Gaudio wrote the album with folk singer /jingle writer Jake Holmes (who came up with “Be a Pepper” for Dr. Pepper, “Be All You Can Be” for the Army, and came close to having a hit of his own with “So Close”). “Genuine Imitation Life” is the 4 Season’s “Sgt. Pepper,” a concept album released in an expensive newspaper format lampooning American Life. The album is way beyond what Tony Soprano and the boys in the neighborhood could cope with, and no self -respecting member of the counter culture would go near it once they found out who was doing the singing. You had to think about this LP, and the Seasons were fun, mindless entertainment. Where’s the fun? Despite being a satire, the subject matter was still too serious for the 4 Seasons. Put someone, anyone else at the mike and this would have been a success. “Gazette” was just too much of a change for fans and smacks of the group jumping on a musical trend. Sincere or not, it’s genuinely entertaining.
“Saturday’s Father”’s baroque style masks the storyline of a divorced father visiting his children. It’s mostly accappella with some sound affects of kid’s playing in the background, light touches of strings and harpsichord. Vocally “Saturday’s Father” is very much like the songs of The Association or Harper’s Bizarre, with an accent on the bizarre. If you can set aside that this is Frankie Valli and the boys trying to create a theme album then you’ll be rewarded.
“Something’s On Her Mind” commandeers the Tin Pan Alley approach Davey Jones employed in The Monkees’ “Laugh,” “Daddy’s Song,” and “Cuddly Toy.” This has a vacuum effect, mixed with creeping bass and drums that sound like Fourth of July fireworks deadened in the distance. The music works and so does the singing, reminding the listener that the 4 Seasons were a lot more than Frankie’s falsetto.
“Idaho” is brilliant. Its Harry Nilsson meets Van Dyke Parks and the 1930’s. “I-I-I-Idaho, where I long to go. Thrilling checker games, spelling bees, cherry trees. Grandma’s soup... the cows and you. I-I I--da—ho, lovely Idaho.” The boys sing in four-part harmony, working together like pistons in an Econoline humming against a steel rail. Its close cousin, the Beach Boys’ “Disney Girls (1957),” was released two years later. It quickly became a radio favorite and was a hit in 1975 for Art Garfunkle. Maybe the 4 Seasons should have picked a more popular state.
A creepy harpsichord intros “Genuine Imitation Life.” The title track to the album, it’s one of the longest – and oddest – songs the Seasons ever recorded at 6 plus minutes. “Chameleons changing colors, while a crocodile cries, people rubbing elbows, but never touching eyes. Taking off their masks, revealing still another guise. Genuine imitation life.” It borrows a bit of the na-na-nas from “Hey Jude,” but let’s face it; the 4 Seasons and everyone else were chasing the Beatles’ tails by now. This even has a fake fade -- aha, the classic hippie stoner false ending. Only problem was, the 4 Seasons were Newark, not Haight Ashbury, and they were all about making singles, not albums, so “Genuine Imitation Life Gazette” met a quick death on the charts. (John Lennon once told Bob Gaudio over dinner that “Genuine Imitation Life Gazette” was one of his favorite albums. Maybe because they poked holes in McCartney’s “Hey Jude.”) Too bad. The four tunes from “Genuine Imitation Life” that appear on “Jersey Beat” are creative and surprising, with flawless harmonies and biting lyrics.
Disco Doom, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, and Some Bad Seasoning
Some of the tunes on “Jersey Beat” should have been taken for a one-way ride and dumped in a Jersey landfill. The majority of the refuse appears on the third disk, which sports the salvageable “My Eyes Adored You” and “Patch of Blue,” alongside 19 reminders that disco was evil, and disco from a man who could be as annoying as a Siamese cat in heat is torture.
“I’ve Got You Under My Skin” is proof that the 4 Seasons were sliding ever close to squaresville. This is bad wedding material that Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers could break their legs to. Violins mix it up with the horns and Valli dramatically starts and stops the song. There’s a false ending that jumps starts the song again -- just what you need when this has already gotten under your skin and down to the bone.
“Alone (Why Must I Be Alone)” has more bluster than a Packer game at the Artic Circle; Valli has too much ground to cover in too little time: “AlonewhymustIalwaysbealone?” -- because you’re singing faster than the #10 subway from Carnarsie, that’s why, flute throat.
“Big Man in Town” mixes a western showdown with the Jersey origins of the four singers, in other words, this big man is a cross dresser, a very confused combo of styles as offensive as John Wayne in drag. Despite the Liberty Valence in Joisey theme, the mid-tempo arrangement lies there, and when Valli wails “I’m gonna make it, just wait and seeeeeeee!” you kinda hope he doesn’t.
My ex-girlfriend, Veronica, hated the Seasons’ “Ronnie,” and would flat out threaten to poleaxe anyone who even attempted to sing Elvis Costello’s rancid song of the same name. That’s why I loved her; she had impeccable taste in music. Another case of misplaced falsetto, “Ronnie” makes Valli sounds as if he’s lost in the Alps yodeling for the St. Bernard carrying the keg of booze.
I had forgotten that Valli had tried in vain to emulate Enrico Caruso at one point in his solo career, but “To Give (The Reason I Live)” serves as a jolting reminder. This is as bad as it gets, so dramatic it should be the theme song to “Exodus” or “Spartacus.” Cry Pagliacci, cry, because you’re making me weep too. You can see Valli on stage, reaching out with both arms toward the stage lights, a tear wedged in the corners of his eyes. “I was born as part of a plan, with the heart of a man.” The heart, perhaps, but the voice – no.
“Lay Me Down (Wake Me Up)” has a country start up, before picking up a bit of gospel steam, then teeters on being a rock power ballad with grimacing guitar and blasts of horns. Where’s this going? The answer is obvious – nowhere. An oboe backs up Valli’s heartfelt declarations of love. Despite his impassioned attempt, this is simply a poor song that tries to fill too many musical holes and winds up burying itself. Wake me up when it’s over.
Funny how “Sleeping Man” follows “Lay Me Down (Wake Me Up)”. “The Man” has an edgy guitar and borrows liberally from the horn charts found in the music of Lighthouse or Chicago. Those elements alone indicate “Sleeping Man” would be better suited for another group. “See the sleeping man. Wake him if you can…No he isn’t dead. See he moves his head.” Are you kidding me? That’s as bad a line as “Dommo obbligato, Mr. Roboto.” The band wants rock out, but Frankie’s holding them back – and the Seasons have been replaced by the Seasonettes. This is Spinal Crap.
Not only is “Swearin’ To God” John Revolta-type disco (get out your white suit boys), this employs an unthinkable device – one female back up singer to take the place of the Seasons (well, having just one singer does cut down on the overhead). This has way too much disco swagger; you can see the big heels, big hair and the couples lining up to do the Hustle. Nice job with the Love Unlimited scratch guitar, but you’ll be swearin’ to more than God if you have to sit through this again.
“Who Loves You” may be one of the less harmful songs from the 4 Seasons disco death period. The high hat smashes with Soul Train syncopation; but the wan singers could have used some of Bob Masi’s amusing bass vocals. The back ups are homogenized, without personality – it might as well be the same guy overdubbed three times instead of three distinct people, because there’s really no way to tell if there are three different back up singers. Silver suits, chest hair, medallions and mirror balls here we come. I don’t know who loves you baby, but it ain’t Kojak and it ain’t the 4 Seasons. This song is as much a product of a specific time period as their 60s music – only I wasn’t made for these times.
“December 1963 (Oh What A Night)” features second vocalist Gerry Polci, who opens the song, while Don Ciccone take the second verse. The galumphing beat fits Polici’s voice more than Valli’s, who sings with weary disinterest during the chorus, and there’s a sacrilege committed -- someone else takes the falsetto parts. Get out the Pepto Bismal, this is one dismal night.
Polci also sings “Silver Star” and there’s no part for Frankie, who wisely doesn’t appear to be on the song at all. This has a runaway beat and pretends to be a western saga with lots of Matt Dillon hyperbole. “In my dream I made much dinero, chasing the bandinero… In my dream I’m a desert hero, bigger than Valentino… Silver star, there you are.” This is more laughable than “Blazing Saddles,” especially when they start doing a do-doo-do-doo section near the end that sounds like “Walk On the Wild Side” after too many hot tamales.
A very hoarse singer who needs to clear his throat – and clear out perpetrates “Rhapsody”. Calamity is more like it, especially when the waltz turns into an arrangement that rivals the many tempo changes of a Yes epic.
“Grease” is not the word. As much as I love the Bee Gees -- (the early Bee Gees – the falsetto rupture-your-spleen Bee Gees are evil and must be destroyed) – writer Barry Gibb passed a lot of major stink (“Islands in the Stream,” “Guilty” and “What Kind of Fool”) onto other artists because the Bee Gees were en fuego. Valli doesn’t work the high notes anymore, perhaps because he couldn’t without experiencing a full neural shutdown – but the song, the theme for the Broadway hit and another John Revolta movie masterpiece, is a mushy, mid-tempo snore. It’s a slippery performance, as bland as refried cooking oil.
With those plastic thudding drumheads that made 80s music so abhorrent, “East Meets West” is the much-anticipated musical summit between the Beach Boys and the Four Seasons. Both groups had to be really hard up to record this cheese fest that wouldn’t even qualify for theme for a Jane Fonda workout tape, crazy fingered rip-off of an Eddie Van Halen solo notwithstanding. East meets west head on and there are no survivors.
The boys go techno, accompanied by a synthesizer that sounds as if someone’s installing copper plumbing in “Streetfighter,” which gives the Seasons’ reputation a black eye: “I was born in the heart of the city concrete and bricks, softened by my mama’s kisses, hardened by my daddy’s fists. The big guy wanted a quarter, my lunch money ever day. But when I showed him my baseball bat, the big guy backed away.” Let’s all get out our Louisville sluggers and administer a beat down to the Pulitzer Prize winner that penned this one. No wonder people snorted the 80s away; they had to fight their way through musical pretenders like this.
The DVD is a visual history of the band, from the early days of black and white live performances to the lip-synched 70s up to the days of disco and promo films. You’ll either appreciate or be disappointed to hear and see that Valli had to put a lot of effort into his breaking-the-sound-barrier falsetto, which on camera tends to vary between sounding like a parakeet or the Boston Strangler claiming another victim. One of the best performances is the first one, a live version of “Big Girls Don’t Cry” from “The Steve Allen Show” in 1963 with the original members all huddled around one mike. Men shouldn’t get that close to each other unless a commitment ceremony is involved, but Valli is engaging and Masi hits his “Sillyboy/silly girl” bass line while sporting a crowd-pleasing smile. A medley from “On Broadway Tonight” shot in 1964 serves as a reminder that three of the Four Seasons played instruments on stage, so it was Frankie, front and center. An uncomfortable moment for the band (and the viewer) is the closing number of the medley “Brotherhood of Man.” The band leaves their instruments behind and attempts to dance, bouncing around stiffly, looking like penguins in a shooting gallery. A performance of “Let’s Hang On” from England’s “Top of the Pops” in 1971 (well past the song and the group’s popularity) is jaunty, but it’s a bit jarring to see a guy with a ponytail playing guitar for the Four Seasons.
C’mon, Marianne…Tell Sherry, Dawn, Candy, and even Ronnie that they don’t have to think twice, “Jersey Boys” is all right. So walk like a man to the record shop and pick this up. I swear to God you’ll still love this tomorrow.