The Fabulous Four (Seasons)
Spent a little time reading about the Four Seasons recently – I was prompted to do so after glancing up at a framed LP which my darling wife of nearly 50 years procured for me one Christmas very long ago (30-Plus at least) at a Littleton used vinyl store (long since gone).
The record was/is “The Battle of the Bands – The Beatles vs. The Four Seasons”. My copy is the more common mono copy – and no – it did not come with the coveted poster. But even at mono you don’t see this one very often. The very rare poster is shown below – depicting only the Beatles.
About a year ago I was in the great used and new vinyl (and much more) outlet “Twist and Shout” located in East Denver on Colfax Avenue. There on their featured collectibles wall was no less than an actual stereo copy of Beatles/Four Seasons (once again without the poster). Now the stereo is very, very difficult to come across. Stereo was not the rage in 1964 when this obscure long play hit the shelves and actually did manage to chart at number 142 on the Billboard Charts in October of 1964 with a chart run of two weeks! (The Twist and Shout stereo copy was marked for $1,500 and was gone within the week.)
But back to the beginning: I started reading up a little bit more on the Four Seasons, a truly iconic American group, worthy of ranking right up there alongside the Beach Boys as far as I am concerned. I found the movie “The Jersey Boys” mildly entertaining but sort of typical: Struggling group hits the big time – Big time is wonderful for a while – Ego’s run amuck – Band struggles – Crises abound aplenty – Band gently (or not-so-gently) fades away.
I just don’t care for all of that – All I really care about is “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, “Let’s Hang On”, “Big Man in Town” and sometimes in weaker moments “Oh What a Night”.
The Four Seasons have never been the primary focus of my record collecting obsession, but I do own nearly every single they released up into the early 1970’s. I recall way back, one of the LP price guides was listing a stereo copy of “Born to Wander” I think – Could have been a different LP, as being valued in the triple figure range. After I acquired that guide I was in a record store located in downtown old Aurora called “Double Play”. It was in the original location on the corner of Dayton and Colfax somewhat awkwardly located in a cramped upstairs location above a retail store. The store would later move down onto street level, run by Greg and his wife until it’s closing when the couple retired to somewhere in Colorado’s mountains.
So when I came up to the counter to purchase the “rare LP” – Greg said – “So you found the hundred dollar Four Season LP? I think it’s bulls**t – Somebody made a mistake.” I bought it anyway and sure enough – it was indeed bulls**t! Pretty much not worth anything beyond filling a Four Seasons record collection.
So Many Seasons
The Four Seasons go back a long ways – all the way back to 1953. They have their roots with Frankie Valli and Tommy DeDivto when they formed a group called the “Variatones. Those two were joined by Hank Majewski, Frank Cattone and Billy Thompson.
The group performed under a variety of names and then in 1956 became “The Four Lovers” and eventually landed an RCA Victor recording contract. They dented the hit charts one time with “You’re the Apple of My Eye” peaking at #62. It would be six years before they would return to the charts.
It was during this time period (1956-1958) that they would perform under many names including:
- The Village Voices
- Frankie Valley & the Travellers
- Frankie Valley & the Romans
- Billy Dixon and The Topics
- Frankie Tyler
According to Wiki they used about 18 different stage names during those two years.
In 1959 the Lovers were performing along side the Royal Teens. This resulted in acquiring Royal Teen Bob Gaudio (composed of “Short Shorts”) who replaced Hank Majewski. The group would sign with an associate of Gaudio’s – Bob Crew and release a few singles on Crewe’s “Topix” label (shown below).
Bowling Alley Seasons
In 1960 the group was performing in a New Jersey bowling alley lounge and took the alley’s name “The Four Seasons”. In short order the group would record a new song but didn’t have a label. After many attempts, Valli connected with Vee Jay Records. The track was “Sherry”. It was to become a game changer – not only charting – but sky rocketing to number 1 as well for a 5-week run.
The Vee Jay signing Seasons was the first label signing of a white group – a feat in magnitude which would only be nearly matched (at least for a short time) by the signing of the Fab Four on the same label.
The Four Seasons’ next two releases on Vee Jay would also go to number one (that is if you don’t count the Christmas release – “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” – “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like a Man”.
During their 1962-1964 Vee Jay run – only California’s Beach Boys matched them in record sales in the United States.
Speaking of the Beach Boys, in 1963 the Beach Boys extended a mild warning to the Four Seasons on their album track “Surfer’s Rule”. The Seasons would respond with the amusing “So Surfing Today” flip side of “Dawn”. Much later (1984) on the Beach Boys and Four Seasons would actually collaborate on an LP “East Meets West”. The record did not fare well – but the feud was finally set aside.
Flying Solo – Not Really
After Vee Jay experienced a major melt down via a contract cancellation by Capitol Records, the Four Seasons were compelled to shop for a new label and landed with Philips Records. More lineup changes but they finally settled down for a time with Valli, DeVito, Gaudio, and Joe Long.
Philips and Vee Jay releases alternated for a time – much as Vee Jay did with The Beatles after their departure until Capitol put the hammer down.
Most Philips singles billed them as “The Four Seasons” but on occasion a track would be released by “Frankie Valli” but in reality was a group effort.
Motown and More
The group would do a brief stint on the Mowest & Motown labels with no success to speak of. In the mid 1970’s – the Seasons would experience their last significant hurrah with “Who Loves You” – a number 3 hit in August and then their final number one hit “December 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” number 1 for three weeks – with Frankie not doing the lead vocal but giving way to Gerry Polci.
A side note – former Critter Don Ciccone – joined the group for several years – he of “Younger Girl” and “Mr. Dieingly Sad” fame – He wrote “Dieingly Sad” which peaked at number 17.
Post Seasons, Frankie would appear on the sound track of the 1978 smash hit movie “Grease” singing the title tune which reached number 1 for two weeks. The movie soundtrack would become the highest grossing musical film of all time.
The Four Seasons had a great run with over 40 appearances in the Hot 100 with five number one singles. Frankie Valli enjoyed two more. They flourished through the British Invasion, something hardly any other U.S. recording act managed to do
Side Note Denver’s Own Season
From sometime in 1980 into 1985, the Four Seasons as they would continue to bill themselves, would add Denver extraordinaire keyboardist Jerry Corbetta – most known for his participation in the group “Sugarloaf” where he was co-composer of their two big hits “Green-Eyed Lady” as well as “Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You”. The second of these two was co-written by Colorado’s John Carter who had earlier composed “That Alcapulco Gold” for The Rainy Daze and “Incense & Peppermints” for The Strawberry Alarm Clock.