The Four Seasons - Biography
By Nick Castro
The Four Seasons were a singing rock group from New Jersey, most famous for being the launching pad of Frankie Valli. They had tremendous hits with songs like, "Big Girls Don't Cry", "Let's Hang On to What We've Got", "Walk Like a Man" and "Sherry". Their popularity was so strong, that even when the British Invasion made its way to the US shores, The Four Seasons held tight to their position as hit makers. Their music is often compared to doo wop, which is not too far off mark as the group utilizes tight multi-voiced harmonies and falsetto melodies.
The Four Seasons were comprised of Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy Devito, and Nick Massi. Though the group has had members come and go, Valli and Gaudio have remained the staples in the band, and they held the rights to the group's name and catalogue of songs. They began in Newark, New Jersey, as the Variatones and then the Four Lovers, though Valli had begun his career earlier, singing as Frankie Valley for the Corona label and had learned to sing, as a child, by listening to popular records and singing along, especially records by female artists, which is where learned to sing in his famous falsetto. He released the song, "My Mother's Eyes". Gaudio too had a recording of his song, "Short Shorts", with his first group, The Royal Teens, before he joined The Four Seasons. As the Variatones, the group got work at local clubs and were eventually signed to RCA. Once the group signed to the label they changed their name again to the Four Lovers.
The Four Lovers, who eventually changed their name to The Four Seasons, released their first song, "You're the Apple of My Eye", which helped garner a bit of attention for the group and was a regional hit as well. It was at this time that the group got a number of spots on the Ed Sullivan show. All of this attention aside though, the group was not able to take hold of the music market and floundered during these days. Valli was still working as a barber at the time, like his father did while he was growing up, when he and Gaudio made a deal to won fifty percent of one another. This proved to be a deal that they both honored for the entirety of their careers.
In 1962, The Four Seasons enjoyed their initial success when they released the song, on the Vee-Jay record label, "Sherry". Apparently, the song was written in fifteen minutes by Gaudio, who would prove himself as a talented songwriter, who would go on to pen many of the group's finest works. the song was originally titles, "Terry", and the lyrics were only intended to be tentative but the rest of the group fell in love with them and forced Gaudio to keep them as the last draft. Vee-Jay, with full intention to capitalize on the success of their previous effort, released the song, "Big Girls Don't Cry", which is also one of the songs the group is best remembered for and another shining example of Gaudio's talents. This song solidified their position as a top band of their time and they followed with a slew of hits throughout the remainder of the 60's, many of them penned by Gaudio. Their next song was "Walk Like a Man", anther song that still receives considerable airplay on the radio. These songs also served to define their style of strong falsettos backed with solid harmonies.
Soon the British invasion came from across the pond and The Four Seasons were one of the few groups, along with The Beach Boys, to survive this event, which changed American pop music forever. Vee-Jay, who also represented the Beatles catalogue at the time, issued a battle of the bands record, which featured both The Beatles and The Four Seasons. Although this combination may seem strange now, it was obvious at the time as both groups seemed to be battling for the tops of the charts. At the time, The Four Seasons were enjoying the number three spot with the song, "Dawn (Go Away)" in 1963 and the number one spot, the next year, with the song, "Rag Doll". The band also recorded a novelty record under the name Wonder Who?, which saw them doing a silly version of Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right".
During these years, Valli was also enjoying considerable success as a solo artist and this translated to more success for The Four Seasons. Often people thought of the group as Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, though this name was never listed on their records. By 1964 the group began to have problems with their record label, which ended in a lawsuit over the rights to their back catalogue. They left Vee-Jay and moved on to Philips Records instead. They continued a string of hits on this new label. Their first album for the Philips label was Born to Wander (1964 - Philips), which contained many Gaudio gems, such as "Don't Cry Elena" and "Golden Ribbon".
By 1969 the band was beginning to feel that they needed to make a bold move to maintain their hit making status in the face of a quickly changing music scene. they released the bizarre album The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette (1969 - Philips), which found the group collaborating with psychedelic songwriter Jake Holmes, to create their mark on the psychedelic scene. The record failed dismally at the time, in terms of sales.
In the 70's the group made a move to the Warner Bros. record label. Gaudio would soon retire from performance as well, finding more satisfaction in producing other artists. Valli continued to enjoy success, especially in 1975, when he scored yet another hit with the song, "My Eyes Adored You". Valli eventually left the group as well, to concentrate on his solo works, which at the time included singing the theme to the movie, Grease. Most recently Valli can be seen in the television show, The Sopranos.