Title - 'Jersey Beat: Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons'
Artist - Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons
This set literally blew me away...literally, like where was I??!!?? I have to be honest, I saw this set and thought, hmmmm, nice packaging, then I saw it up for review in the office here at Exclusive Magazine, so I thought I'd bite. Rhino recently put out the 2CD "Definitive Pop Collection", which was decent, but I thought a better collection could be done...then I saw this set (albeit in advance plastic sleves, of course!)
Now, I figured, I wanted a well-done proper anthology of their work, so I can put it all into proper perspective. I knew, and loved, a bunch of their hits, and Frankie's solo hits, but not them all, so I wanted to hear them all, in chronological order. I originally thought Frankie and the Jersey boys to be prefabricated, with songs by outside songwriters, and no more than a guilty pleasure. I figured, if I didn't enjoy it, I knew I could pass it along to another colleague who perhaps also loves their work.
Well, I was bowled away from moment number one! Someone actually had the CD set at home, so brought me in the 84-page booklet. It's a nicely put together piece of work, by the way. Saw the main essay was written by none other than Dennis Diken from one of my fave powerpop bands, New Jersey's own Smithereens!!! It's well-written and VERY insightful. THEN, I saw all the tributes under each of the songs, by everyone cool, from Little Steven Van Zandt (from Bruce Springsteen's E-Street Band, the Sopranos and his own Underground Garage radio show on Sirius Satellite Radio), UK guitarist Johnny Marr (From the Smiths, Pretenders, The The and now Modest Mouse), Brian Wilson, Cher, Neil Sedaka, Neil Diamond, Joe Pesce, Billy Joel, even Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban, and a ton of others...so I couldn't wait to listen.
Oh...My...Gosh. I was floored. One thing I didn't know...pretty much ALL the songs were written by the band's keyboardist Bob Gaudio...he was the Brian Wilson of the band, him and genius producer Bob Crewe. Frankie Valli, even though he wasn't a songwriter, he had a voice like an alien, almost a freak of nature, unique and finely-tuned...one part classic crooner, one part rock & roller. Vocally, the 4 Seasons were like the Beach Boys, similar influences and the way the band evolved. The productions were very ARTFUL. Radio did this band no favours. They didn't show the band from an artistic angle, just a hitbound one, which is a bad thing. As the band evolved and became less commercial, the hits dried up, but they became better, musically. They even dabbled in psychedelia in 1968/1969, with their artistic masterpiece, the album "Genuine Imitation Life Gazette", which sold a little, not as much as their prior work, and most people don't know the genius level at work on this opus. It's their equivalent of "Sgt Pepper's", "Pet Sounds", "Smile", "Head", "Odessa", "Battle Of The Bands", etc, you get my drift.
Even after the band hit a dry period and Bob became just the band's songwriter behind the scenes, and 4 new 4 Seasons were indoctrinated, the band evolved even further on the "Who Loves You" and "Helicon" albums in the mid-to-late 70s. As the 4 Seasons entered the 80s and 90s and now, they never stopped growing, but records appeared less frequently. Frankie's solo work always was of a high quality as well, but different from the band's. Now, with the Broadway show "Jersey Boys" playing to sellout crowds, the genius of their work will finally be appreciated and will garner their due...it did from me, but I don't feel guilty though, I blame radio, ESPECIALLY oldies stations, for this heinous crime against this great band.
This genius group is well-documented on this packed-to-the-gills 3CD/1DVD boxset. All 3 CDs are 79 minutes and change, so they are filled to the brim with no room for more, with 99% of their charting hits, B-sides, overlooked album tracks and rarities, all in proper perspective. The 4th disc, a DVD, is a nice 40-minute souvenir, with TV appearances, live concert clips and 3 promo vidclips from the mid-to-late 70s. What struck me was that up until 1975, the band didn't have a drummer (and no drummer appeared with them on TV either...just studio drummers on their recordings)...usually, I'd say this is a bad thing, but then again, ABBA didn't have a drummer in their line-up, just studio players. Also, Frankie was VERY low-key and modest, and in the mid-70s, he went from a Wayne Newton look (that moustache, ouch!!) to almost Eric Carmen-ish during the comeback. And, in the mid-70s lineup, their DRUMMER was their lead singer on "December, 1963"!!! Interesting.
Anyhoo, one of the most revelatory box-sets I've ever heard in my life, and I now count them up there with the Beach Boys and Byrds as one of THE best, most innovative pop/even powerpop bands that ever was...AND finally, with many acts around this long, a box-set would be enough, all you would need in your collection...nope, with these fellas, I WANT THE CATALOGUE, and I saw their 24(!) studio albums (band and FV solo) were reissued on Collector's Choice as remastered 2-fers in 2006, so I will buy those, probably the first one being "Working My Way Back To You/Genuine Imitation Life Gazette".
Investigate pronto...and prepare to be floored...I was, and I thought they were cheese originally. NO WAY!!! One of America's true treasures, and NOTHING is subpar or 2nd rate, even their 80s and 90s work!!!