The Four Seasons were one of the few American groups that avoided being washed out by the rising tide of the British Invasion. In fact, they achieved their greatest success during this period, racking up thirteen Top 10 hits with their smooth blend of doo-wop, rhythm and blues, and old-fashioned crooner-style pop.
In the process, they created a timeless sound that continues to inspire musicians today.
This group from Newark, New Jersey got their start in the 50’s as The Variatones and later as The Four Lovers when they scored a minor hit with the R&B song Apple Of My Eye.
A few years and name changes later, The Four Seasons added Bob Gaudio, a new member who wrote songs and convinced them to adopt a vocal style similar to Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs.
They recorded his song Sherry, a shuffling doo-wop tune that made excellent use of lead vocalist Frankie Valli’s super-high falsetto.
It quickly went to #1 on the pop charts for five weeks and also topped the R&B charts.
The follow-up, Big Girls Don’t Cry, pulled off the same feat and topped both charts again.
1963 started with a bang for The Four Seasons when they had yet another #1 hit with Walk Like A Man, which made them the first US group to score three consecutive #1 hits. They followed it with a wailing revival of Fats Domino‘s Ain’t That A Shame and a calypso-influenced #3 hit, Candy Girl.
The British Invasion began storming the American pop charts in 1964, but The Four Seasons held their ground and had their best year yet.
They landed six songs in the Top 20, including the number three Dawn (Go Away) and the #1 hit Rag Doll (which Bob Gaudio was inspired to write after a young girl dressed in rags rushed out to clean his windscreen when he had stopped at traffic lights).
The Four Seasons began 1965 with the #12 hit Bye Bye Baby. They adapted their doo-wop sound to a driving Motown-style track and had a number three smash with Let’s Hang On.
They also had a novelty hit using the pseudonym The Wonder Who with a jokey cover of the Bob Dylan song Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright. Under their own name, the group continued to hit big in 1966 with Working My Way Back To You and the classical-music-inspired Opus 17 (Don’t You Worry ‘Bout Me).
In 1967, The band had hits with the pretty ballad Tell It To The Rain, as well as the driving, soul-styled Beggin’ and C’Mon Marianne.
Meanwhile, Frankie Valli (who was born Francis Castelluccio) found success as a solo artist with the Sinatra-like #2 hit, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.
The Four Seasons successfully revived The Shirelles classic Will You Love Me Tomorrow? in 1968 and released one of their most unusual albums in 1969 with Genuine Imitation Life Gazette. The album, which was packaged with an elaborate fictional newspaper, explored relevant social themes and flirted with a psychedelic sound.
The band continued to record and tour into the 1970s, including a brief stop on the Motown label early in the decade.
As white guys who wrote their own songs, The Four Seasons’ stint with Motown was always going to end in tears. It did, however, result in 1972’s heroic group effort Chameleon and Valli’s 1975 solo outing, Inside You.
The Motown machine gave them a super-tight production, but the songs remained consistently thrilling, especially the extraordinary The Night (a huge British hit after being revived in Northern Soul clubs), which appeared on both albums in different versions.
The original Four Seasons disbanded shortly after their Motown album, and Valli and Gaudio decided to concentrate on Valli’s solo career. They quickly found major success with the wistful number one ballad My Eyes Adored You and the disco-influenced Swearin’ To God.
Valli and Gaudio formed a new version of The Four Seasons in 1975 and further explored the disco sound with Who Loves You? and December 1963 (Oh What A Night). Both were successful, and the latter song became a number one hit in both the US and the UK.
By this time, The Four Seasons had become a serious influence on many pop performers. Billy Joel singled them out as one of his big favourites in interviews, and artists as diverse as The Bay City Rollers, Barry Manilow and The Mary Jane Girls had hits with covers of Four Seasons classics.
Meanwhile, The Four Seasons continued to tour and record in the ’80s. A notable ’80s single was their collaboration with The Beach Boys, appropriately called East Meets West.
The Four Seasons found new success with an old hit when a dance-remix version of December 1963 (Oh What A Night) went to #14 in 1994. This second run gave the song a total of 54 weeks on the pop chart and made it the longest-running hit single in pop music history.
It was conclusive proof that The Four Seasons’ classic harmony style will always be in vogue.
In recent years The Four Seasons’ story has drawn audiences to theatres all around the world for the successful documentary-style musical stage show, Jersey Boys, which was also turned into a successful feature film.