Ever since the jukebox musical Jersey Boys debuted in 2005, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons have enjoyed a renaissance. Younger generations rediscovered their catchy pop classics, and Valli earned renewed recognition as a fine vocalist. Capitalizing on the release of the Clint Eastwood-directed Jersey Boys movie, Rhino has issued Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons: The Classic Albums Box; Frankie Valli: Selected Solo Works; and Audio with a G: Sounds of a Jersey Boy – The Music of Bob Gaudio — the latter dedicated to the composer of many of their major hits.
All three collections will appeal to diehard fans of the group and Valli, and the Gaudio compilation illustrates the songwriter’s ability to tap into current trends with memorable songs.
The Classic Albums Box contains 18 albums, dating from 1962 to 1992. While the set contains their biggest hits, it also demonstrates how Valli and the band experimented with their sound and adjust it to fit ever-changing tastes. Born to Wander (1964) was their attempt to capitalize on the growing folk moment, while the 4 Seasons Sing Big Hits by Burt Bacharach…Hal David…Bob Dylan (1965) put their unique spin on the latest Top 10 hits. They even entered the disco craze with their comeback 1975 effort Who Loves You, which boasts dance floor-friendly classics such as the title track and “December 1963 (Oh What a Night).”
The most curious entry, however, is The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette (1969), Valli and the group’s lone excursion into psychedelia. Imagine Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons reinterpreting the Monkees’ “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and one gets a sense of the album. The songs, co-written by Gaudio with Jake Holmes, are a bit heavy handed, but Valli and the band sing beautiful harmonies on such tracks as “Wall Street Village Day” and “American Crucifixion Resurrection.” It’s a curiosity that has remained relatively hidden in their catalog, and the box set brings back such rarities.
Outside of his work with the Four Seasons, Valli has experienced success as a solo artist. The Selected Solo Works box set includes eight albums released under his own name between 1967 and 1980.
Obviously, his record label believed that his connection with his group needed to be stressed on his debut, which was titled The 4 Seasons Present Frankie Valli Solo (1967). Nevertheless, he proved his hit-making ability with the single “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” a Gaudio composition that has transformed into a timeless standard. He further established his identity with the 1975 release Closeup, fusing his distinctive vocals with contemporary arrangements. The highly danceable “Swearin’ to God” lit up the discos, while “My Eyes Adored You” features Valli at his balladeer best. His other huge 1970s hit, the theme song to the film Grease, is included on the album Frankie Valli…Is the Word (1978).
While he may not have scored as many hits as a solo artist, Valli and frequent collaborator Gaudio recorded timeless tracks that are still featured at parties.
Even more fascinating than the Valli and the Four Seasons sets is Audio with a G: Sounds of a Jersey Boy – The Music of Bob Gaudio, a compilation of his greatest compositions. While Valli and the Jersey Boys cast are prominently featured, it’s the broad range of other artists that amazes. Notable tracks include Nancy Wilson’s sultry, jazzy cover of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” and Nina Simone’s eccentric rendition of “For A While.”
Gaudio’s songs translated to the soul world, with singers such as Jerry Butler, Chuck Jackson, Diana Ross, Roberta Flack, and the Temptations lending their voices to selected tracks. Offbeat cuts include Lene Lovich adding new wave cred to “The Night” and Cher’s dramatic reading of “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore).” Compare these songs with an early composition, “Short Shorts” by the Royal Teens (a tune now famous for appearing in an old Nair commercial), and one senses how rapidly Gaudio grew in sophistication and ability.
All three collections have their merits, but the first two are recommended for longtime fans only. Those learning about Valli through Jersey Boys may opt for greatest hits collections before delving into these deep album cuts. Audio with A G, however, should appeal to larger audiences who appreciate Gaudio’s popular songs. On that compilation, the mixture of Valli and the Four Seasons hits as well as lesser known covers make for an entertaining and educational listen.
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