From you’re just too good to be true, can’t take my eyes off you to voulez-vous coucher avec moi (ce soir)?, some of the most memorable phrases in popular music came courtesy of Bob Crewe. The multi-hyphenate talent – a songwriter, producer, singer, entrepreneur, artist, philanthropist, activist, and candidate for the title of “Fifth Season” – passed away yesterday at the age of 82, but not before leaving behind a rich legacy guaranteed to endure for decades to come. Crewe’s songs were built around big, powerful emotions, packed with drama and filled with heart.
Newark, New Jersey-born Stanley Robert Crewe dreamt big. His early years saw him studying architecture at Parsons School of Design, working successfully as a fashion model, and trying his luck as a singing star and potential teen idol. But Crewe, despite his good looks, found his truest calling behind the scenes of the music business. With writing partner Frank Slay, he gifted “Silhouettes” to The Rays and “Tallahassee Lassie” to Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon. Then, he formed arguably his most felicitous creative partnership with fellow Jersey boy Bob Gaudio. “[Gaudio] brought the finished song [“Sherry”] to Bob Crewe, independent hit record producer,” read the liner notes of the Seasons’ debut platter Sherry and 11 Others. “One listen was all Bob (Crewe) needed to be sold on the idea. The song was recorded and released immediately. An unknown group only a couple of months ago, today the whole music business and public alike are talking about the ‘different sound’ of The 4 Seasons.” They still are. Jersey Boys, chronicling the group’s rocky road to stardom and beyond, has been breaking records on Broadway since 2005. A film adaptation directed by Clint Eastwood premiered in 2014. Though the film was critically dismissed, Mike Doyle earned praise for his touching, funny and multilayered portrayal of Bob Crewe.
Sherry and 11 Others, of course, bore production credit for Crewe. A renaissance man, he was also credited with arrangements, conducting the orchestra, and even designing the cover artwork! The album ended with “Sherry,” but began with “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” heralding the arrival of the Bob Gaudio/Bob Crewe writing team. With Crewe primarily supplying lyrics to Gaudio’s melodies, the pair created that “different sound.” Though rooted in doo-wop and street-corner harmonies honed on the mean streets of northern New Jersey, Crewe and Gaudio’s fresh songs and immaculate, elegant productions exploded from AM radios. Valli’s ethereal falsetto soared above a youthful, vibrant and contemporary beat imbued with rock-and-roll attitude. The artful songs the team crafted throbbed with urgency and grit. Crewe’s gutsy words had universal appeal but remained honest to the group’s working-class backgrounds: “Walk Like a Man,” “Big Man’s World,” “Rag Doll,” “Ronnie,” “Save It for Me,” “Bye Bye Baby (Baby Goodbye).” The ballads were just as impressive as the stomping rockers, and were similarly drawn from the heart: the shimmering “Silence is Golden,” the aching “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore).”
We continue our Bob Crewe tribute after the jump!
In 1965, Crewe formed his own DynoVoice label, guiding The Toys to a No. 2 Pop hit with “A Lover’s Concerto.” In a wholly different vein, he guided Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels to fame, producing a series of tough, muscular rock records. Their medley revival of “Devil with a Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly” that inspired Bruce Springsteen and so many others was a Bob Crewe production – as freewheeling as his prior work had been tight. The prolific, versatile producer fronted The Bob Crewe Generation, providing the ultimate groovy lounge soundtrack with “Music to Watch Girls By,” wrote the score to cult classic Barbarella, and produced hit records for Oliver including “Jean” and “Good Morning Starshine.” A list of the artists with whom he worked during this fertile period is simply too large for inclusion here.
In the 1970s, Crewe began an association with Motown, and continued to collaborate with the Four Seasons. He returned to his old co-writing and co-producing roles for Frankie Valli’s Top 10 hit “Swearin’ to God,” written with Denny Randell, and No. 1 smash “My Eyes Adored You” with Kenny Nolan. The former had Frankie Valli in a disco setting, but Crewe actually followed the latter, a sweetly wistful ballad, with another straight No. 1 co-written with Nolan. What knocked “My Eyes Adored You” from the top spot in 1975? Labelle’s steamy, sexy, and altogether provocative “Lady Marmalade.” It’s a song that has resonated far beyond the disco years, instantly recognizable even today. Crewe always had his pulse on the times, but his twin gifts of craft and invention assured that the music would also remain timeless. He even reactivated The Bob Crewe Generation for the new crop of clubgoers.
Bob Crewe turned to painting in his later years, in between writing, producing, recording, and receiving accolades like a Songwriters’ Hall of Fame induction and an award for “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” as one of BMI’s most-played songs of the century. He was also on hand to lend support for Jersey Boys. But he might have been most proud of The Bob Crewe Foundation. His charitable trust provides scholarships, fellowships and mentoring for fine arts and music, and supports AIDS research and LGBT initiatives.
Bob Crewe remained largely unheralded despite his pioneering work as a producer in the decade when that role in music came to prominence. He seemed happy to remain somewhat in the shadows, but was also an inspiration for refusing to closet himself at a time when LGBT acceptance was far from the norm. (Crewe reportedly identified himself as bisexual, though he has also been identified as gay.) Bob Crewe was true to himself, in life and music – a trendsetter whose songs are still played today, thrilling with the same energy and vibrancy that they did when first heard. Just take another listen to the killer drums on “Big Man in Town” or “Ronnie,” the dirty electric guitar, effervescent harmonies and swaggering determination of “Let’s Hang On,” or the intoxicating sound of freedom in “Lady Marmalade.” Though he has passed on, Bob Crewe’s music, as ever, pulses with the rhythm of life.