In recent months, Real Gone Music has further diversified its CD offerings with a line of mini-LP replica editions of rare titles from Banana and the Bunch, The Viscounts, and Jorge Ben. This Friday, the label kicks off an eagerly-anticipated series from New Jersey’s favorite sons, The 4 Seasons. The band’s first and third albums – from 1962 and 1963, respectively – were both headlined by U.S. No. 1 singles. The Vee-Jay releases Sherry and 11 Others (RGM-0386) and Big Girls Don’t Cry and Twelve Others (RGM-0387) might not have the most exciting titles ever conceived, but the music within each jacket tells a very different story. Real Gone’s editions present these LPs for the very first time on CD in their original mono album mixes, both freshly remastered from tape by one of the Seasons catalogue’s longtime stewards, Bill Inglot. (And no worries; the Seasons’ second album, The 4 Seasons Greetings, arrives in this series next month, just in time for Christmas!)
The story of Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi is by now a well-known one thanks to the runaway success of the Broadway musical Jersey Boys. And the street-corner sounds of the Seasons’ Jersey pulsate through Sherry, the group’s debut LP which actually begins with…”Big Girls Don’t Cry,” their second single and second consecutive chart-topper on both the Pop and R&B surveys. One of three originals on the LP penned by composer Gaudio and lyricist, producer, arranger, conductor, and cover designer (!) Bob Crewe, “Big Girls” had all the hallmarks of what was quickly being recognized as The 4 Seasons’ own sound. The bold two-and-a-half minutes took doo-wop vocalizing, led by Valli’s soaring and unmistakable falsetto, and married those harmonies (credited to vocal arranger Massi) to a fresh, clap-along beat with plenty of attitude. The second of those original Crewe/Gaudio songs, “Sherry,” bookends the album as its closing track. The Seasons’ first No. 1, “Sherry” is two minutes and thirty seconds of pure exhilaration as the confident yet yearning Valli begs the object of his affection to “come out tonight” in a situation surely familiar to many of the teens buying the original record. Together, “Big Girls” and “Sherry” proved that rock-and-roll was to stay – and so were The 4 Seasons. The third Crewe/Gaudio song on the album, “Lost Lullabye,” is a more traditional doo-wop-styled ballad still packed with tasty Seasons harmonies and a pleading Valli lead.
The balance of the Sherry… LP was primarily filled out with revivals of standards, doo-wop tunes and recent pop hits. Gus Kahn and Walter Donaldson’s 1925 “Yessir, That’s My Baby” got a slow, swooning makeover; Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh’s 1928 “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” went rock-and-roll with Valli singing in his even softer, more exaggerated falsetto that would later grace the group’s singles credited to “The Wonder Who?” Of the more recent cover versions, the Oscar-winning “Never on Sunday” from the film of the same name had Valli injecting primal energy into the Manos Hadjidakis melody as he wailed with abandon. Neil Sedaka had a Top 10 hit in 1959 with “Oh! Carol,” co-written with Howard Greenfield. The Seasons’ vocals give the melody a more confident feel if a less urgent one than in Sedaka’s ebulliently melodramatic original.
The Seasons revived doo wop chestnuts such as “Little” Joe Cook’s “Peanuts,” a 1957 hit for Little Joe and the Thrillers, Lee Andrews and The Hearts’ “Teardrops” (also from ’57) and Crewe and his old partner Frank Slay’s upbeat “La Dee Dah,” a Top 10 hit from ’58 for Bloomfield, New Jersey native Billy Ford and Lillie Bryant as Billy and Lillie. Otis Blackwell’s “Apple of My Eye” was drawn from Valli and DeVito’s own history when they were one-half of Seasons precursor The Four Lovers; it was the Lovers’ only hit single and successful enough (No. 62, 1956) to earn them an Ed Sullivan Show appearance.
Sherry… arrived in September ’62, and Big Girls Don’t Cry followed in February ’63 (with Greetings sandwiched between the releases in December). Big Girls added a new, key player to the mix: arranger-conductor and Newark, New Jersey native Charles Calello. A former member of The Four Lovers, Calello would later join the Seasons as their bassist, replacing Nick Massi – who had actually replaced Calello in the Four Lovers years earlier! Big Girls begins with the group’s third No. 1. “Walk Like a Man” built on the sonic template of “Sherry” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry” but from its opening drums, was even tougher, edgier, and more reflective of the group’s Jersey origins – all swagger and brashness from the vocals to the production. With “Walk” leading off Side One and title track “Big Girls” (repeated from Sherry…) as the penultimate song on Side Two, the remaining selections once again encompassed oldies from a variety of sources. While the Seasons’ singles were thunderous, beat-driven affairs, the early album tracks were in a more purely doo-wop throwback vein. Though lacking the sophistication of the group’s future classics produced by Crewe and Gaudio, these recordings nonetheless have many of the distinctive hallmarks associated with the Seasons’ best. (Fans of Crewe’s ever-evolving production style are urged to check out his 2015 solo anthology The Complete Elektra Recordings from Real Gone and Second Disc Records!)
Two tracks were plucked from the Crewe/Slay songbook including another tune from the Billy and Lillie discography, “Lucky Ladybug,” and a straightforward rendition of the team’s most famous song, “Silhouettes.” The same year The Rays took “Silhouettes” to No. 3, The Shepherd Sisters had a Top 20 success with Selma and Morty Craft’s “Alone.” When the Seasons’ recording from the Big Girls album was selected as a single release in 1964, it, too, charted.
The Seasons’ “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” is as upbeat as “Sincerely” is romantic; the latter had previously scored for both The Moonglows and The McGuire Sisters. Charlie Calello offered up a lightly Latin arrangement of The Skyliners’ familiar “Since I Don’t Have You,” as well as a rather frenetic, percussion-driven “One Song” from the score to Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It’s the most outré track on the LP. Also drawn from a film is “Hi Lili, Hi Lo,” from 1953’s Lili. Gaudio and Crewe’s “My Sugar” is the duo’s only original song on the album. The Seasons would soon fare better, however, with songwriter Larry Santos’ even sweeter “Candy Girl.”
Real Gone’s limited edition mini-LP editions of Sherry and 11 Others and Big Girls Don’t Cry and Twelve Others are must-haves for fans of The 4 Seasons, doo wop, or early rock-and-roll. The mono mix as expertly remastered by Bill Inglot captures the punch and excitement of these early records as they were originally heard. The packaging, too, is top-notch. The discs (retaining original Vee-Jay label designs) are housed in simple paper protective sleeves nestled in the sturdy oversized jackets with Japan-style OBI strips. Note that no new liner notes have been added to these replica editions. These two titles in crisp, original mono provide a visit to the ground floor of The 4 Seasons’ career and a perfect place to start exploring the group’s tremendous legacy of music.