I Can't Give You Anything But Love
On Monday, June 26, Frankie Valli walked down the aisle in Las Vegas with his longtime girlfriend Jackie Jacobs. This October, he'll take the stage at the city's Westgate Resort and Casino to begin a yearlong residency at the hotel, during which time he'll turn 90 years young. For more than 60 of those years, the artist born Francesco Stephen Castelluccio in Newark, New Jersey has been the lead vocalist of The Four Seasons, the group he co-founded on a handshake with songwriter-musician Bob Gaudio. The original quartet of lead singer Valli, keyboardist-tenor Gaudio, guitarist-baritone Tommy DeVito, and bass guitarist-vocalist Nick Massi, as well as producer-songwriter Bob Crewe, are at the heart of the legacy that endures today - an extraordinary one spanning more than a dozen top forty LPs and over 35 top forty hits on the Hot 100 (including seven No. 1s between the group and Valli solo). The music of The Four Seasons is story of post-war American song, encompassing doo-wop, rock and roll, pop, folk, rhythm and blues, soul, disco, psychedelia, and even country and jazz, all led by one of the most distinctive voices of the 20th century, Frankie Valli. Though the group has been well-anthologized over the years in every format conceivable, it's doubtful even the most optimistic longtime fan or collector could have imagined the stunning 44CD/1LP behemoth recently released by the U.K.'s Snapper Music label.
Working Our Way Back to You: The Ultimate Collection lives up to its title and makes the case that The Four Seasons' catalogue should be spoken of in the same breath as that of The Beach Boys or The Beatles. Housed in a gold box only hinting at the treasures within, the set contains newly-remastered and expanded editions of every Four Seasons and Frankie Valli solo album, as originally released on the Vee-Jay, Philips, Motown, Private Stock, Warner Bros., MCA, Curb and Rhino labels between 1962 and 2017. Mono and stereo album mixes are presented - including the first-ever mono release of the 1969 cult classic The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette (included on both CD and vinyl) - plus non-LP sides, single versions, demos, alternate takes, and rarities of every kind.
A number of the discs are previously unreleased, including Bob Gaudio's handpicked selection of long-coveted 1971-1974 Seasons outtakes for Motown Records, Valli's lost disco album that preceded Heaven Above Me, and three live concerts. Three new compilations of rarities, unreleased tracks, and ephemera are also among the offerings. There's even Jersey Babys, a 2008 collection of recordings of Seasons material for young listeners, inspired by the runaway success of the 2005 Broadway musical Jersey Boys. That show's Grammy-winning, Platinum-certified cast recording is about the only major Seasons-related item that's not here! Working Our Way Back to You very nearly makes the "ultimate" tag seem woefully inadequate, as this tribute spearheaded by the late Bob Fisher and championed by the Four Seasons U.K. Appreciation Society is one of the most comprehensive and rewarding collections dedicated to any single rock-era artist or group.
Comin' Up in the World
Steeped in the traditions of Italian bel canto and street corner singing, The Four Seasons brought grit and beauty in equal measure to the top 40. In three minutes, the Seasons would tell a big, dramatic story in miniature, with Frankie Valli veering from stratospheric falsetto to edgy rock-and-roll tenor. Composer Bob Gaudio found his ideal partner in Newark native Bob Crewe. A former architecture student with the chiseled looks of a model, lyricist-producer-impresario Crewe was a tastemaker with an ear for what was happening. "Sherry," "Rag Doll," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like a Man," and "Bye, Bye Baby (Baby Goodbye)" blended pathos with humor and authenticity. There were no airs about the Four Seasons; that these were working-class Italian street kids was evident in every note of their music. Soon, Gaudio and Crewe would bring other talented writers such as Sandy Linzer and Denny Randell into the fold, and the hits kept on coming with "Working My Way Back to You," "Opus 17 (Don't You Worry 'Bout Me)," and "Let's Hang On," the latter co-written by the duo with Crewe. Along the way, the Four Seasons spoofed Bob Dylan - and gave him a hit record in the process - with "Don't Think Twice (It's All Right)." Sung by Valli in his most pinched, exaggerated, high falsetto and credited to The Wonder Who?, it shot all the way to No. 12 on the Hot 100. They were no less inventive when breathing new life into the Cole Porter standard "I've Got You Under My Skin," giving the late songwriter a top ten record. Between 1962 and 1967, the Seasons were regular visitors to the U.S. top ten; the same year, Valli scored his first solo chart-topper with the now-standard "Can't Take My Eyes Off You." (Has any song ever matched the sheer euphoria of those swaying, swaggering horns culminating in Valli's joyful cry of "I love you, baby"?)
Though most of the Seasons' early Vee-Jay and Philips LPs were conceived to showcase singles (Sherry & 11 Others, Big Girls Don't Cry & 12 Others, Dawn Go Away & 11 Others, Rag Doll, etc.), Gaudio and Crewe masterminded a handful of concept records (the Christmas album Four Seasons Greetings, the folk tribute Born to Wander, the unusual but never uninteresting Sing Big Hits by Bacharach/David and Dylan) before meeting the challenge of the post-Sgt. Pepper's era with 1969's remarkable Genuine Imitation Life Gazette.
A spiritual companion piece to Frank Sinatra's subsequent LP Watertown, composed by the same team of Gaudio (also the producer) and lyricist Jake Holmes, Genuine Imitation Life (Discs 16-17) took the Jersey Boys into ambitious and experimental territory. Valli, Gaudio, DeVito, and Joe Long (who had replaced founding member Nick Massi in 1965) - along with Charlie Calello on piano and a horn section - embraced psychedelic pop-rock on a decidedly non-commercial song suite that veers from the satirical to the heartfelt. It takes sharp aim at suburban gossips ("Mrs. Stately's Garden"), views love through an impressionistic lens ("Look Up, Look Over"), and soberingly reflects on a divorced dad ("Saturday's Father," sung by Valli at his most poignant) and a parent's musings on a child growing up ("Wonder What You'll Be," which is extended in its mono version). "Wall Street Village Day" - a jazz-inflected, tight-harmony item propelled by piano - recalls a New York brand of sunshine pop, imagining the collision between Wall Street and Greenwich Village types. "Idaho" offers nostalgia for simpler times, but as sung by this quintessentially New Jersey group, a dash of irony is also present ("Lovely, lovely Idaho/Daisies on the grass/Grandma's stew/The cows and you...")
Genuine Imitation Life occasionally approaches straightforward pop ("Something's on Her Mind," which was not one of the songs chosen for single release) but revels in its most outré moments, whether the transfixing opener "American Crucifixion Resurrection," the musically shifting birth-to-death chronicle "Soul of a Woman," or the trippy, "Hey Jude"-recalling title track. Gaudio's ornate, adventurous music was complemented by Holmes' provocative lyrics, led by Valli with conviction. The album may have been too far out for those expecting the Seasons to continue in the more direct, rocking tradition of "Beggin'" or "C'mon Marianne." But despite its lack of commercial success, it found them meeting the zeitgeist on their own terms.
Bonus tracks from the period have been added to both the mono and stereo discs, though even the wonderful and essential likes of "Tell It to the Rain," "I Make a Fool of Myself," and "I've Got You Under My Skin" as well as rarities such as the instrumental B-sides "Sassy" and "Night Hawk" seem out of place appended to Genuine Imitation Life. While not reproduced at CD size (which would be difficult to read), the entire newspaper that accompanied the original LP is happily reprinted in the mono vinyl edition.
The group's final Philips recordings would come in 1970. After an artistically successful but commercially disappointing stay at Motown, both the Seasons and their frontman would make a "comeback" in the 1970s with a string of classics on Private Stock and Warner Bros./Curb including "Who Loves You," "December 1963 (Oh, What a Night)," "My Eyes Adored You," "Grease," and "Swearin' to God." True to form, the Seasons always returned to the charts when least expected, whether in 1994 when a remix of "December 1963" spent 27 weeks on the Hot 100 and peaked at No. 14, or in 2007 when the French DJ Pilooski remixed "Beggin'," to the tune of a No. 1 Dance and No. 32 Pop placement in the United Kingdom. In any era, the music of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons remains vital and resonant, a fact which is even more evident when taking in the full scope of their discography on Working Our Way Back to You.
Make the Music Play
For most collectors, the main attraction may well be the dozens of previously unreleased tracks. Three complete live albums premiere on the box. These collectively make a major addition to the Seasons' catalogue in which only two other live sets reside: 1965's Recorded Live On-Stage (a supper club set believed to have been culled from rehearsal tapes for the Copacabana) and 1981's Reunited Live (a triumphant double album captured at Holmdel, New Jersey's Garden State Arts Center with a line-up including Valli, Gerry Polci, Don Ciccone, Jerry Corbetta, and surprise guest Bob Gaudio).
Live at Steel Pier, Atlantic City: July 7, 1972 (Disc 41) hails from the Motown era but features none of the original material they recorded at the label. What it does offer, though, is a fun romp through the first decade of the Four Seasons with a dollop of contemporary fare otherwise unrecorded by the group including Stephen Stills' "Love the One You're With" (sung by Demetri Callas), Tim Hardin's "If I Were a Carpenter" (in uptempo style) and David Gates' "If." Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" gets a country-rock update from the group's 1965 rendition, too, while a quartet of familiar hits are dispatched in a loose, brisk medley ("Sherry," "Walk Like a Man," "Big Girls Don't Cry," and "Bye Bye Baby (Baby Goodbye)." Despite Valli lamenting to Ken Sharp that "there was nothing more ridiculous than working at the Steel Pier...You went on after the diving horse!," his falsetto was supple and his energy high throughout the home state show. Joe Long (bass), Demetri Callas (guitar), Clay Jordan (guitar), Al Ruzicka (organ), and Paul Wilson (drums) supported the lead singer with lean, strong band arrangements that didn't duplicate the records but captured their spirit (with a little extra onstage goofiness). Callas' lead guitar, in particular, shines as a key element of the sound here, and he adds muscle to the tougher songs such as "Let's Hang On" and "C'mon Marianne." During the opening of "Sherry," Frankie quipped, "I think I am getting too old for this song." He's still singing it fifty-plus years later. This line-up was short lived; Clay Jordan (who had replaced Gaudio in the blend) reportedly wasn't up to the vocal demands of the group and departed in September (though he'd be back in mid-1973).
Lucifer's Boston 1973 (Disc 42) jumps forward one year with a nightclub show in Boston's Kenmore Square played by Valli, Long, Callas, Wilson, and keyboardist Bill DeLoach (whose time in the group was short-lived). At least as preserved on this disc, it's a vastly different setlist than the Steel Pier show, sharing only "Rag Doll," "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," and "C'mon Marianne." (This was the second set of the evening per the onstage chatter, hence the omission of a number of big hits.) The sound is different, too, both owing to the intimacy of the venue and the addition of horns. The dramatic "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore," faithful live versions of the roiling "The Night" and epic "A New Beginning" (both then-current Motown productions) and a rocking "You're Ready Now" are among the highlights; so is the medley which includes "And That Reminds Me" (No. 45, 1969) alongside the more familiar "oldies." Touching on every side of the Seasons, DeLoach capably led the Johnny Nash hit "I Can See Clearly Now" and Valli tapped into his roots for the romantic standard "The Nearness of You" as part of a comic skit. Audio quality is less strong on this disc than the Steel Pier show, though still eminently listenable. As a board recording, the mix isn't what would be expected of a professionally-released show.
The third previously unreleased show, Live at Bachelors III, Fort Lauderdale, June 1974 (Disc 43), is the most expansive. Featuring Valli, Lee Shapiro (conductor/synthesizer), Gerry Polci (lead vocals/drums/backing vocals), Don Ciccone (lead vocals/lead guitar/backing vocals), Joe Long (bass/backing vocals) and additional musicians John Paiva (guitar) and Richard Natoli (horns), the concert shows how much the Seasons had developed with the introduction of Polci and Ciccone as co-lead vocalists with Valli. The emphasis on cover material is heavy - from the Purlie showtune "I Got Love" to Paul McCartney's "My Love" and Tim Hardin's "If I Were a Carpenter" as well as "You Are the Sunshine of My Life," "Love's Theme," and intriguing medleys of "The Way We Were/All in Love Is Fair" (Frankie apologizes for reading the lyric of the former!) and "Bridge Over Troubled Water/The Long and Winding Road/MacArthur Park" - but Valli and co. also injected muscle into "Opus 17," "Working My Way Back to You," and favorites of similar vintage. They saved something special for the set's final brace of songs: an early performance of "My Eyes Adored You." The sweet, nostalgic ballad, which Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe had taken from Motown upon the Seasons' departure from the label, was released as a single on Private Stock in October 1974. It would climb to No. 1 on the Hot 100, reaching the summit in March 1975 and reasserting Frankie as a force with which to be reckoned.
Stop, Look, Listen, To Your Heart
There's plenty of never-before-heard studio material, as well. The crown jewel of the box is Disc 22, premiering an album's worth of "lost" studio recordings from the Seasons' Motown tenure, all hand-selected by Bob Gaudio for the box. The union of The Four Seasons and Motown made more sense than some initially realized; what was "Working My Way Back to You" if not a tribute to The Sound of Young America? It was just one of many Seasons tracks that directly or indirectly referenced The Motown Sound. The label, in the process of relocating operations from Detroit to Los Angeles, lured both Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe into the fold; Gaudio received plum production assignments for Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye as well as Michael Jackson.
The group was paired at Motown with the label's top in-house producers, many of whom also worked there with another similarly well-established act looking for a new start, Bobby Darin. Yet, as with Darin, many of the recordings from these talented producers ended up in the vault as the label struggled with how to promote their new signings. (Only one Four Seasons album would be released while the group was signed to Motown. Chameleon can be heard on Disc 20. After the Seasons had left the label and enjoyed their "comeback," the Valli solo LP Inside You was fashioned from remixes of Chameleon tracks, outtakes, and non-LP singles. It's on Disc 21.)
The team of Jerry Marcellino and Mel Larson, a.k.a. Lar-Mar, wrote and produced a cover of "Baby, I Need Your Loving" on Frankie's Inside You; here, the duo is represented with the irresistible "My Heart Cries Out to You," a dynamic, rhythmic number with a persuasive chorus and appropriately sweeping strings. Frankie soars on ravishing covers of Smokey Robinson and Robert Rogers' "What Love Has Joined Together" (produced by the team of Al Cleveland and Lawrence Payton) and Thom Bell and Linda Creed's "Stop, Look, Listen to Your Heart" (produced by Hal Davis). If the stellar Gene Page arrangement of the latter sounds familiar, that's because it was ultimately used for Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye's duet rendition. A couple of tracks from co-producer/co-writer Michael Masser showcase his gift for big hooks, more than capably delivered by the confident Valli. "Minute by Minute (Day by Day)," co-written with Kathleen Wakefield, and especially the Ron Miller co-write "After You" are top-notch slices of melodic pop-soul, beautifully orchestrated and performed.
"Whatever You Want" and "Star" reunited the Gaudio/Crewe team. (They had jointly penned "A New Beginning" for the Seasons' Chameleon and "Inside You" and "With My Eyes Wide Open" on Valli's LP as well as his non-LP side "Listen to Yesterday.") As writers and producers, both Gaudio and Crewe were careful not to pastiche themselves, and so both of these tracks are squarely in a contemporary vein with "Whatever You Want" having a lovely Beach Boys shimmer. (Berry Gordy and his cohorts in The Corporation wrote and produced the group's best "throwback" at Motown, the single "Walk On, Don't Look Back.") The "My Eyes Adored You" team of producer-writer Crewe and co-writer Kenny Nolan supplied both the grandiose "Hymn to Her," an ode to a mother's love, and the comparatively intimate "Lovers."
Gaudio helmed his own, insistent "Never Gonna Give My Heart to You" and Al Ruzicka's buoyant, catchy "Loving You, That's My Thing" as well as the appealingly swinging admonition "You Can't Hold On." His production of Tony Martin, Jr. and Guy Finley's "Future Years" closes out the main portion of the disc; he had produced the duo's sole Motown LP, 1974's Dazzle 'Em with Footwork. (Tony's famous crooner dad had also briefly recorded for Motown; a few singles trickled out in 1964 and 1965.)
The disc is rounded out with a number of bonus selections including an early take of "My Eyes Adored You" with an alternate lyric near the end; and alternative versions/mixes of "Whatever You Want," "You Can't Hold On," "Hymn to Her," "Lovers," "Future Years," and more. (Oddly, the extended version of the non-LP single "Charisma" which premiered on Hip-o Select's 2008 Seasons anthology The Motown Years is absent from the box set.)
The Motown period is far from the only one that has been exhaustively addressed on Working Our Way Back to You. Disc 30 premieres the solo Valli's Back in Action, subtitled The Lost Disco Album. This record from the Warner Bros. era was discovered among tapes related to 1980's Heaven Above Me. While every track intended for the dance-flavored album hasn't shown up - apparently, "Can't Be Too Much Music" and a cover of "Stagger Lee" haven't survived - the compilers have restored as much of the intended LP as possible. Most of the material is familiar from Heaven Above Me, for which the songs were largely re-recorded for a new label (MCA) under the auspices of the reunited Bobs, Crewe and Gaudio. As assembled here, Back in Action is a strong set of slick and melodic disco tunes including Crewe and Jerry Corbetta's previously unheard title track featuring duet vocalist Chris Forde, an extended version of Crewe and Gaudio's pulsating "Let It Be Whatever It Is," and a standalone. Latin-tinged version of the duo's "Soul" (presented in medley form with the title track of Heaven Above Me on that album). (The 12-inch remix of "Soul" isn't included on the box. Likewise, the original single mix of "Fancy Dancer" is absent, though a longer version is part of the Back in Action sequence.)
Another pair of "bonus discs" bring together various odds and ends. Disc 19, Rare and Unreleased 1966-1971, is a delightful deep dive through the group's halcyon years as they addressed the ever-changing musical landscape. Among the non-LP single sides presented here, fans will particularly thrill at the inclusion of the U.K. Warner Bros. single comprising "Whatever You Say" and "Sleeping Man." These rare sides found producer-songwriter Gaudio further reckoning with rock, complementing Valli's edgy lead vocal with sharp-edged guitar riffs, rocking brass (on "Sleeping Man"), and gospel-tinged backgrounds. The road to this 45 can be heard via Gaudio and Crewe's intricate and spiky 1970 A-side "Lay Me Down (Wake Me Up)." In a more expected mode, it's a treat to hear Valli's outtake recording of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil's "I Just Can't Help Believin'," a hit for B.J. Thomas. It's only let down by a lackluster arrangement which, though rollickingly upbeat, lacks the wistful quality of Thomas' original. Bob Fisher and co. dug deep to find the original songwriters' demo of "Beggin'," sung by Peggy Farina with Bob Gaudio pounding the piano, and a piano-and-vocal run through a midtempo song called "What Good Am I" sung full-out by Valli.
Various alternative mixes feature prominently on this disc, too. In any form, 1967's floor-filling "I'm Gonna Change" is one of the most criminally unknown Four Seasons tunes; the mono mix here has alternative background vocals and a unique mix. Lovely guitar work comes to the fore on a beautiful mono mix of Laura Nyro's yearning "Emily," gorgeously sung by Valli at Charlie Calello's encouragement on 1970's Half and Half. (Calello penned the new arrangement for Frankie; he famously co-produced and arranged Laura's 1968 masterwork Eli and the Thirteenth Confession.)
Of the outtake material, there are two strong versions (with lyrical and musical variations) of a Bob Crewe/L. Russell Brown song "One Man" (or "You Can't Take It All from a Man") which Crewe would record with Ben E. King on 1970's Rough Edges. The Artie Schroeck/Jet Loring "Just How Loud (Must the Music Play)" is a perky heartbreaker with a danceable beat; Sandy Linzer's "The Goose" ranks as one of the most offbeat items here, a slice of Vietnam-era social observation. Best of all the shelved numbers may be Crewe and Gaudio's "I Need to Get to Know You," a brassy and uptempo pop nugget which melds a radio-friendly sound with touches of jazz and country.
1980s Rare, Alternates, and Unissued (Disc 34) is yet another essential compilation as it plugs more gaps in the Seasons' discography. The lion's share of the disc is dedicated to one-off collaborations between Frankie Valli and other vocalists, not unexpected for a legacy artist with two decades of hitmaking behind him. Frankie's 1982 single with Charlie's Angels star Cheryl Ladd makes an overdue CD appearance here, with both sides (the silky ballad "You Made It Beautiful" and sleek "Can't Say No to You") produced and arranged by Bob Gaudio and Charlie Calello, respectively. Frankie brought his falsetto to a guest spot with jazz vocal legends Manhattan Transfer on the bright and gleaming "American Pop" in 1983. Then, in 1995, he again joined the group for a Latin-influenced cover of "Let's Hang On," the vocals of which hew closer to Manhattan Transfer's classic sound. "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" gained a steely R&B rhythm in the 1997 remake with singer Mary Griffin.
Valli's 1991 pairing with singer-songwriter Nathalie Archangel on "My Older Lover" is one of his most obscure appearances, and a happy inclusion on this set. Charlie Calello helmed a pair of duets releases with country-pop chanteuse Juice Newton on which she welcomed luminaries such as Glen Campbell, Melissa Manchester, Willie Nelson, and The Pointer Sisters. Frankie added his voice to faithful covers of Ambrosia's "You're the Biggest Part of Me" and Paul McCartney's "My Love." (For fun, compare the latter to the much earlier live version on the Fort Lauderdale concert disc!)
The meeting of The Beach Boys and The Four Seasons should, alas, have been more auspicious than "East Meets West." Despite its Gaudio/Crewe pedigree, the bombastic single which trickled out on the tiny FBI label in 1984 doesn't live up to its enormous potential. Still, it's hard to avoid a smile when Frankie's voice tightly blends with the late Carl Wilson's - beautiful harmony, indeed. (Brian takes a few lines near the song's end, too!)
Of the non-duet material, Bob Crewe and Jerry Corbetta's previously unissued "Testin' the Waters" is one of Valli and the Seasons' many respectable forays into slick, metallic '80s pop. "Deep Inside Your Love," the B-side of 1985's "Streetfighter," is a solid track from co-writers Gaudio, Corbetta, and Ray Jessel. (Presumably for timing reasons, the single edit of "Streetfighter" from the A-side isn't among the bonus material on that album; nor are the 12-inch single's Instrumental and Short Versions.)
In addition to the dedicated compilations, bonus tracks are sprinkled throughout the individual album presentations. Many of these are quite choice, including the premiere on Frankie Valli Solo (Disc 13) of a wholly different vocal for "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" as Valli experimented with timing, phrasing, and approach to the song. Half and Half (Disc 18) gains an entire, previously unheard dedicated mono LP mix. Fans of the Seasons' contributions of "We Can Work It Out" and Frankie's solo "A Day in the Life" to the 1976 film All This and World War II (a documentary utilizing newsreel footage and film clips set to Beatles covers) will enjoy three more Fab tunes once under consideration for the movie: "Golden Slumbers," "And I Love Her," and "The Fool on the Hill." These are all appended to 1975's Who Loves You (Disc 24).
1977's Helicon (which introduced Bob Gaudio and Judy Parker's shoulda-been-a-hit "Rhapsody") gains a number of strong, previously unreleased bonuses including the original demo of "Who Loves You" sung in full by Don Ciccone, and two versions (studio and live) of the Jerry Corbetta/Frankie Valli co-write "You're Never Too Old to Rock 'n' Roll." The disco instrumental of the 1941 "Warsaw Concerto" as performed at a 1975 concert is a real curio. Almost every disc turns up something even the most dedicated collector won't have heard. As far as the many Seasons tracks which were frequently remixed for hits anthologies, those mixes are here, too. The entire 1968 2-LP anthology Edizione d'Oro, with its plethora of alternative versions, is presented in full.
Let's Hang On (To What We Got)
Each individual album is housed in a gatefold sleeve with a spine. The original front and back cover of each album has been replicated, while the interior gatefold has photos or art elements along with the track listing. Discs all bear uniform custom labels rather than recreations of the originals. Three unique books are also included. Foremost among them is the absolutely essential 144-page coffee table tome by Paul Sexton and Ken Sharp. Sexton provides a definitive recounting of the group's history to the present day in his lengthy essay, while Sharp has rounded out the story with a fascinating series of interviews in which the subjects reflect on their musical legacies with candor and depth. Valli, Gaudio, Charlie Calello, songwriters Sandy Linzer, Kenny Nolan, L. Russell Brown, and Jake Holmes, and the sadly departed Tommy DeVito, Joe Long, Bob Crewe - as well as a host of famous fans including Stevie Van Zandt, Brian Wilson, Liberty DeVitto, Barry Gibb, and the late Maurice Gibb - reveal tidbits to Sharp that you're unlikely to have read elsewhere.
The second book, a full-sized softcover, has 72 pages of rare picture sleeves and original label artwork from releases around the world, including numerous pre-Four Seasons singles from "Frankie Valley" and The Four Lovers (the embryonic group featuring Valli and DeVito and, later, Gaudio, Calello, and Massi) as well as various Gaudio productions. It's a staggering collection. The third book, at 24 pages, is smaller but helpfully goes "into the weeds" with Collectors' Notes and Track Information pertaining to each disc.
The presentation of the copious information as to the contents of each disc is sometimes inelegant. The track listing in each disc's wallet has song titles but no credits or discographical annotation. The corresponding listing in the hardcover book has songwriter credits but no other personnel, save for the Motown sessions which have been expertly annotated with producer, arranger, and recording dates by label historian Andy Skurow. The Collectors Notes and Track Information booklet has the catalogue numbers for each album, but singles are only referred to within the text. It's a bit confusing as to why all relevant information (song title, songwriter, producer, arranger, original source) isn't presented in one place, as a listen to any one CD will likely have the listener reaching for at least two of the books.
Given the magnitude of this project, it's unsurprising that a few items have fallen between the cracks. The printed information lists the outtake "Deep in Your Love" as a selection, when the track is, in fact, the similarly-titled B-side "Deep Inside Your Love." One version of The Seasons' cover of "You've Got Your Troubles" is also missing. Their 1973 Motown version of the song can be heard on Disc 21 (Inside You), but the version on Disc 17 (The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette) isn't the earlier 1970 recording but the 1973 version from a non-master source. Mono single mixes of "Bermuda," "Connie-O" and "Circles in the Sand" are also missing; "Bermuda" and "Connie-O" are in stereo and "Circles" is the mono album mix. Various forums have been tracking these small errors, and there has been no word yet as to replacement or supplementary discs.
Pete Reynolds has handled the mastering and restoration on the box, and his work is to be commended given the varying sources from which this box was assembled ranging from master tapes to vinyl dubs. (Bill Inglot, whose work preserving the group's masters in the CD era is indispensable, is also credited with tape research.) Most of the original albums are sonically upgraded from the currently-available versions, and many of the mono versions are making their debuts in the CD/digital age. A mastering issue may have affected Disc 38, compiling various dance remixes from 1988-2007, as numerous tracks on that disc aren't up to the standards set by the rest of the package.
You're the Song (That I Can't Stop Singing)
Working Our Way Back to You: The Ultimate Collection is a testament to the still-ongoing legacy of Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Bob Crewe, Nick Massi, Tommy DeVito, Charlie Calello, and the legions of talented singers and musicians who have joined The Four Seasons over the decades including Don Ciccone, Gerry Polci, Joe Long, Bill DeLoach, Jerry Corbetta, Lee Shapiro, and dozens more. Sandy Linzer, Denny Randell, Judy Parker, and Jake Holmes are just a few of the composers and lyricists whose original songs are celebrated on this collection, though it speaks to the versatility of The Four Seasons that you'll also hear classics from Bob Dylan, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Frank Loesser, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, Kurt Weill, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, Paul McCartney, David Gates, and Tim Hardin. Whether singing doo-wop or commanding the disco dancefloor, The Four Seasons' sound is distinctive, inimitable, and ultimately, joyful. The songs on this box set continue to bridge generations as they regularly appear on radio, television, and film. Few artists have had the luxury of seeing nearly their entire catalogue preserved in such an exhaustive and lovingly curated manner; there's no doubt that Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons deserve such an accolade. This is one collection to which you'll want to work your way back, over and over again.