There were Frankie Valli solo records at the same time as there were Four Seasons records. What made a Frankie Valli solo record as opposed to a Four Seasons record?
Let’s take one that was early on, which was “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore,” originally recorded by Frankie, and extremely different from the Walker Brothers who covered the record seven or eight months later. If you listen to “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” versus what we (Four Seasons) were doing, you’ll know the difference. The backgrounds are by a chorale group that sounds decidedly like a chorale group, male-oriented but not Four Seasons stuff. It was designed that way. We didn’t do a lot of harmony with it. And Frankie didn’t sing falsetto … well, kind of a soft falsetto in the beginning, but not typical Frankie Valli.
It was a concerted effort to put a wide gap between a Frankie Valli solo record and Frankie Valli on a Four Seasons record.
By 1967 that sea change we talked about in terms of the Beatles had largely sunk in. You began to collaborate with Jake Holmes, and that collaboration led to The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette album. At the time it wasn’t a blockbuster for the Four Seasons, but history has been rather good to it. It certainly represented a change for the group. Tell me how that album came together.
It was very risky. Was it worth taking? If you look at it from a chart success, I’d have to say no, but creatively I certainly was heading in that direction, and I needed to do that. I think Frankie felt good about it too.
It started with Jake Holmes playing at the Bitter End. I hung out in the Village a lot, and saw Jake Holmes a lot. He did that song “Genuine Imitation Life.” So that was the beginning. I just fell in love with the song and lyrics. We started working together and next thing you know we did a whole album, a concept album if you will. That wasn’t new, the Beatles were doing it.
It was an inspirational time for us. Jake and I locked ourselves away for a month or two and wrote it. We recorded it and the company kind of crossed their eyes like, what the hell is this?, and they were probably right.
Fortunately it did get released, and a lot of people continue to enjoy it today.
I’m glad to hear that. That’s always good for me when something sticks to your bones and doesn’t go away.
Watertown is one of my top five favorite albums ever, so I have to ask you how that came about. Obviously another collaboration with Jake Holmes, but this time with Frank Sinatra as the artist.
Frankie had a relationship with Frank. They were pals and he would hang out with him when he was in New York. At some point Frankie mentioned my name to Frank, and told Frank that I was a great writer who did more than what I did with him (Frankie), and that Frank should consider working with me. That stirred things up.
Frank was playing at Caesar’s Place in Las Vegas and I went out there to meet with him. I spent a couple of weeks out there. We got pretty friendly, and we talked about it. He said he would like me to write some songs. He said there was no rush, just do it.
Jake and I worked together on it, coming off The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette, and it went the same way, in the sense that it was a concept album. It was about a man in a small town, his life, and what he went through, raising his kids, and so forth. So it just kind of developed itself on the same approach that we did Genuine Imitation Life. We just locked ourselves away and did nothing but work on that album.
The interesting thing about to me, and you have to understand that having the success that I had at the time with the group I was pretty cocky, was that my expectations were exactly what we did. We wrote a concept album for Frank Sinatra, and it was going to be fantastic, and wouldn’t it be nice if it could be a tv special, and a one-man show. We had all these things going. I remember when we sent the demo out, the whole thing exactly intact the way Frank did it, I got a call from Frank’s music publisher and he said ‘guess what kid, Frank wants to do all the songs.’ I thought to myself of course he does, did anyone think differently?
It’s an odd thing, and I think about it now and laugh. Frank was asking me to write some songs, not do a whole album. That was not in his mind, but he fell in love with it. It was a fantastic thing and it worked out great. We spent six months working on it with him and finally got it completed.
It’s one of those albums that I will tell anyone who will listen to me about.
I’m thrilled to hear that. Last year the Paris Review did a fantastic story on the Sinatra album, and it was thrilling to see that because we made it in ’67 or ’68. The album has its fan base, and most of the people who say what you’re saying are on that same page. It’s a love it or hate it kind of thing, so it’s refreshing to hear when someone really appreciates the album. I thank you.