Resolved: The 4 Seasons are one of the most underrated musical acts of all time.
I’ll admit to some bias — I’m a Jersey Boy, and so are the Seasons, as documented in the recent Broadway smash about their lives. Their music was the soundtrack to my life until the Beatles turned the world upside down in 1963. What no one seems to realize is just how many hits they had. (I can name 15 without even thinking about it.) In fact, the 4 Seasons — or Four Seasons, if you prefer — had five number-oneÁ‚ Billboard hits, and 23 more that went Top 40. Contrary to what you may think, the arrival of the Beatles didn’t put an end to their string of hits: their first chart topper was “Sherry,” in 1962, and the hits continued right up through “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night),” which went to #1 in ’76 (a dance remix charted at #14 as late as 1994).
As you’ve probably figured out by now, the 4 Seasons were a singles band. It stands to reason then that the best way to immerse yourself in their music is through a greatest-hits collection. The 4 Seasons’ Gold Vault of Hits, from 1965, is the best starting point. Although it was their third (!) greatest-hits compilation up to that point, it’s the first one to be all killer and no filler, 12 tracks of pure Jersey dynamite, from the opening “Let’s Hang On!” to the closing “Cry Myself to Sleep.” Fully half of the tracks are stone top-ten classics, and only the two-track single “Betrayed/Toy Soldier” failed to crack the Top 40.
Led by the great falsetto vocalist Frankie Valli, the Seasons, who hailed from Newark, were the group that bridged the gap between doo-wop and the rock era. What you hear is a blend of great voices, but with Bob Gaudio, who wrote most of the hits along with producer Bob Crewe, on keyboards and tenor vocals, Tommy DeVito on lead guitar and baritone vocals, and Nick Massi on bass and bass vocals (he was replaced in 1965 by Charles Calello, who in turn was replaced by Joe Long), the Seasons also proved that they could rock. Perhaps the most unsung musical hero in their story is session drummer Buddy Saltzman, who’s been called “God as a drummer.” Although not an official member of the band, his dynamic, aggressive playing was a mainstay of the Seasons’ sound.
One of my first summer crushes was an unrequited appreciation for a girl named Ronni. So you might imagine that “Ronnie” (“I’ll go on living and keep on forgiving because … you were my first love”) got a lot of play around my house. I don’t know what to say about “Dawn (Go Away),” but at the time it was unlike anything I’d ever heard. Atlantic Records actually rejected the single, so the band signed to Philips, a subsidiary of Mercury, where the song quickly rose to #3 in 1964, held out of the top spot only by the Beatles juggernaut: “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was #1 at the time, and “She Loves You” was #2. Three weeks later, “Dawn” was pushed out of the top five by three more Beatles songs.
The 4 Seasons’ Gold Vault of Hits is readily available in your favorite used-vinyl store. I see it everywhere, so it’s not a rare collector’s item — unless, that is, you can lay your hands on a mono copy. What is rare is the quality of the music from start to finish. If you’re a 4 Seasons fan you probably already own Gold Vault in some form, but if you’ve never given the band much of a chance, now’s the time to make things right in your musical world.