Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons – The Classic Albums Box (Rhino) review
EIGHTEEN DISCS! Whew
So, you’re an avid Four Seasons fan? This one’s for you – The Classic Albums Box collects a whopping eighteen albums, which represents most, but not all of this pioneering vocal group’s LP’s in one place (more on that later) – all housed in mini replicas of the album jackets.
Unlike an artist like Miles Davis, who was known for making ground-breaking albums (read one such review here), the Four Seasons were first, and foremost, a singles band. As a result, most of their albums were made up of one or two of their latest hits, and then fleshed out with throwaway cover tunes. Even their album titles suggested a lackadaisical attitude – “Sherry & 11 Others,” or “Big Girls Don’t Cry and Twelve Others.”
Yet, there are some really great moments here that devoted fans will love. Take their version of “Peanuts” from their debut, which really showcases Frankie Valli’s falsetto, or “Beggin’” from New Gold Hits, which has a danceable, soulful vibe. And because the Four Seasons were one of the premier vocal harmony groups, even covers like “16 Candles,” off Dawn (Go Away) and 11 Other Great Songs, are still fantastic performances.
Rag Doll stands out as one of their better records, since most of the tracks were penned by member Bob Gaudio (“Huggin’ My Pillow” is so good, it should’ve been a hit). Born to Wander was recorded to cash in on the folk music craze. Unlike most of their other work, it features acoustic accompaniment, and jazzy-tight harmonies, which are excellent throughout.
One of the real curios of the entire box is On Stage with the Four Seasons, a “fake” live album with piped-in crowd noise. Yet, it’s interesting to hear the group run through a mostly Vegas-inspired show, complete with in-between song banter. The highlight has to be “How Do You Make a Hit Song,” where the band dissects their first hit, “Sherry,” bit by bit, with each member taking credit for the song’s success. It’s actually quite entertaining.
Then, there’s The Four Seasons Sing Big Hits By Burt Bacharach, Hal David and Bob Dylan. The Bacharach/David material is quite good. However, hearing Valli stumble through “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Queen Jane Approximately” is rather painful.
Who Loves You is of note for putting the band back on the charts with two singles (the title track, and “December 1963 (Oh What a Nite”)). Although the rest of the record is merely pleasant Seventies pop.
It was always Gaudio and Valli’s intention to keep the Four Seasons’ music current. So, the band would surface once in a while with an attempt to make their sound contemporary. If you ever wanted to hear what the Four Seasons sounded like in the Disco era (Hellicon), New Wave (Streetfighter) or New Jack Swing (Hope + Glory), these albums are for you. But, none of them capture the energy of their earlier work.
The real treat in their catalog is The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette, an honest-to-goodness concept album along the lines of Sgt. Pepper, and the band actually pulls it off. It’s psychedelic and out-there, but the band’s excellent vocals hold things together. And, unlike so many albums of that time period, this record still sounds fresh today.
I mentioned at the beginning of this review that this collection contained “most, but not all” of the band’s albums. The Four Seasons did record an album for Motown Records in 1972 (Chameleon), which is still owned by the label. It’s a real gem and worth hunting down. More puzzling is the exclusion of their holiday album, 4 Seasons Greetings.
More frustrating is that even though there are EIGHTEEN discs here, this still isn’t everything. For instance, where on Earth is “Let’s Hang On,” a smash hit from 1965? It was from an album called Gold Vault of Hits, not included here. But, it would’ve been nice to have an “extras” disc that coupled together some of these odds n’ ends (“Opus 17” is another single not included here).
Several of these albums are either making their debut on CD or are finally back in print after many years, which does add to the legitimacy of this collection. If the Four Seasons are near the top of your favorites list, you might consider this. Otherwise, stick with one of the many “best of’s.” —Tony Peters