Oh What A Night: How the '70s song set in the '60s became a hit in the '90s

by Carl Wiser

Featuring the fabulous falsetto of Frankie Valli, The Four Seasons scored big in the '60s with a retro sound harking back to '50s doo-wop. "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like a Man" and "Rag Doll" were all chart-toppers, but the hits dried up in the early '70s when the group signed with Motown Records, a deal that was dissolved in 1974, the same year the first strains of disco appeared.

With Valli still in the lead, a new Four Seasons formed in 1975. With a few tweaks, their once-retro sound became cutting-edge, and in 1976 they scored another #1: "December 1963 (Oh What a Night)."

The song was written by Bob Gaudio, an original member of the group who along with Bob Crewe, Sandy Linzer and Denny Randell, was one of their chief songwriters. By 1975, he was also their producer, working full-time behind the scenes to steer the ship.

Gaudio wrote the tune with a young songwriter named Judy Parker, who later became his wife. Originally, it was called "December 5th, 1933," and was a joyful ode to the repeal of Prohibition. That lyric didn't fly, so Gaudio gave it a more universal theme: a guy, a girl, and one special night.

At some point, most hits from the '70s get a brand new beat. Sometimes these fresh versions find a new audience, other times they just alienate the old one (Madonna pretty much killed off "American Pie"). When "December 1963" got its new groove, something very unusual happened: the song returned to the Hot 100. Released as a single in 1993, this remix took off in the clubs, but also went mainstream. Top 40 radio jumped on it, and in October 1994, the song made #14 - 18 years (a generation) after it first charted.

The man responsible for this remix is the Dutch DJ/producer Ben Liebrand, a studio savant who has remixed, mashed up or otherwise altered tracks by Phil Collins, Michael Jackson, Tina Turner, Prince and many others. "The reason to make a remix is to adapt a song to another market," he wrote in our recent email exchange. "That could mean for the dance floor as opposed to pop radio; for a different country with a different musical taste palette. Or another market due to another time period with other rhythmic and instrumentation preferences. Whether or not a song lends itself to a remix is determined in my case by a gut feeling and the necessary experience to be able to pull it of."

Liebrand got the call to remix "December 1963" in 1988, when he was commissioned by Bert van Breda of the Dutch reissue label BR Music (he also remixed the Four Seasons classic "Who Loves You" at this time). Released in Europe, the remix took off in the Netherlands, where it eventually sold 75,000 copies, enough for a gold record. In 1993, Curb Records, who issued the original version of the song, released it in America, where it made its surprising ascent.

So how did Liebrand pull off the remix?

"The multitracks were first transferred to Sony F1," he said. "All the needed parts from the multitrack were sampled into multiple Akai S-3000 samplers which ran along with the new arrangement for the bass and rhythm. This allowed me to step away from the traditional linear way of mixing where the format is already set to the sequence in which it was recorded. I now could insert sections, extend parts and tailor all parts to fit the new 12" version. The new mix was thus made with all audio running straight out of these sources like samplers, drum computers, sound modules into the mixing board and recorded and mastered back to digital."

The dance mix runs a healthy 6:13, with the radio single - the one that stormed the chart - trimmed to 4:22. "Funny enough, the radio edit was always an afterthought as my main concern is the dance floor," Liebrand says.

Bob Gaudio had to approve the remix, since unlike a cover version, it requires the master tapes, which he controls. "I loved it right out of the box," he said in our interview. "I remember calling my attorney. I said, 'Let it go.'"

If it wasn't for the hardware he received from the gold record, Liebrand might not have noticed that his remix had become an international sensation. "My focus has always been creating these mixes and I never had time to track their course after release in all the countries," he explained. "That's better left to historians and music journalists as they don't have to be in the studio seven days a week!"

There are those who see remixing (and its cousin, sampling) as derivative, but if you think about it, every song with more than one stem gets a mix, and the first attempt is rarely the one that makes the cut. Liebrand's thoughts on the subject: "What many (including purists) do not realize is that what they may conceive as the 'holy' original, might already be remix number five because nobody was satisfied with the previous four attempts to properly capture the intended feel. I do believe that a remix should earn its right to co-exist next to the original if we are talking about a remix of an already classic song, and that it should honor what is great about the original."

"December 1963" has a parallel life in France, where in 1976 it was recorded by the pop star Claude François with new lyrics recalling the year 1962 (French title: "Cette année-là" - "That Year").

In 2000, the French hip-hop artist Yannick did a new take on it, this time calling the song "Ces soirées-là" ("These Evenings"). A monster hit in France, Yannick's rendition made it to Broadway - it plays in the opening act of Jersey Boys.

January 30, 2015
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Comments: 1

  • Camille from OhioI was on the edge 17 when this song was first popular in the 70s. Tho I felt "Who loves You" was even better, I got a kick out of "Oh What a Night", a high-spirited tune, capturing that adrenaline rush feel. I never knew there'd been a remix of the song until a few months ago (2014!): I was driving my car when the song came on the radio. It sounded so fabulous, I turned it up loud, was hooting and hollering because I heard all this percussion. I thought, gee, I cannot believe this song sounded that incredible back then and I just noticed it! I decided to search the song on Google when I got home, which is when learned of the remix. I absolutely love it. The remix gives the song the best kind of tribal feel in a New Jersey kinda way. Speaking of which, I also recently just rented Jersey Boys, what a great movie. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons are more immensely talented than I think they're given credit for. My mom just loved "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You."
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