Valli took his most famous stage name after country singer Texas Jean Valley, who often referred to Frankie as her "brother."
The label of every single they released on Phillips records, except "Dawn (Go Away)," states: "featuring The Sound of Frankie Valli."
Valli's real name is Frank Castelluccio. He cut a couple of solo singles, most notably "My Mother's Eyes," as Frankie Valley in 1953-54, before forming the Varietones in 1955. By 1956, the Varietones had gone through a few name changes before settling on the Four Lovers. That year, they produced an LP, two EPs, and five singles for RCA. By 1958, the Four Lovers went their separate ways. Frankie was a solo act again, first releasing a single, "I Go Ape," under the name of Frankie Tyler. The record did not chart.
The group's first chart single (in 1956) was #68 "You're the Apple of My Eye," written by Otis Blackwell and given to them to record after they had another Blackwell song, "Don't Be Cruel," taken from them as they prepared to record it.
Producer/director Bob Crewe heard the "I Go Ape" single and met Frankie, and both men agreed upon a framework for the new act. The Four Lovers were taken out of mothballs and hired as session musicians and background singers (they even released a single of an Italian song, "Come Si Bella" by "Frankie Valle," and having a B-side credited to "Frankie Valle and the Romans"). Some of the acts that benefitted from their support on record are Bobby Darin, Danny and the Juniors, and Freddy Cannon.
In early 1959 (after releasing "Please Take a Chance" by Frankie Valley), the lead singer met Bob Gaudio, whose group The Royal Teens had hit the big time with "Short Shorts" the previous year. The Teens broke up shortly thereafter; Gaudio joined the Four Lovers as a keyboard player. The group's bassist, Al Kooper, became a star in his own right in the '60s.
In 1961, the Four Lovers were still doing session work, performing at various venues, and releasing singles on Crewe's Peri label under other names: "Too Young to Start"/"Red Lips" by the Village Voices, "I Am All Alone"/"Trance" by Billy Dixon and the Tropics, "Lost Lullabye"/"Trance" by Billy Dixon and the Tropics.
In 1961, Nick Massi (real name Nicholas Macioci) joined the group. His bass vocals and future vocal arrangements of the group were key to the success of the venture.
In mid-1961, the Four Lovers auditioned for a job at the lounge of a Union, New Jersey, bowling establishment. They did not get the job, but after four years of frustration as the Four Lovers, they took the name of the establishment that turned them down: The Four Seasons. Bob Gaudio: "We figured we'll come out of this [the audition] with SOMETHING, so we took the name of the bowling alley."
On a handshake, Bob Gaudio and Frankie Valli registered the name as a trademark and formed the Four Seasons Partnership, which owns the rights to all post-1961 Four Seasons product, excluding "Bermuda"/"Spanish Lace" or "The Girl in My Dreams," both released in late 1961. One can hear the beginnings of the trademark Four Seasons sound, but still no luck chartwise.
In 1962, they signed with Vee Jay Records and had a string of hits, including "Sherry," "Walk Like A Man" and "Big Girls Don't Cry."
1963 started well for The Four Seasons as #23 "Ain't That a Shame" (a remake of the Fats Domino hit "Ain't It a Shame" but using the title popularized by Pat Boone) and #3 "Candy Girl" hit the upper reaches of the US charts. But in the meantime, a royalty dispute between the financially troubled Vee Jay and the Four Seasons grew. As the dispute headed to court, the group withheld its new recordings (most notably "Dawn") and the faltering record company emptied the vaults and made singles from the already-released "New Mexican Rose" (#36), "Stay" (#16), "That's the Only Way" (#88), and "Alone" (#28). "Stay" was their unique interpretation of the Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs' #1 hit of 1960; "Alone" is a doo-wop version of the hit by the Sheppard Sisters (a.k.a., The Sheps) in 1954.
Recycling songs was not unique to the Four Seasons - in 1964, Vee Jay repackaged the Beatles' first US LP (Meet The Beatles), threw in twelve Four Seasons songs, and produced a unique double LP, The International Battle Of The Century - The Beatles vs. The Four Seasons. Because there was nothing new on the album, it sold poorly. It has since become a sought-after collector's item.
As Vee Jay was going through its difficulties in early 1964, the Four Seasons finally found a new distributor for its records, Philips Records (part of the Mercury empire in the US). They promptly released a single that they originally recorded for Atlantic Records (and that label refused) - "Dawn (Go Away)
In 1964, as the group was enjoying tremendous success in the US, The Beatles caught on in America, which cut into their action. After 16 US Top 40 Hits in 28 months, the incredible happened in the spring of 1965: for the first time since "Sherry," an original Four Seasons single ("Toy Soldier") failed to reach the Top 40, peaking at #64.
In contrast to The Beach Boys and other surf groups popular at the time The Four Seasons prided themselves on songs about real issues faced by working folks - mostly relationship problems. Said Valli: "Our songs were more about real people and the real world they lived in. A world which wasn't always that pretty."
In the second half of 1965, they recorded a live LP for Vee Jay to fulfill a legal obligation to the label, two studio LP's for Philips, singles as the Four Seasons, a single credited to the Wonder Who?, and two singles to be promoted as Frankie Valli solo records (although the entire group is present on each song)... and they changed bassists as Nick Massi was becoming tired of touring and left the group (he remained the Four Seasons' vocal arranger in the '60s).
Four Seasons' singles were being released at a furious pace in 1965 and 1966: #30 "Girl Come Running," #3 "Let's Hang On!," #60 "Little Boy (in Grown Up Clothes)," #12 "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" (credited to "The Wonder Who?"), the original "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore" (Frankie Valli solo - didn't chart), the original "Working My Way Back to You" (#9), and #39 "(You're Gonna) Hurt Yourself" (Valli's first "solo" chart record) were all released over a mere six months. In addition to all this, the B-side of "(You're Gonna) Hurt Yourself" was an instrumental ("Sassy") credited to "The Valli Boys"!
In mid-1966, with the group recording its last "complete" LP until 1969, Smash Records released "You're Ready Now" (which didn't chart) -- unlike the prior "solo" Valli singles, this had the Four Seasons replaced by a girl group backing Valli. It was Frankie's first truly solo recording since 1959.
They had more hits in 1966 and 1967, while Valli's solo career was picking up steam with the #2 "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" and #18 "I Make a Fool of Myself." Wonder Who? singles were being delivered to record stores as Vee Jay applied the fake group name to the reissued "Peanuts" and "My Sugar" to capitalize on the success of "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right." In addition, two more Wonder Who? singles were released by Philips: "On the Good Ship Lollipop"/"You're Nobody 'Till Somebody Loves You" ("Lollipop" struggled to make #87; "Nobody" barely made it to #96) and #67 "Lonesome Road."
The Four Seasons' decline in popularity as a recording act in 1968 mirrored that of the Beach Boys -- their songs were going out of style. Their problem was compounded by not having an LP released so they could remain in public view. They tried to update their image with the 1970 concept LP Genuine Imitation Life Gazette -- with disastrous results. It alienated the group's old fans and didn't win any new ones. After the unusual Half And Half album (half Four Seasons, half Valli solo) and Valli's solo LP Timeless (both 1970), they were dropped by both Philips and Crewe.
Even at their lowest point (1970-1975), the Four Seasons maintained their popularity as a performing band, even though guitarist Tommy DeVito retired in 1971. Bob Gaudio followed Massi's lead and stopped touring with the group, but still composed for them, now with his wife Judy Parker as his collaborator instead of Crewe. In 1971, the Four Seasons signed with MoWest Records (Motown). In the US, all their releases failed to attract attention, but the group's commercial viability in the UK grew with each Motown (called Tamla Motown in the UK) single. "The Night," a 1975 single, achieved legendary status in Europe (Top 3 in UK), but it was never released in the US. In 1975, the Four Seasons sported a five-person lineup, with Valli, drummer Gerry Polci, and bassist Don Ciccone sharing lead vocal duties. The group contributed to the Ken Russell movie All This And World War II, as well as two Beatles songs, "A Day in the Life," and "We Can Work It Out." MoWest dropped the group in 1975. Valli, Gaudio, and Crewe did not want to buy the rights to any Four Seasons songs recorded for the Motown Record Corporation, except for one. They paid $4000 to buy back "My Eyes Adored You," as Valli was convinced of its commercial potential. Valli then signed with Private Stock Records, which promptly released it and watched it go to #1.
As the resurgence of dance music brought back some old-time acts to the fore (such as the Bee Gees), the beginning of the disco era had a rejuvenating effect on the careers of Valli and the Four Seasons. Valli followed "My Eyes Adored You" with a #6 disco smash "Swearing to God" (edited from an 10-minute LP version). All this newfound success came at a time in which Valli was losing his hearing due to otosclerosis. While he was on tour, he had the songs memorized because he couldn't hear the band play. In the late 1970's a series of ear operations restored Valli's hearing.
Brad Wind - Miami, FL, for all above
Guitarist Tommy DeVito was a long-term friend of Angelo "Gyp" DeCarlo, who oversaw the New Jersey mafia's loan-sharking and gambling interests and was financially supportive of the young band through its lean early years. In 1972, the Four Seasons did a gig at a prison in Atlanta where DeCarlo was doing time.