The Four Seasons were an unstoppable hit-making machine juggernaut blending teen pop anthems with adult themed MOR orchestral rock. In the early sixties they ascended to the top of the charts with their simple pop arrangements, romantic adult lyricism and glorious four part harmonies led by the soaring falsetto of Frankie Valli.
It seemed they could do no wrong. Bob Gaudio composed the music and wrote the lyrics and Valli's vocals gave it a totally unique otherworldly sound. There was simply no professional singer who could replicate Valli's vocal power. He could leap from a pitch perfect tenor to a soaring falsetto and then effortlessly come back to the lyric/verse.
The Gaudio/Valli team was simply unbeatable; creating one hit after another from Sherry, Big Girls Don't Cry, Rag Doll, Walk Like A Man and Save it For Me to their last big sixties hit Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow. From 1962 to 1968 the Four Seasons registered 50 chart-making Hits. They were at the apex of their creativity forging compact pop songs with big band arrangements. There was nobody on the pop scene that could match the craft and beauty Four Season's music.
By 1965 pop music was shifting to a more sophisticated sound and complex arrangements using instruments not typically associated with rock & roll; The Beatles song Yesterday was a prime example of the new rock & roll. Gaudio's creative juices were fermenting a mighty broth of adult oriented songs that went beyond teen oriented moonin' and junin' love songs. Indeed, in 1965 Gaudio brought Joe Long, a classically trained musician, into the fold with founding members Tommy Devito and Valli. It was a prescient move, as Long proved to be the pivotal component in helping Gaudio advance his vision of melding Four Season's harmonies with jazz and big band arrangements and adult lyrics.
He brought in Jake Holmes, a Greenwich Village folkie who wrote songs about politics, false prophets, divorce, Wall Street wolves and entrepreneurial hippies. Several of the songs were over six minutes long with complex tempo changes and layered musical segments.
The album included a four-page insert filled with photos and faux advertisements. The cover motif appeared as a daily newspaper with headlines (What's a Hippie), articles (Mothers Into Third Month of Work Slowdown), Market Statistics (National Confusion - volume 581, 900), weather reports (brisk, even sparky), and anti-war statements (the Dow Jones casualty average rose 3.23 to 967.43 for the week).
The song list and lyrics were cleverly placed within the body of the newspaper. The cover itself attained legendary status and is credited for inspiring similar covers by John Lennon and Jethro Tull.
The stage was now set for the Four Seasons to create their Magnum Opus; The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette.
Here's a rundown:
American Crucifixion Resurrection (6:48)
The King is dead - long live the king.
This epic pop symphony opens to an atmospheric swirl of voices and percussion, the tympani thunders and the orchestra creates an explosive texture of sound that signals a gradual build-up of sound and fury; a dramatic shift in tempo as the piano pounds out 32nd notes and the violins squeal in staccato fits and spurts. A second temp shift to a slower pace signals unison group vocals wordless and powerful.
Then…Valli sings: I taught him to love / I taught him to laugh / I taught him to share / And when he was afraid / I held his hand /I gave him hope / I gave him pride / Then I gave him to the world outside
Mrs Stately's Garden (3:12)
A piccolo passage opens the song like a butterfly flitting from a petal to the flower. It's a light and breezy, a sweet interlude before the drum roll segues to a syncopated rhythmic piano trill with the bleat of jazzy horns. Valli sings - “such pleasant company in Mrs Stately's garden.”
This is a story about the gossip and rumors that pass through neighborhood bars, churches, backyard brunches and bar mitzvahs. It's like a wildfire or radar that rips through the lives of those unfortunate souls that are shoehorned into the neighborhoods of our cities and towns. Mrs. Stately could be anyone of us. She reads the headlines and comments on all the trouble and woe in the world. It could be about a rape or a death, but contains no sympathy just an odd curiosity - without caring or concern for others. It is the fate of human kind; people swarming like mosquitoes ready to bite and draw blood.
Look Up, Look Over (4:42)
A minor chord is the clarion call, an instant cloud of melancholia. Valli sings from the diaphragm, he digs deep into that inner reserve that borders darkness and light. He steps outside of the sorrow and looks deeply into the void. He sings about the deep sadness of losing someone you love dearly. It's about falling out of love and not quite knowing why: Look through her eyes; There is no love / We kiss and / although she's there, she's gone / I know she's gone. LOOK UP, IT'S OVER
Something On Her Mind (2:44)
The song opens with a pounding syncopated piano trills. It has an upbeat mid-tempo gallop that implies confidence and conveys a sense of promise. It has complex signature changes and ambivalent, yearning lyrics. Valli begins with a question: Is she really looking at me, Is a feeling really happening? / It's so easy to see something's on her mind / Is she really as free as the girl she pretends to be? / Does she know that I see something's on her mind / Valli eventually has to let her go, she's with another man. The promise is lost, or is it?
There are several tempo shifts, a slow-down and a quiet passage followed by a staccato piano riff that ends the song with a dramatic question mark.
Saturdays Father (3:10)
This is an incredible song from the music to the lyrics. It has a multi-layered perspective that introduces the story from the eyes of the mother and the children. The father's lament is in the third person. His side of the story may be too painful to explore directly. This is a melancholy look at the emotional ravages of divorce. The emotional valence is understated giving the feelings a deeper, more complex texture. The longing and regret are enveloped in the weekend visitations, the de-facto roles and duties of the adults and the wishes of the children. The accapella harmonies on the coda provide the storage for all the muted and unexpressed feelings. Valli gives a spectacular reading. It's a heartbreaking message; a missing piece forever detached from each member of the family. If only…
Wall Street Village Day (4:26)
An opening piano riff provides a lulling hypnotic interlude that gradually increases the tempo as the drums and percussion build the rhythmic structure. The tempo gradually speeds up to a rock steady 55mph as the intricate jazzed up piano trills picks it up and lay it down. The song is about a typical day in Greenwich Village. The counterculture visionaries mingle with the educated and elite, watching each other from a distance. The players watch the people and the people are there for a show. The unison vocals and sloppy group harmonies are perfect, delightful - the voice of the everyman with Valli intoning the truth.
“Paisley people dressed in colors / Wearing what they have to say / Some are paisley some are grey / See them masquerading on a Greenwich Village Day
Genuine Imitation Life (6:15)
The harpsichord intro colors the music like a marionette controlled by the puppet master. There is an unseen power of shadow people; it's so easy to manipulate of the masses. The dirge-like tempo casts a pale over the soundscape and is interrupted only by the whimsical harpsichord and Valli's impassioned singing. This is a dialectical dilemma about mind control and singular lives. Orwell warned us and it came to be. Plastic people are wearing masks never really knowing themselves or the other. The Hey Jude coda (complete with the phrasing) appears to be a tribute to the Beatles' influence in expanding the boundaries of rock & roll music. “Chameleon changing colors while crocodile cries / People rubbing elbows but never touching eyes / Taking off their masks, revealing still another guise / GENUINE IMITATION LIFE
Sly Stone-styled horns funk up this cool travelogue that could have been commissioned by Idaho's tourism industry. An insistent bass groove infuses the song with a tough energy and sense of movement. The layered harmonies are slightly off the mark, going off sharp at times but giving the song a Midwestern applesauce and cinnamon flavor that is simply scrumptious. The singers may be reading the tongue-in-cheek lyrics too literally but they sure do sound like they are having fun. Idaho sounds pretty cool especially the hiking, rock climbing, wildflower watching, flush toilets and avalanche classes. Hmm, healthy lifestyles meet the grand ennui.
Wonder What You'll Be (3:25)
This is a thoughtful ode to fatherhood and the sometimes-painful rapprochement that occurs between fathers and sons in the resolution of the conflict of being close yet separate; Independent yet needing the other. Like any other parent, the singer is feeling the tension between keeping his son close and letting him go. This is a thoughtful and loving tome poem about an existential dilemma that parents face every day. More so it is a father's oath to his son; I'll always be there for you. This is a piano-led musical excursion that sounds a bit like Lennon on Instant Karma. Love it
I'll make the most of every day
Soul of a Woman (7:05)
This is an inspired ballad with an incredible a wash of piccolo, woodwinds and piano. The instrumentation is gorgeous and the tempo is sensuous and slow and conveys thoughtful, eyes wide-open relationship; a young love on the precipice of a more adult relationship, warts and all. It is romantic with less heat. A deep melancholy colors the musical landscape prompting more questions than answers…as it should. It's a perfect imperfection; a pocket symphony with several movements similar to Brian Wilson's Good Vibrations.
The only question I have is the use of the groovy lyric. It's confusing. The lyricist may be using it to color her breezy freedom yet it seems to obfuscate the darker tendencies in the message. The dilemma rests in the contrast of a freewheeling lifestyle and staying in a committed relationship. This may be a flawed masterpiece but Valli saves the day with his intuitive and mighty tenor.
Gaudio's layered musical construction is pure genius and helps deliver the competing messages: “She can love and not care why / She can trust 'cause no one told her not to / Look at her, she's groovy / Woman in love, you're a woman in love / You live for him, he lives for you / There'll be a home, a child or two / And now the flower is open all the way / It's a beautiful day, but it's not here to stay
The Four Seasons Genuine Imitation Life Gazette is available @ amazon.com and eBay on vinyl and CD formats. This is a forgotten treasure that deserves greater attention. Buy it now, its money well spent!