Various Artists: Audio with a G – Sounds of a Jersey Boy

Various_AudioWithAGThe man who wrote the Four Seasons to the top of the charts

Although Frankie Valli stood out front of the Four Seasons, and his name was prefixed to the group’s starting in 1970, the act’s commercial success was equally dependent on their long-time songwriter and keyboardist, Bob Gaudio. Gaudio not only played and sang with the group, but he penned the bulk of their biggest hits, including chart-toppers, “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Rag Doll,” the group’s mid-70s comebacks, “Who Loves You” and “December 1963 (Oh What a Night),” and Frankie Valli’s solo hit “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” Incredibly, that’s just a few of his accomplishments, as he wrote many more singles, B-sides and album tracks for the Four Seasons, and scored hits with several other acts.

Rhino’s two-disc set collects thirty-six tracks that sample Gaudio’s songwriting, including material from the Four Seasons, Jerry Butler, Chuck Jackson, Cher, Nancy Wilson, Frank Sinatra, Nina Simone, Diana Ross, Roberta Flack, Lene Lovich, Ruthie Henshall, the Royal Teens, Bay City Rollers, Tremeloes, Walker Brothers and Temptations. The Four Seasons material features hits and album tracks, including a pair from the group’s Gaudio-Jake Holmes penned 1969 concept album, The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette. Perhaps more interesting to Four Seasons fans will be songs Gaudio wrote for or turned into hits for other acts.

The Royal Teens’ “Short Shorts” opens the set, as it did Gaudio’s hit-making career. The single rose to #3 in 1958 and Gaudio dropped out of high school to tour, meeting Frankie Valli along the way. Gaudio and Valli joined forces in 1960 to form the Four Seasons with Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi, but it took another two years for them to hit with “Sherry.” Gaudio wrote many of his hits with producer Bob Crewe, and several of the Four Seasons’ songs became hits for other acts. Included in this set are the Tremeloes’ “Silence is Golden,” which had been the B-side of the Four Seasons’ “Rag Doll,” and the Walker Brothers’ “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore,” which had been released in a slower arrangement as a Frankie Valli solo single.

The many covers of Frankie Valli’s 1967 hit “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” are represented here by a smokey, soul-jazz version by Nancy Wilson that cracked the charts in 1969 and a 1982 disco remake by Boys Town Gang. The Four Seasons 1975 UK hit, “The Night,” is included in both its original version and a non-charting single by Lene Lovich. Reaching farther out are songs that Gaudio wrote for Frank Sinatra, Nina Simone and Diana Ross. Sinatra’s tracks are drawn from Watertown, a concept album written by Gaudio and Jake Holmes that married the singer’s ability to sound forlorn with the songwriters’ pop craft. Ross’ tracks date from 1973’s underappreciated Last Time I Saw Him, recorded during a period in which the Four Seasons were signed to Motown.

Gaudio’s songwriting moved with the times, gaining social consciousness in the mid-60s, striking a deeper personal resonance with Jake Holmes at decade’s end, resuscitating the Four Seasons chart fortunes in 1975 with “Who Loves You” and “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night),” and surviving then-modern productions for The Temptations and Roberta Flack. He became a successful record producer and writer for soundtracks and musical theater. His stage work is represented here by two songs from the original London cast recording of Peggy Sue Got Married, and three (including “Sherry”) from the original cast recording of Jersey Boys. The latter is a project that began with Gaudio’s idea of a showcase for the Four Seasons’ material, and blossomed into national and international productions and, in parallel with this set (and two others) a feature film.

Compilation producer Charles Alexander has drawn from both mono (tracks 1, 7, 8, 11) and stereo masters, giving listeners a chance to hear two of the Four Seasons biggest hits in the punchy single mixes that dominated AM radio. These two discs (clocking in at just under two hours) cover the commercial highlights of Gaudio’s career as a hit-making songwriter. There’s more of his craft to be found in the Four Seasons’ albums, Frankie Valli’s solo releases, and his productions for Eric Carmen, Neil Diamond, Barbra Streisand and others. The inclusion of the Four Seasons’ hits is essential to telling his story, but also likely to duplicate the holdings of this set’s primary buyers; then again, with songs this good, who’s going to complain? [©2014 Hyperbolium]

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