Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons • The Classic Albums Box

Rhino 8122795939
18 CDs
1962-1992/2014

Music

Sound

by Dennis Davis | September 11, 2014

ack in the early 1960s, before the British Invasion, young people listened to music on something called radio, where disc jockeys played top-40 hits and generated sales of 45rpm, 7" records. Rock 'n' roll was in decline after Elvis Presley went into the army in 1958. Top hits comprised a dollop of novelty tunes (think "Ahab the Arab" by Ray Stevens or "Alley-Oop" by the Hollywood Argyles), quite a bit of country western (Jim Reeves, Burl Ives, Floyd Cramer and Jimmy Dean), early Motown, some great music from Roy Orbison and The Everly Brothers, and some absolute treacle from the likes of Pat Boone and Andy Williams. The Beach Boys’ surf and car music sold millions of records, but perhaps the biggest hit-makers of the early 1960s were The Four Seasons, or as they later styled themselves, Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. What many now associate with the 1960s did not kick in until after JFK was assassinated in 1963, Johnson ramped up the US involvement in Vietnam, British music crossed the Atlantic and Bob Dylan plugged in. The late-'50s vibe stretched well into the middle of the next decade.

The Tony Award-winning musical Jersey Boys, based on the lives of The Four Seasons, has rekindled interest in the band, and now Clint Eastwood has turned it into a movie, prompting Rhino to release several CD sets, including this 18-disc box of most of the albums Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons recorded between 1962 and 1992. That’s right -- 18 compact discs; and you thought CD was dead. Each of the 18 discs is contained in a mini-LP sleeve and stored in a clamshell box. The set includes the five number-one hits, along with many other tracks that might have charted lower but are still burned into the memory of anyone who grew up in the 1960s, while the miniature record sleeves tell their own tale of just how radically pop music changed over the 1960s.

Looking almost like a barbershop quartet, these four lads would have been out of place in Liverpool or Haight/Ashbury. But despite their foursquare appearance, The Seasons had talent to spare, and along with Valli’s piercing falsetto the group produced white doo-wop and one remarkable hit after another. "Big Girls Don’t Cry," "Sherry," "Rag Doll," "Walk Like a Man," "Dawn (Go Away)," "Working My Way Back to You" and "Oh, What a Night" were some of the best pure pop songs of the early and mid-1960s, and their appeal has lasted well into the 21st century, as evidenced by that (still-running) Broadway show, the new Eastwood movie and the use of The Four Seasons' music and Valli (as a guest star) in The Sopranos.

The case containing all 18 discs only takes up two inches of shelf space, and online discounts bring the cost per disc down as low as $3 each. These are 12-song CDs (in most cases) duplicating the original LPs -- which means that each one offers up one or two hits packaged with less familiar material. In a handful of cases, the CDs inexplicably substitute a hit for one of the less familiar tunes. While most of the albums were recorded in the 1960s, the last few span the balance of the 20th century, right up to the group's final album, Hope + Glory.

As you would expect from recordings spanning 30 years, the production values improve over time. The 1960s recordings can’t match the best work that was being done at Columbia and other labels, those with access to the best New York studios, so these albums never feature on anyone’s list of records with sound to die for. But what they lack in soundstaging and delicacy is more than made up for in sheer energy. To borrow a well-worn phrase from Linn, this will have your toes tapping. Most of the early sessions were recorded at the Stea-Phillips Studio in New York, while later sessions migrated to a variety of Hollywood studios. Most of the cuts in the box are stereo versions, but they are thankfully devoid of the terrible, artificial stereo effects that can destroy early-'60s popular recordings.

If you are a fan already, then getting this much of The Four Seasons' output in one fairly priced package is a no-brainer. If you are not a fan, you might just become one as you make your way through this rich serving of American pop culture and music captured on the cusp of the real 1960s.

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