Off Seasons: Criminally Ignored Sides from Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons
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This extra volume in the Four Seasons' anthology series seems unnecessary — why didn't they just assemble a box set? It focuses on what producer Gary Stewart calls "criminally ignored sides." Whatever. What this set reveals are two things: one is that there were a lot of Four Seasons B-sides that could have been issued as front-side singles. The reason they weren't is simply because the group recorded constantly. They issued 23 singles in only four years and some of these tracks backed them. There are also tracks compiled from LPs that were ignored because of the era — people bought albums because singles were on them, and record companies more often than not filled the remainder of the two sides with junk. The album material, tunes such as "Big Man's World" and "Seems Like Only Yesterday," were culled from Dawn (Go Away) and 11 Other Great Songs on Philips. Now, these songs are great, not quite as great as "Dawn (Go Away)," but they are top-notch material. This doesn't mean, however, that the rest of the album wasn't full of garbage, just that there were some cuts besides the singe that warranted attention. The other reason a lot of these tracks didn't warrant any attention is because they were so out to lunch. Take "Cry Myself to Sleep," from the Four Seasons' "folk" album, Born to Wander: The songwriting and production pair of Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe spent an awful lot of time listening to the Beach Boys' "In My Room," but with the glockenspiel and off-kilter melody it came off as an almost psychedelic depression ballad than anything else. The same goes for "Hugging My Pillow" from 1965, where the glockenspiel is as prominent as the vocals and the track ends with a tympani roll. The next few cuts seem to ape the Beatles in total. Just one listen to the melody and vocal harmony structure of "Funny Face" reveals this in spades as a rewrite of the refrain section and vocal cadence of "Do You Want to Know a Secret" from 1963 (this may piss off producer Gary Stewart, but it's true). So the first seven tracks, aside from production weirdness, is typical Four Seasons — and no, that's not a bad thing; in fact, it's a very good thing. From track eight on to the final number 20, however, things really start to happen. "Comin' Up in the World" has the Four Seasons embracing the rest of the pop world, from the Real McCoys to the Beach Boys and Beatles, with production that is almost Elizabethan in its psychedelia. The harmonies are flawless, soaring, moving, and completely inspiring; the lyrics are pure pop poetry. This should have been a smash. It was written by Larry Santos, the same cat who penned their hit "Candy Girl." The next two cuts, "Everybody Knows My Name" and "Beggar's Parade," sound like a paradisiacal blend of Bob Dylan's poetry and sound, Frankie Valli's amazing growl of a vocal (which sounds like Sonny Bono if he could sing), the Seasons' four-part harmony, and the Byrds' phrasing. These tracks were really made in rock & roll heaven. The flip side of "C'mon Marianne" is "Let's Ride Again," issued in 1967; it's special because of its rickety, raw arrangement, so atypical of the Four Seasons. Valli's singing is as smooth as glass, carrying hints of melodies by the Beatles and the Miracles in his throat and letting them fly when it was time. The last three tracks are from one of the great unsung albums of the psychedelic era — "Something's On Her Mind," "Saturday's Father," and "Genuine Imitation Life," all of them layered in Gaudio's dense, shimmering production and baroque pop stylings — there's even a nick from "Hey Jude" on "Genuine Imitation Life." Amazingly, it gets credited as such in the liner notes, which are a further travesty of apologetics (carried on from simultaneously released Rhino's two-CD anthology) from someone named "Crescenzo Capece Jr." and Jim Bessman. The fact that the liners are basically unaccredited makes them worse than those on the first set. They are full of hands-wringing whining abut how the Beatles, Beach Boys, and Rolling Stones — and even Dylan — got their due but the poor Four Seasons didn't (despite the fact that they are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with those other acts). It's tough to figure what producer Stewart and this fictitious liner note writer — was it Stewart? Valli? Gaudio? — were trying to get at. How can a band that sold literally tens of millions of records be overlooked? If this person is pissed off at critics, this is a silly place for a diatribe. It drags attention away from the music to make endless and ridiculous comparisons that don't matter at all when it comes down to what's on these sides. Rhino and Stewart are to be congratulated for the excellent selection of material found on Off Seasons; they should be ashamed of themselves for printing liner notes that are little more than some axe-grinding agenda by a hack under a pseudonym no less. Whoever it is shouldn't be allowed to write anything other than their real name for eternity.
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