Teen Dream

There’s no way a group of New Jersey teenagers who got together to form a rock and roll group in the late ‘50s could ever have imagined what fate had in store for them. Like a lot of kids who were singing on street corners or boys’ bathrooms because the acoustics were perfect for vocalizing in that era, were more interested in attracting girls and staying out of jail than anything else.
It never crossed their minds that one day, some 50 years in the future, they would be the centerpiece of a Tony-award-winning Broadway musical. They weren’t even thinking that just a few years off, they would sell more than 100 million records and become one of the biggest acts in the land. But that’s what happened.
It was destined to happen when Frankie Castelluccio (later Vally, then Valli) and Bob Gaudio hooked up to create a new sound in rock and roll.
Actually, Frankie Valli may well have known when he and Gaudio first got together that big things might be coming their way, even though his tough Newark, New Jersey neighborhood may not have been an inspirational seedbed.
However, when Valli was seven years old, his mother took him to New York City’s Paramount Theater to see Frank Sinatra.
“I saw Sinatra coming out on stage, and the way he was lit up, it was like he had an aura around him,” Valli recalls. “I decided then and there that’s what I was going to do — be a successful singer.”
That’s not easy in the best of circumstances, and hanging out in Newark was certainly not the best of circumstances. Talent wasn’t even a consideration, but a possible means to an end more favorable than the other alternative.
Several of Valli’s friends did stints in jail for small-time robberies, including two buddies, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi, who would later become original members of the Four Seasons. If you didn’t watch out, Valli says, “you could wind up in the trunk of a car.”
Valli watched out. And started singing his heart out.
In 1956, he was with a group called the Four Lovers who made a ripple in the music scene with the song “You’re the Apple of My Eye” by Otis Blackwell, who also penned “Don’t Be Cruel” for Elvis Presley.
Still, Valli sang his heart out.
It wasn’t until 1959 that the Lovers caught a break. Their friend Joe Pesci (yes, the Oscar-winning actor) introduced the Lovers to Gaudio, a piano-playing, song-writing prodigy and former member of the Royal Teens. After taking in Gaudio, the Lovers, started working with Bob Crewe, a brilliant lyricist and producer with a golden ear (his songwriting credits already included “Silhouettes” for the Rays).
In 1962, Gaudio came up with a song that made full use of Valli’s remarkable range, from baritone to falsetto. When the unknown Seasons sang “Sherry” on “American Bandstand” they suddenly became the hottest band in the land, and after nine years as a recording artist, Frankie Valli became an “overnight” sensation with a No. 1 record that had a sound that was unlike anything else on the airwaves.
“Many R&B groups had used falsetto as part of their background harmonies,” explains Valli, “but we were different because we put the falsetto out front and made it the lead.”
Gaudio collaborated with Crewe, and the duo quickly composed two more No. 1 hits for the Seasons — “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like a Man.”
They continued to produce songs focused on Valli’s powerful vocals, creating even more hits, including “Let’s Hang On,” “Working My Way Back to You” and “Opus 17 (Don’t You Worry ’Bout Me).” They also worked on songs that could give Valli his own identity — as a solo artist. Gaudio and Crewe finally fashioned a signature song that would make Valli a solo superstar — “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” Released in 1967, it went to No. 2 in Billboard and No. 1 in Cashbox.
With the popularity of the original record and all the cover versions, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” has become one of the top 10 most-played songs in the history of BMI.
In 1975 Valli came roaring back with “My Eyes Adored You,” which reached No. 1; “Swearin’ to God”; and a cover of “Our Day Will Come.”
The new hot streak culminated in 1978, when Valli’s solo performance of “Grease,” featured in the movie soundtrack, reached the inevitable No. 1 ranking in Billboard.
For decades after their heyday, Valli and the Four Seasons continued to be a top concert draw. Radio constantly played their classics plus a catalogue of new remixes kept popping up on the charts.
Valli recorded his first studio album in 15 years in 2007 with Romancing The ’60s — allowing him to put his own stamp on some of his favorite ’60s songs — the ones he always wanted to record but somehow got away.
The set includes new versions of such gems as “Spanish Harlem,” “Call Me” and “Take Good Care of My Baby.” The album also features a guest appearance by the four young stars of “Jersey Boys,” providing background vocals for — what else? — “On Broadway.”
Frankie Valli has toured almost continuously since 1962 and has had hits in just about every decade, keeping time with Elvis, the British Invasion, Motown and disco. His songs have been omnipresent in film and as many as 200 artists have done cover versions of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” — from Nancy Wilson’s jazz treatment to Lauryn Hill’s hip-hop makeover.
Anyone who forgot about Frankie apparently never watched one of the most popular and critically acclaimed TV series in history, “The Sopranos.” The Seasons’ music could be heard in the show or sometimes over the credits. The characters often spouted their admiration for “Frankie Valli.” Tony Soprano bragged that he used the same florist as Frankie. And Frankie himself, in an acting role, guest-starred in Seasons 5 and 6 of The Sopranos as mobster Rusty Millio — until Rusty’s unfortunate demise in a hail of bullets.
In 1990, Frankie and the other original Seasons were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, only five years after the Hall opened for business.
And Valli himself shows no signs of slowing down. Frankie Valli is packing concert halls coast to coast, from the Rose Theater, home of Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City, to L.A.’s Kodak Theater, home of the Academy Awards. He makes another trip to Laughlin and the Edgewater’s E Center on Friday, Feb. 14.
As his character says at the end of “Jersey Boys” — “Like that bunny on TV with the battery, I just keep going and going and going.”
With a catalogue of songs that stretches over four decades, Frankie Valli has a songlist that leaves the bunny in the dust.


FRANKIE VALLI

E Center at the Edgewater

Friday, Feb. 14 (8 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for ticket info