The rare American band to survive and even thrive during the British Invasion, these four Italian American Jersey boys updated '50s street corner doo-wop with r&b rhythms and inventive production. Of course, the band was dominated by Frankie Valli's unforgettably shrill, love-it-or-hate-it falsetto vocals, while the three remaining members provided harmonies that had few peers. Producer Bob Crewe (a Phil Spector protege) and secret weapon band member Bob Gaudio wrote most of the material, often in tandem, including classics such as “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like A Man,” “Dawn (Go Away),” “Rag Doll,” "Let's Hang On!," and "Working My Way Back To You." Though the early-to-mid ’60s was their golden era, the band had a major comeback in 1975 with smash hits such as “Who Loves You” and “December 1963 (Oh What A Night),” while Valli's solo career also included a handful of significant hits, including “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” his lone solo song included among these generous 26 tracks. What's surprising about this collection is how consistently strong the songwriting and performances are; Valli didn't just sing in a falsetto, and his vocals are surprisingly tough at times, while the band also tackled lush ballads such as "Silence Is Golden" and Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin." Though somewhat unfairly remembered as lightweights (it's hard not to chuckle at the irony when Valli sings "Big Man In Town" in the most un-manly way imaginable), in part because they're nostalgically remembered as an "oldies act" these days, they could be surprisingly experimental at times, too. For example, I dig those synthesizers a la Del Shannon's "Runaway" on "Save It For Me" and the psychedelic touches added to "Tell It To The Rain," while their rhythm tracks are crammed with creative percussive details, making the group unique beyond Valli's utterly unique vocals. Aside from the aforementioned songs, "Candy Girl," "Ronnie," "Bye, Bye, Baby (Baby Goodbye)," and "Opus 17 (Don't You Worry About Me)" are other standouts, while "Beggin'" and "C'mon Marianne" are tracks whose intensity again belies the band's reputation. Then again, even I have to admit that above all else this band evokes a more innocent time of Happy Days and lighthearted good times. After all, even their novelty cover of Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice" is a total hoot, and though perhaps Valli's voice is best experienced in limited dosages, whenever I need a quick feel good fix these underrated old-timers always fit the bill.
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