Romancing The ’60s: The Making of a Masterpiece
When Marshall Brickman, co-writer of the play Jersey Boys, first heard the new Frankie Valli album Romancing The ’60s, he said, “I can’t wait to have a martini and sit on my balcony and look over
But Frankie was never content doing only material originated by his own group. He wanted to sing all the best songs. He was insatiable. With the Seasons, he took classics like “Stay” and “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” into the Top 40 for a second time. Thanks to Frankie’s soaring vocals and the production skills of Gaudio and
So many fantastic songs. So little time in the studio. Frankie just couldn’t sing everything he wanted to. Over the years he kept amental list of the songs unsung, often working up new arrangements of them to try out in concerts. He chipped away at the list virtually every time he had an opportunity to record.
Fast forward to the 2006.
Just as important as the songs was the way the album was produced. Forget about synthesizers, please. This set was created by 79 real musicians and singers, including a 45-piece orchestra of horns and strings, under the direction of most of the same people who produced Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons’ biggest hits. “It’s always good to work with people who know you and have a great respect for you,” says Frankie. “Some of the best arrangements I’ve ever known were done by these guys.” Here was the team: Producer Bob Gaudio, who wrote 21 Top 40 hits, from “Sherry” to “December 1963 (Oh, What a Night)”; Associate Producer Robby Robinson, who is Frankie’s musical director and has played keyboards on his tours for more than 25 years; arranger Charles Calello, who worked on most of the Seasons’ hits and has also arranged for the likes of Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond and Laura Nyro; and arranger Artie Schroeck, who arranged such masterpieces as “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and also wrote hits for Liza Minelli and Sammy Davis, Jr.
Making this album was like going through a time warp for a class reunion—while making sure to carry along computer-age recording equipment. Frankie grew up in
The original concept was simple: songs from the ’60s, the decade that made Frankie a star and the backdrop for Jersey Boys. But he had the same old problem: too many terrific songs to choose from. A major force behind the project was Jolene Cherry, Senior Vice President of A&R at Universal Motown, who got the album rolling by sending Frankie a list of songs she thought would be right for him. Frankie had his own list, of course, and so did Gaudio. Soon ideas were flying back and forth as fast as if it were a match between the Williams sisters. As many as 100 titles were considered.
When the honor roll was pared down to about 40 possibilities, the final song-selection committee—Valli, Gaudio, Robinson, Calello and Schroeck—convened each day for a week in Gaudio’s suite at
“Romance” was not part of the initial concept. But it was the most romantic songs that seemed to be surviving the rigorous winnowing process. “I’m a romantic in my art,” says Frankie. The theme of the album gradually emerged. “The idea of a romance album,” explains Gaudio “came out of the feel of the room and what was evolving and the emotion that was there.” Gaudio came up with the title Romancing The ’60s, and the album really began taking shape.
No way, however, was it going to be an album full of silly love songs. Yes, Frankie was the first to sing, “You’re just too good to be true. Can’t take my eyes off you.” But the Four Seasons were also famous for songs of heartache, of love lost or love thwarted. Romancing The ’60s has “What a Wonderful World” and “My Cherie Amour,” but it also has “Take Good Care of My Baby” and “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted.” “You have to have a little pain,” says Gaudio. “If there aren’t valleys, there are no peaks. If it’s all one level, it doesn’t work.”
Putting a fresh spin on some of the world’s most familiar songs was a challenge. Frankie wanted the album to have a noticeably Latin flavor, which made sense, since Latin rhythms were a major part of the foundation of ’50s and ’60s pop. “I was a big Stan Kenton fan,” says Frankie, speaking of the band leader who in the’50s helped pioneer the mixing of jazz and Latin. Thinking on that same wavelength, Calello wanted to take the relatively simple songs of the ’60s and make them more sophisticated, giving them lush orchestrations and jazzy, big-band style arrangements. Says he: “I wanted to take these ’60s records and make them as classic as ’40s records.” In the songs Schroeck arranged, he wanted to be a little more reverential to the original versions(have you tried lately to improve on Stevie Wonder?), but he sprinkled in plenty of surprises (listen for the gorgeous strings and acoustic guitar on “My Cherie Amour” in place of Stevie’s la-la’s).Schroeck, a super musician himself, even helped with Calello’s arrangement of “Call Me” by playing a dynamite vibes solo.
The easiest part was lining up great session musicians in
In an album of all highlights it’s hard to single out particular tracks. Bob Gaudio’s personal favorite is “Take Good Care of My Baby,” which leads off the set. “We do it as a ballad,” he says, “It’s a total departure from the original. It makes you listen to the lyric.” Out goes Bobby Vee’s pep and in comes Frankie Valli’s passion.
Equally strong is a block of songs at the end of the album: a “My Girl/Groovin’ ” medley, “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted,” and the very appropriate “On Broadway” finale. These tracks and their rocking arrangements are the closest the album gets to the work Frankie did with the Four Seasons. You could also call this group of songs the soul section. You don’t think of Valli as a soul singer? It’s actually no surprise to see Frankie on Universal Motown, a label with a famed African- American heritage. The Four Seasons began their career on the black-owned Vee Jay label, which had never had white artists before. “Sherry” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry” both hit No. 1 on the R&B charts. A decade later Berry Gordy, a huge Four Seasons fan, signed the group, which released two albums on the MoWest and Motown labels.
Now that you know how the album begins and ends, here’s a full rundown, with more comments and vignettes:
1. Take Good Care of My Baby (G. Goffin and C. King) Arranged and Conducted by Charles Calello
“Bobby Vee was one of my favorite pop singers,” says Frankie. “I like the kind of songs he did that are sad in a way. They talk about unrequited love. The guy loves the girl so much that he is just telling the other guy to please take care of her. We slowed it down to get at the sadness. The song was written so well by Carole King and Gerry Goffin that you could do that.”
2. My Cherie Amour (S. Wonder, H. Cosby, S. Moy) Arranged and Conducted by Artie Schroeck.
“I absolutely love Stevie Wonder and love ‘My Cherie Amour’,” says Frankie. “How could you not like Stevie? But taking a signature song like that and doing it is really taking a chance.”
“It takes you there on a summer night to Spanish Harlem,” says Gaudio of the song made famous by Ben E. King. “Our arrangement is like a pyramid,” says Schroeck. “We started the record almost empty, built up to a big orchestration, and then ended it almost empty.”
4. Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye (J. D. Loudermilk) Arranged and Conducted by Artie SchroeckFrankie vividly remembers the night in 1967 when he first heard “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye.” It was in
5. Any Day Now (B. Bacharach and B. Hilliard) Arranged and Conducted by Charles Calello
Frankie and the Seasons recorded this once before, back in 1970 as part of a medley with “Oh, Happy Day.” “The fact that I’m doing it a second time,” says Frankie, “gives you some idea of how I feel about the song.” He’s admired it ever since a night in 1962 when the Four Seasons did the
6. Let It Be Me (G. Becaud, M. Kurtz, P. Leroyer) Arranged and Conducted by Charles Calello
“The Everly Brothers. My God!” exclaims Frankie. “The greatest duo to ever make records. Those who have never heard any of the Everly Brothers’ music have missed something very special.” “That’s one of Frankie’s best performances,” says Gaudio. “Got to be in the top two. Very emotional.”
7. What a Wonderful World (B. Thiele and G. D. Weiss) Arranged and Conducted by Artie Schroeck
Valli: “That was probably one of the hardest songs for me to do because Louis Armstrong had so personalized it. I couldn’t figure it out. Should I almost talk it? Should I sing it? I came to the conclusion that I should just do it the way I would do it. The bottom line was, the song stood on its own.” Gaudio; “There’s nothing about that song that would make it one of my favorites—except listening to it. It’s not hip. But it makes you feel what the lyrics say, that it’s a wonderful world. It amazes me that you get the feeling—that life’s pretty good.”
8. Call Me (A. Hatch)Arranged and Conducted by Charles Calello
Calello: “This was a very simple record by Chris Montez. I wanted it to sound more musical. I changed the harmonies to make it a little more sophisticated. I came up with the idea of doing the extension at the end of the song in which Frankie keeps repeating ‘call me…. I’ll be around.’ I think it was Gaudio who had the idea of having session singer Tawatha Agee answer Frankie with her own ‘I’ll be around.’ That really sounded great.”
9. This Guy’s In Love With You (B. Bacharach and H. David) Arranged and Conducted by Charles Calello
Along with “Any Day Now,” this is one of two songs on the album composed by Burt Bacharach. “One of the great writers of our time,” says Valli. “You don’t change Bacharach’s chords. At least I don’t,” adds Gaudio. “Some of the early rock records were notorious for having very simplistic chords. But Bacharach got the chords right and still had a pop sensibility.”
10. Sunny (B. Hebb)Arranged and Conducted by Charles Calello
Calello: “I gave the piano part a Cuban mambo feel. For the horn parts, I used my experience of living in
11. My Girl/Groovin’ (W. Robinson Jr., R. White, E. Brigati Jr., F. Cavaliere. Arranged and Conducted by Artie Schroeck
The original intent was to do these two songs separately. But one day the group was working on “My Girl,” and Gaudio accidentally played the wrong bridge—the bridge to “Groovin’.” Without missing a beat, Schroeck kept on singing the lyrics to “My Girl.” The bridges of the two songs were so similar that the lyrics were practically interchangeable. Everyone realized that the songs could be linked and intertwined—and sound fantastic. That’s how a medley was born.
12. What Becomes of the Broken Hearted (J. Dean, P. Riser, W. Weatherspoon. Arranged and Conducted by Artie Schroeck
Gaudio: “One of the all-time passionate, painful songs. Both Frankie and I love it.” Schroeck: “Maybe I added a couple of brass things or string things, but the Jimmy Ruffin version was basically a perfect record.”
13. On Broadway featuring The Jersey Boys (J. Leiber, M. Stoller, B. Mann, C. Weil) Arranged and Conducted by Charles Calello
With Jersey Boys entering its third boffo year on Broadway, could there have been any more fitting finale than this Drifters classic? Calello pulled out all the stops. “I wanted,” he says, “to start with a fanfare, to make it feel like George Gershwin and give it the character of
And listen to the lyric near the end of the song: “I won’t quit ’til I’m a star on Broadway.” Amazing! That could be the title of Frankie Valli’s memoir. His name now shines bright every night in the neon lights of Broadway. That’s where it belongs—turning back time.