Working My Way Back to You…!

Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons at the Royal Albert Hall in London, July 2022

I wasn’t born when the 4 Seasons first came to prominence in the early ’60s. By the time they made their second time around in the ’70s, I was still young but an admirer of their harmonies and the beautifully structured songwriting.

Where I lived, it was never cool to be a Frankie Valli fan. When I moved south in the 1990s, I was able to catch them at the Fairfield Halls in Croydon. Their audience was dwindling but they were still a great act.

All of that downward trajectory changed when the musical “Jersey Boys” was put together. Maybe it was that people finally figured out that all those great songs that they remembered belonged together. Maybe it was just kismet or synchronicity. Who knows? Who cares?

The fact is that the band are now playing to much bigger audiences and filling much bigger venues and that Frankie Valli (at a mere 88 years of age) is held in the high regard he always deserved. The band have been through many, many changes across the years since 1962, but the constants have been the voice of Frankie and the songwriting of founder member, Bob Gaudio. Gaudio retired from live performance a long time ago, but it is his songs and co-written songs which were the heart of the Seasons in the sixties, the seventies, the eighties, the nineties and beyond.

Valli’s voice is eerily strong and whilst he sometimes allows the audience to sing for him, he is very much the one the crowds are coming to see.

The show opens with the words and voice of Bob Gaudio (the songwriter / co-songwiter of so many of these great hits) over a collage of images of Valli and the band members of the line-up of the Seasons from the hit years of the Sixties and Seventies.

After a snippet of “Who Loves You” which allows the band to take up their positions, the opening song is “Working My Way Back to You” stunningly appropriate given the fact that this show has been cancelled a few times because of Covid. Through good health and bad health, Frankie and his band have indeed been working hard to get back here. There was a time when he believed that his previous tour was a Farewell tour to Europe. We are so glad he made it back here, at least one more time. Working My Way Back to You is perhaps as well known in this country for the huge hit it became for the Spinners of Detroit but tonight the Seasons very much make it their own once more.

Following is “Save it for Me” also from the 1960s which features some great guitar and a keyboard solo from the musical director Robby Robinson.

After this we have a song which seems so contemporary because although written and released in the late Sixties, it has become Frankie’s most recent hit on these shores and has also been a hit in two or three cover versions. Beggin’, a hit for the Seasons in 1967 (indeed it missed in the UK whilst being successful in the U.S.A.), it entered the top forty here, eventually, in July of 2007 and has also been a hit for Madcon and the recent Eurovision song contest winners, Maneskin. It is during this very contemporary-but-old sound that the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, who are adding colour to the sound tonight, begin to be heard to greatest effect.

It is a good time for a ballad and so we turn to the 1975 Valli solo “My Eyes Adored You”. He slightly fluffs the opening line and then structures the lyrics a little differently than we have been accustomed to hear them in past years. The words remain the same but the way he exercises the range of his vocals is perhaps a little different than before. This will also be so (and perhaps more noticeably so) later in the show on Fallen Angel.

I remember in previous years that Dawn (Go Away) was sometimes utilised as a set opener. Tonight, it is 5th in the show and the strings from the orchestra flesh out the sound a treat.

“Silence is Golden” was (as Frankie reminds us) the b-side of Rag Doll originally – back when Rag Doll was the biggest of the early UK hits. The back-up singers do their work soulfully. Their choreography is really not often to my taste but it is hard to fault their great vocals. The song was originally a UK hit for the Tremeloes and it is amazing that at the time Bob Crewe and the aforementioned Bob Gaudio were producing such an abundance of great songs that this only ranked to be released on the reverse of a big hit for the Seasons, leaving it available for another band to do the trick with the hit.

Lightning streaks across the video screens, as the band moves into Tell it to the Rain. Again, a song that was only a very minor hit in the U.K., but one which has become known through the very many hit compilations that have done well in the UK charts over the last 50 years. Here, it is highlighted with a great fiery guitar solo from Basil Fung.

“I’ve Got You Under My Skin” is always a song that Valli uses to pay tribute to Frank Sinatra. This Cole Porter recording was perhaps a surprise choice for the Four Seasons at the time, but the arrangement was masterful. Tonight, a middle section is added with a jazz kick which makes things a little more playful.

“The Night” is one of those songs which was ignored when originally released, but its popularity on the Northern Soul circuit meant that this song (one of the first recorded under the group name “Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons”) shared UK chart space with My Eyes Adored You (Frankie Valli) and Who Loves You in 1975 – on three different record labels. Those were heady days for Frankie! The song has become so popular it was re-recorded for compilation a few years ago. Here the driving bass line originally recorded by Joe Long is forcefully provided by Alfredo Lopez.

“Opus 17” from 1966 comes next and features some nice sax work from Rick Keller. In some of the early parts of the show, Rick is restricted to merely keeping time on his tambourine, so it is good when he is thrust into the spotlight.

Frankie in his intros doesn’t make many mistakes but describing Fallen Angel as a no. 1 record in the UK is perhaps a little ambitious. Certainly, it was a big hit and its popularity has grown through its use in Jersey Boys. Another great solo from Mr Fung and sterling work from the Orchestra lead the way on this one.

Swearin’ to God is another opportunity for Mr Keller to make his mark on this show. Valli has worked with some great horn players down the years (Tom Scott etc. etc.) but the current incumbent is no slouch. Again, we have Robby Robinson, Carmen Grillo and Basil Fung to bring their solo work in the middle section, but no-one to fill the Patti Austin role.

From the early hits of the Seasons, Stay was one of the few that was a cover. Originally a hit for Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs in 1960, the Seasons recorded it three or four years later and it gave them a top 20 hit in the U.S.. Here, we have Robby Robinson to thank for some great Hammond organ solo work which leads into more guitar.

Times past have seen Frankie using Stay as a closer and allowed the audience to demand encores. Tonight, it comes at the end of the first set. After a 25 minute break, Mr Valli returns attired in black and heads into Grease which other than the reborn Beggin’ is the most recent song to be a UK hit first time around – and that was a long time ago. It makes sense for him to not to change up the setlist. After all these are the best known songs, the ones that the crowds come to hear, and at 88 years of age no doubt the easiest to remember.

The last songs that were added to the current set list come from the Romancing the 60s album which was released in 2007 and they are covers. There is My Girl (The Temptations), in a medley with Groovin’ (The Rascals) and a stand alone Let it Be Me. This latter song I think was written by French balladeer, Gibert Becaud and recorded by everyone from the Everly Brothers to Bob Dylan. In some senses, it might be interesting to have seen Valli sub some of these songs for ones from his recently released (and largely ignored) Jazz Album. But, again, if something isn’t broke, why fix it… The orchestra particularly enhance Let it Be Me wonderfully.

Now it’s time to head to the Four Seasons hits from the mid-seventies. First, we have Who Loves You. Guitars, vocals, keyboards and all come to the fore in the instrumental section.

There is only one place to go next and December ’63 is that place. Now I have to say that this is the place that I really miss the Gerry Polci, John Paiva, Lee Shapiro and Don Ciccone version of the Four Seasons more than at any other time. I would also prefer Jerry Corbetta and Larry Lingle etc. but the current vocalists make an adequate stab of dividing up the lead vocals and Frankie is right on the money on his sections.

After this followed the conventional band introductions, and then we stepped into Can’t Take My Eyes Off You. This song a huge hit in the U.S. was covered here by Andy Williams who stole the Gaudio / Valli thunder. with the song failing to chart at all in their version. There’s a little too much audience singing along in this one for my taste, and Frankie takes a back seat.

Well, a little while ago we were in the ’70s. Now, it is 1962 and Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry and Walk Like a Man. Each of them is sung heartily and in full voice.

You know the show is drawing to a close when Bye, Bye, Baby is rolled out. This is a slightly difficult one for me as at my age I knew the Bay City Rollers cover first (and I really disliked the Rollers), but the Seasons’ version is great and that is how it sounds tonight.

Encore? Of course we want one. When Frankie talked about Silence is Golden earlier and mentioned that it was the b-side of Rag Doll, everybody cheered in recognition of Rag Doll as well as the song that was coming up. He then jested that they weren’t going to be doing that one. But, of course, they did and it was the encore and it was fabulous. And there’s more with Let’s Hang On rounding out the night.

At this time in his career, Frankie Valli is something to be treasured and it is so good that his popularity is so high in the UK in 2022. What a great night!

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