Grab the popcorn, candy, drinks, and your special someone. We’re heading to the theater this weekend. That’s not so unusual, I’ve seen two movies in the past two weekends, so why does this merit an entry on a blog about the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame? Well, this weekend is the debut of a movie about an act that has been enshrined in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. A band that has for far too long been denied the recognition of their contribution to rock and roll and music in general. I am of course talking about the Four Seasons. Also known as the 4 Seasons, or also as Frankie Valli And The 4 Seasons.
This movie isn’t completely unique, and perhaps that’s why it’s being released in summer, rather than the fall. It’s nowhere near the first rock ‘n’ roll biopic: Great Balls Of Fire, The Buddy Holly Story, Why Do Fools Fall In Love?, etc. And it’s not the first “jukebox musical” either… certainly you’ve heard of one Mamma Mia! Still, as one of the first widely celebrated “jukebox musicals” turning into a movie, there’s a lot of promise here.
I have several reasons to be excited for this movie, starting with the director. Clint Eastwood doesn’t have a completely spotless track record, but it’s incredibly solid, and in the interviews he's done regarding this project, he's talked about how this movie has taken time to get off the ground, waiting for someone who can deliver a credible biopic with both the entertainment the 4 Seasons provided, and the gravitas to appreciate their incredible story. That gives me hope. Second, the story is a proven success. As a Broadway musical first, Jersey Boys won the Tony for Best Musical, as well as in three or four other categories. Third, the casting is largely of actors who played the members of the 4 Seasons on Broadway, including John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli himself. These are actors who knew how to play the characters before the first day of shooting, who’ve actually spent time meeting Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito, and the surviving family members of the late Nick Massi. Naturally, one would expect an actor to research and prepare for any role, but these are the ones who mostly got dibs on doing it, spent the hours doing the homework and fine-tuning it, and have been playing the roles in performances. They were prepared for this. Lastly, I’m a diehard fan of the 4 Seasons, and don’t live anywhere near New York City. I want to see this movie.
That’s not to say I think this will shatter records. It’d be nice, but it’s up against some tough competitors at the box office, plus, as I said, the 4 Seasons have almost never gotten the respect and accolades they deserve. There’s wishful thinking, and then there’s hoping this will turn the 4 Seasons into acclaimed national treasures. And, as noted earlier, this is a summer movie, not an October-or-later movie, when the arthouse films that get the major Oscar nominations generally come out. Lastly, the television appearances on talk shows from Clint Eastwood and Christopher Walken have been less than focused on actually plugging the film itself.
All the same, the buzz surrounding the musical has been positive, and I’m hoping that this does very well, and more importantly, will introduce the music of the 4 Seasons to a whole new audience. So far, a major common theme of many of the “man on the street” reviews of the stage show has been that people are just now realizing that the 4 Seasons were responsible for a lot of the songs of the ‘60s that they loved, but didn’t know who performed them. That's simultaneously awesome and sad, but hopefully the cinematic exposure will bring new interest in the music of both the group and the solo career of Frankie Valli, and even in the works of Bob Gaudio as a songwriter and Bob Crewe as a producer.
Coming back to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, can this movie cause any new ripples or waves? Mamma Mia! came out before ABBA got inducted, and some believe that the combined success of the movie and the play helped the cause. But the 4 Seasons have already been inducted. Some of the diehard Seasonologists would love to see Frankie Valli get inducted a second time as a soloist, but I don’t think that’s a reasonable goal. While his solo stuff would certainly qualify as “unquestionable musical excellence,” there are just a number of factors working against the case. He’s reasonably influential in terms of people covering the songs he did as a soloist, but his overall style as a soloist is not widely cited by musicians that followed. His disco performances are definitely among the more artistic variety of disco, but he didn’t have the clout of the Bee Gees, KC And The Sunshine Band, or any of the major disco queens, and didn't match the commercial success of many of them. His ballads are terrific, but the Hall has been dragging its feet to recognize any “lite rock” giants. Most harmful to the cause however, is that his solo career has never been regarded as being distinctive and separated from his work with the 4 Seasons. Chronologically, definitely not. In that regard, Phil Collins is about the only serious contender for maintaining group chops while embarking on a Hall Of Fame-worthy solo career. But more importantly, when most anthologies include one or two of your solo hits with your group’s “greatest hits,” your solo career is not all that distanced from the group work.
So, I really don’t see a solo induction for Frankie Valli coming. But all’s not lost. Recently, in the Rock Hall Projected project on the FRL site, I’ve been championing Bob Crewe as a Non-Performer. The project (and site) are of course not affiliated with the Hall in any capacity, but it never hurts to raise awareness on smaller level, and see if it can snowball. Ultimately, I think Bob Crewe is quite deserving of induction. He’s done a lot of stuff besides the 4 Seasons’ music, and he’s not the only inducted producer (or non-performer) to have done a lot of various work, but still have a bread and butter act. I’d also hope for the songwriting team of Linzer-Randell to get some consideration, but there’s still a bullpen of songwriters more deserving than them still waiting as well.
So yes, I’d love to see this film help get Bob Crewe inducted. I’d also like to see it garner an Oscar in some capacity. Maybe for soundtrack. Best Picture would be awesome, but hopes are not elevated. Maybe it could spur HBO into making a mini-series or documentary about the 4 Seasons as well. And if that were to win an Emmy, the legacy of the 4 Seasons, via the Jersey Boys phenomenon, would have an EGOT (Grammy for best cast recording). No one person, of course, but still wouldn’t that be cool?
Not bad for a group who never got a Grammy for their records—not even a Lifetime Achievement Grammy to date, a group heretofore anonymously responsible for so many of your favorite records from the ‘60’s, a group who pioneered both blue-eyed soul and working-class-appealing rock ‘n’ roll while also solidifying the East Coast sound, a group whose first industrial accolade not directly linked to sales was their 1990 induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. Not bad at all.
See you at the movies this weekend.