The start of the Four Seasons career at Philips was a major step up from their ‘novelty’ falsetto sound as a Vee-Jay doo-wop group to become a ‘major league’ pop group. They would battle it out with the Beatles to become the top selling male pop group of the mid-sixties and become a respected and loved live performing group at a time the Beatles abandoned touring for the studio.
Examining and questioning the details of Valli and The Seasons recordings at Philips by reviewing our Part 4 sessionography raises as many questions as it reveals in terms of the timeline and their approach to hit making via 45s and albums. This blog note only scratches the surface of who did what and how things happened, but what it does do is gather the timeline and the sequence of recording (in fact challenging some of the dates) and maybe will make the listening to their recordings a little more understandable and enjoyable.
November 1963, as they pursued their law suit against the soon to be defunct Vee-Jay label, saw their first milestone recording which would launch their new sound and hits....but not at Philips studios as they prepared to sign contracts, but at Atlantic Studios. Charlie Calello had his biggest part to date in arranging the song...”We recorded "Dawn (Go Away)" at Atlantic studios. That was our first opportunity to work on 8 track. It was an extreme luxury to have the bass and drums on their own track. It was amazing. “
It was the first time the group had also (fully) used studio musicians to do all the instrumentation.
Strangely the original full mix never survived in STEREO. Well that is what all vinyl and CD issues since reveal. The only STEREO mix that appears to exist, does not have the slow intro...”Pretty as a mid-summer morn....they call her 'Dawn'” and the 'straight in' version in glorious STEREO only ever appeared on the 'Edizione D'Oro' hits collection in 1968 and has never appeared since. It may not exist on Master tape but is at least preserved in our Vinyl Masters library.
Amazingly, the day before this session which Charlie Calello recalls involved 5 songs (?), the group had recorded with Larry Santos as Larry and the Legends on 'Don't Pick On My Baby'(along with -it is rumoured - several other presumed lost recordings).
The master numbers show only 'Dawn' and 'No Surfin' Today' as The Four Seasons at Atlantic for this session with several tracks following in January 1965 at Stea-PHILIPS which would make up the 'Born To Wander' folk styled album once they had signed for the label.
With 'Dawn' a major hit , February sessions in 1964 targeted the next hit and an album. Although the 'Dawn (Go Away) and 11 Other Great Songs' vinyl album shows Bob Crewe as producer, arranger and conductor, this was not possible as Bob had no formal music training...the musical production of Bob Gaudio featured highly and the arranging and conducting was by Charlie Calello.
Whilst all of these recordings may survive in both MONO (we hope) and STEREO (see ACE 2fer CD issues) only 'Ronnie' failed to ever appear in STEREO and no master appears to exist in this format ( a pseudo STEREO version appears on 'Edizione D'Oro'). Surprisingly, it seems likely no STEREO master was ever cut.
April saw the group arranging the classics 'Rag Doll/Silence is Golden' and the subsequent Number 1 in June 1964 called for another set of tracks for the songs inevitable album. Recruiting Denny Randell as arranger/conductor and Sandy Linzer as writer reduced the workload on Bob Gaudio for the June and July sessions and with another Top Ten hit (Nr 10) in 'Save It For Me' the group had hit their 'Golden Era'. MONO and STEREO versions tended to be similar/or the same mixes but Bob Crewe had a habit of taking the MONO masters to Bell Studios after completion and overdubbing or adding echo to get the radio sound he needed. This would apply for the recordings in the latter half of the 60s so checking the versions on CD and vinyl is well worth the research.
September's session to record 'Big Man In Town/Little Angel' must have been a big test as to their ability to match 'Rag Doll's success but it's Nr 20 peak must have been a big disapointment given the quality of the production .
In an attempt to get a top ten hit sound again the group changed studios for their November 1964 session of 'Bye Bye Baby(Baby Goodbye)'. Charles Calello recalls...”The reason we changed studios was that for some reason the records started to have distortion in them and we went from there to a place called Olmstead.” Between Olmstead, Stea-PHILIPS and (we believe) Atlantic Studios they recorded their 1965 sessions before Charlie left as arranger after a brief spell as a Four Season.
Efforts in the studio were constant through 1965 as they really pushed the hits 'machine' churning out 'manufactured pop' as Charlie describes it – very much like the Motown label.
The Nr 12 hit of Bye Bye Baby....was followed by the disappointing 'Toy Soldier' in February 1965 (reaching Nr 64) after January LP tracks sessions and another surprisingly small hit with the complex arrangement of 'Girl Come Running' in April 1965(Nr 30).
Valli himself embarked on a side project to test the possibility of a solo artist career in June 65 with 'The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore' (possibly at Atlantic’s 8 track studio) as Nick Massi decided to leave the group. Was his departure a reaction or was Valli’s new direction a contributor? Going solo would continue on the agenda throughout and beyond 1965.
Before he did leave, according to Charlie Callello, Nickie contributed to the ill-fated Dylan /Bacharach/David sessions back at Stea-PHILIPS. With the situation critical the group had to find a replacement member quickly for their road act and Charlie Calello stepped in for 4 months as he played bass and had sung on most of the hits which he had arranged and conducted too.
It was a critical time and the sessionography shows the timeline of the tracks during this period of change. All of the remaining team of writers and arrangers with producer Bob Crewe were needed and the close of the year would see them achieve once again major hits with 'Let's Hang On' (recorded in August 65 – a Nr 3 Hit) and 'Working My Way Back To You' (November 1965 – a Nr 9 hit)
1966 was a difficult time for the group and they almost lost their way..
We will re-visit and expand on this period and what happened next in Chapter 1 of 'The Rise and Fall of the New Four Seasons' soon.
We are still researching 1967 to 1970 and with sound engineer George Schowerer hoping to establish which of the sessions were recorded on the new 16 track machines at Mirasound Studios. Charlie Calello left and returned but just ‘when’ we have now been able to establish. Charlie Calello had left in December 1965 but 3 tracks arranged by him would appear in early 1967 (as ‘B’ sides) posing the probability that these were left over from 1965 sessions. (He can hear himself singing on ‘Dody’ – released Feb 1967). Charlie eventually returned for ‘I Make A Fool Of Myself’ in June 1967. He worked on many sessions during 1967 through to 1970 after his exclusive producer role at Columbia in 1966. He even played piano on ‘Genuine imitation Life Gazette’ LP.
This sessionography also contains reference to the ‘unique’ STEREO mixes Bob Crewe prepared and issued in 1968 on the ‘Edizione D’Oro’ 2 LP compilation of hits. By then the studios had the latest technology and STEREO sound was reaching a previously unheard standard with 16 track recording on the latest sessions. His review of the surviving masters brought several alternative versions in a superb STEREO sound stage, but surprisingly NONE of these vinyl masters appear to have survived or appeared again on CD. At least we have these digitally preserved. There is lot’s more research to come including our review and preservation of all the 45 MONO mixes in our archive in 24 bit 96Khz sound (ie better than CD quality) and then maybe the STEREO versions of the recordings in the sessionography. It is a fact that much of the 4 track recordings mixed to STEREO during 1965 at the STEA-Philips studio are poorer quality (‘ping-pong’) STEREO which can’t be easily corrected with no multi-track masters surviving…..but with advances in STEREO processing by computer a better re-mixed sound stage may eventually be possible.
Once the recording moved to Mirasound in 1966 the sound quality improved immensely as we will consider in our forthcoming ‘Mirasound Studios’ story. Why Gaudio and Valli haven’t researched and fully archived all of their MONO and STEREO versions remains a mystery.? This sessionography shows the asset base they have (or may have?). But with little money to be made from it on CD as their music and audience ages, we will have to take the lead in preserving the best recorded quality available from mint vinyl.