When I posted my review of Jersey Boys: Music from the Motion Picture and Broadway Musical, I noted that this summer was a Four Seasons repackaging bonanza. Beyond the soundtrack, those with deep pockets can also pick up the new 18-disc Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons – The Classic Albums Box and the eight-disc Frankie Valli – Selected Solo Works. On top of all that, there’s also the two-disc set, Audio with a G: Sounds of a Jersey Boy – The Music of Bob Gaudio, a collection of songs written both for the Four Seasons and a host of other artists. Audio with a G is a varied menu of hits and misses that touches a wide range of bases.
With Gaudio being a founding member, keyboardist, and principal songwriter for Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, naturally the set includes a healthy sampling of their work. We get the Gaudio-penned hits, many co-written with producer Bob Crewe, from “Sherry,” “Dawn,” “Rag Doll,” “Big Man in Town,” to “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” Fortunately, we also get some lesser-known Four Seasons tracks as well. For example, we hear “Saturday’s Father” and “Wall Street Village Day” from The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette, the 1969 attempt by Gaudio and co-writer Jake Holmes to infuse some of the psychedelic style into the Seasons sound.
Along the way, Gaudio offers various versions of his songs. After we hear the Four Seasons’ rendition of “Bye, Bye, Baby (Baby, Goodbye),” we get the same poppy song as recorded by the Bay City Rollers. After the original “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” we hear a jazzy, supper club reading of the same song by Nancy Wilson. While he doesn’t present the Four Seasons’ original “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore),” we do get the hit version by The Walker Brothers and a later cover from Cher.
Many of the most interesting choices on disc one are not related to the Seasons. The first track, appropriately, is Gaudio’s 1958 novelty hit, “Short Shorts,” written when he was 15 and a member of the Royal Teens. Along with co-writer Holmes again, in 1969 Gaudio produced and co-wrote Frank Sinatra’s concept album Watertown, from which we get “Elizabeth” and “I Would Be in Love (Anyway).” (In 1985, Nina Simone covered “For a While” from the same album, and it’s placed here after the Sinatra tunes.) We also hear Jerry Butler’s emotional “Whatever You Want,” The Tremeloes’ excellent “Silence Is Golden,” along with “Another Day” by Chuck Jackson.
Disc two is even more varied, although much of it with a decidedly disco bent. The ’70s line-up of the Four Seasons kicks things off, with an obvious nod to bassy soul grooves of the era on “The Night.” (Later in the set, Lene Lovich gives the song a pouty new wave interpretation.) Diana Ross performs two numbers (“I Heard a Love Song (But You Never Made a Sound)” and “Stone Liberty”), The Temptations do “Deeper Than Love,” and you can’t get more pure disco than Boys Town Gang performing “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” Thankfully, Roberta Flack breaks up the dance streak with her usual classy singing on “When Someone Tears Your Heart in Two.”
We get a number of mostly forgettable songs from the latter day Four Seasons, for which Gaudio wrote but didn’t sing. Perhaps the most interesting of the batch wasn’t a new song, but rather French DJ Pilooski’s very inventive 2007 remix of the 1967 “Beggin’.” The album concludes with a medley from the Jersey Boys Original Broadway Cast featuring John Lloyd Young (“Ces Soirées-là”/ “Sherry”/ “Who Loves You”). This medley follows two previously unreleased numbers from another Gaudio show, 2001’s stage version of Peggy Sue Got Married. Peggy Sue herself, played by Ruthie Henshall, sings “This Time Around” and “Two Kinds of Fire.”
So the 36 tracks of Audio with a G: Sounds of a Jersey Boy – The Music of Bob Gaudio spans the years from 1958 to 2001, but clearly Gaudio’s golden era includes the songs produced between 1960 and 1969 featuring the first Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons. Perhaps it’s a matter of taste, but the ’70s era tunes might have weathered better if not for the disco-ball production. It’s good to hear old favorites from The Walker Brothers and The Tremeloes, but also a pleasure to hear Sinatra, Flack, and Nancy Wilson adding their polish to Gaudio’s pop tunes. Naturally, the set couldn’t showcase Gaudio’s extensive production work, notably his many albums working with Neil Diamond. In the end, the collection is one most listeners will play once, and then skip around after they’ve chosen their favorites.
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