The Falsetto Meets "The Sopranos"

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The two songwriters had been there before. Gaudio was writing blame songs long before he hooked up with the Seasons. "I cried for you, now cry for me ... You made a fool of me, so now I'm leavin' you." And Crewe's "Silhouettes," written with Frank Slay, Jr., is an early rock-'n-roll story song, in which the singer pines that he's seen his girl kiss another guy behind her drawn windowshade. His furious knocks on the building's door are answered by a stranger, who "said to my shock / 'You're on the wrong block.'" Finally he rushes back to the girl he now realizes was faithful. Happy ending. Moral: Learn to trust.

Some of the best Seasons songs have the emotional sourness (Gaudio) set in a mini-play structure (Crewe). Stuff happens in these songs. Lives change with a hard word or an unspoken one. Wisdom arrives like a chill. And the wisdom is: not all endings are happy. You can't always get what you want, or what you need, either. Love is something you fall out of, like a plane without a parachute. So many of these songs are about an affair that has to end, because one of the players is tired of it or because society conspires against it.

Here are a few examples of love-affair autopsies. "Big Girls Don't Cry": guy breaks up with girl, she pretends it doesn't hurt; oh, but it does. "Walk Like a Man": girl spreads vicious rumors about guy, he's advised to walk away from her. "Dawn": poor boy selflessly tells rich girl she'd be better off with her own kind. "Rag Doll": rich boy's parents keep him from courting poor girl he loves. "Bye Bye Baby": married man won't pursue a girl he's fallen in love with. "Opus 17 (Don't You Worry 'Bout Me)": guy absolves ex-girlfriend from her guilt of marrying someone else. "Tell It to the Rain": guy feels good that his ex feels bad ("I gave you love, girl, and got nothin' in return. / How does it feel to feel what I had to learn?").

In the Seasons' oeuvre, these songs of rejection or remorse gave way to pleas, determined or desperate, for reconciliation. "Let's Hang On": the guy's fiancee wants to leave, he says stay. "Beggin'": guy regrets that he "played it hard and fast" and pleads for his girlfriend's forgiveness. "Workin' My Way Back to You": guy wants a second, maybe a last, chance to revive "the happiness that died." ("I let it get away. / Been payin' every day.") Or, in "Marlena," "Ronnie" and "Girl Come Running," the singer knows that his beloved has cheated on him, let him down, left him, but he still loves her and wants her back.

Love, in the Seasons' songs, was not insulated from the outside world; it was either buffeted or strengthened by it. As Dave Marsh observes in his astute liner notes for the Anthology CD, class restrictions and parental authority play a big part. The narrator in "Dawn"—he could be the kid from the Jersey streets addressing his dream girl from a Manhattan penthouse—has convinced himself that it's better to step away rather than suffer the aristocrats' condescension. The rich boy in "Rag Doll" accedes to his parents' demands that he stay away from the poor girl ("Though I love her so / I can't let her know"). The ambitious poor boy in "Big Man in Town" dreams of approval from the rich girl's parents ("Some day your folks will welcome me").

Even the group's early songs, the ones you sang along with but never really listened to, have parents in them. The singer in "Sherry" tells the girl, "You better ask your mama"; the one in "Big Girls Don't Cry" (kind of downer sequel to the first song) gets news about the girl's heartbreak from her mother: "Shame on you, your mama said. / Shame on you, you're cryin' in bed."

The two strands, of generation and regeneration, are twined in "Walk Like a Man." Here's the plot: The singer's girl has defamed him, and he's crushed; he needs mature, male wisdom to caulk his broken heart. In what is surely their last conversation, he tells her: "Oh, how you tried / To cut me down to sigh-yize, / Tellin' dirty lie-yies to my friends. / But my own father / Said, 'Give her up, don't bother. / The world isn't coming to an end. He said: 'Walk like a man. Talk like a man. / Walk like a man, my son / No woman's worth crawling on the earth, / So walk like a man, my son.'" This father-son speech teaches the lad that turnabout is fair play: "I'll tell the world, / 'Forget about it, girl,' / And walk like a man from you."

This section may have provided more textual and textural analysis than you absolutely required. But the songs are worth it. They're individual pictures with universal applications.


Sherry. In structure, there's nothing new here: a straightforwardly perky wooing song with a girl's name (cf. Randy and the Rainbows' "Denise") and a tempo close to the 1957 Maurice Williams "Stay." A boy invites a girl to "come, come, come out tonight ... to my Twist party," The percussion was the soon-to-be-familiar Seasons combination of hand-claps and marching feet that lent a military air to the enterprise. The unique element, of course, was Valli's voice, stretching two words into ten aching, urgent syllables ("Sheh-eh-eh-eh-eh-er-ry bay-yay-bee") over half of the four-line chorus. / Sheh-eh-ry, can you come out tonight?" The falsetto is used to establish the singer as the proper young gent ("You better ask your mama. / Tell her everything is all right"). Then the tenor shout in the bridge reveals him as the panting teen wolf ("With your red dress on, / Mmm, you look so fine. / Move it nice and easy. / Girl, you'll make me lose my mind"). That party he's invited her to: Twist, or twisted?

Big Girls Don't Cry. A big advance. The second song for one-hit wonders was typically a less appealing copy of the first. This one tells a story; it moves from a description of an event to a poignant revelation. The boy has told his girl their affair is over, and she takes it, so to speak, like a man: "big girls don't cry." The boy has second thoughts ("Maybe I was cruel [actually, "ca-roo-oo-ool"]/ Maybe I'm a fool") and learns from her mother that the girl was "cryin' in bed," devastated despite her stoic front. Lesson learned: "big girls do cry."

A brief, frenetic bongo riff leads to the vocal theme—each of title's four words held for a full bar—accompanied by the bass drum working out (at a much slower tempo) the immortal boom, ba-doom intro to Fats Domino's 1957 "I'm Walkin'." (The guys are singing heavenly choir, but the drums say Big Easy.) Then we're back in marching mode, with a piano and, for a few bars, a mocking trumpet. This time, all four Seasons participate in the narrative; the backing vocals don't just underline the story, they sometimes undermine it. Frankie sings, "Big girls don't cry," and the backers ask skeptically, "Who said they don't cry?" Frankie: "My girl didn't cry." The others, slyly: "I wonder why." At the end he returns to the "don't cry" theme, and they retort, "That's just an alibi."

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