Friday, September 23, 2011
Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons
Over the summer, in among the piles of great new music arriving, I became more than slightly obsessed with one song from 1972. It was contained on the great compilation Our lives are shaped by what we love: Motown's Mowest Story 1971-1973, brought out by the wonderful Light in the Attic label. The song in question is the first track on the album, You're a song (that I can't sing), by Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to track down a video or full listening link for it, but you will find a 30 second sample on the LITA website here (there's some other top class tunes on it too, from the likes of Odyssey, Sister Love and G.C. Cameron).
As you'll see on that page, the label was the brainchild of Berry Gordy, the Motown boss, an idea to transfer the Detroit operation to the west coast, and launch a west-coast version - breezy, cosmic, psychedelic even - of Motown in the process. There's plenty more detail on the label background and catalogue in this article by Graeme Thomson in The Guardian a few months back.
But the song... It's an acoustic guitar and strings ballad, with a big, itchy bassline. It has a male harmony chorus line that predicts Philly soul, in all its orchestrated glory. And it has Frankie Valli's vulnerable falsetto, playing the part of wounded underdog to perfection.
You're a song that I can't sing
You're a word that I cna't say
You're a game that I can't play
It also has flutes and a "Wand'rin Star" harmonica. And the most winning chorus I've heard in years, incorporating a perfectly ingenious keychange. It seems to have found a point where doo wop, soul and male crooning can live in perfect harmony.
The more I listened to it, and marvelled at its deceptively simple structure, the more I realised it reminded me of this other west coast song from a few years before, sung by Glen Campbell.
That one was written by Brian Wilson of course and that's the Beach Boys taking care of the trademark backing vocals. The emphasis is a little different but the sentiment is similar. When I first heard that, I was deaf to all other music for several weeks. You're a song (that I can't sing) is having a similar effect now. Do yourself a favour and get hold of it. Light in the Attic are waiting for your call.