The Four Seasons “Marlena”(Vee Jay 539-B, Pop# 36, 1963)
It might seem weird to feature a group of White men on this blog.In reality, R&B music has always been a rather intersectional venture that’s welcomed other outsiders. I’d make the statement that Italian wasn’t fully accultured into whiteness even by the early 1960’s. In addition, it’s telling that The Four Seasons found their initial success with a Black owned, Chicago label.
In the cultural cross-over of the 1960’s, Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons were one of the white (but really Italian) acts that crossed over to Black audiences, racking up a number of R&B Top 20 hits during their early days at that *other* Black owned record label, Vee Jay of Chicago.
So here we are, on Frankie Valli’s 82nd Birthday paying homage to even more cross-cultural Blue-eyed soul. It’s notable that shadow Queer legend Bob Crewe borrowed quite heavily (like many white producers of the early 60’s) from African American musical styles. The Four Seasons initial output, full of thuddering rhythm and pounding piano, and Valli’s siren-like Falsetto was unlike what most heard on White Radio up to that point, but fit right at home in R&B Formats.
It’s a territory that The Four Seasons would stick with for a great deal of their 1960’s output. However, during the year absence of the Billboard R&B chart during 1964, the group didn’t return to the chart when it was re-introduced in 1965. Riding the B-side of their last R&B Top 20 hit is this Pop Top 40 kiss to the past that most endeared them to R&B audiences during their first 18 months of success. By the end of 1963, they’d no longer need the solidarity of Black owned labels or Black followings as they crossed over to the larger Phillips label and not having to tour on package tours.
Perhaps a bit of the magic was lost however; the #1 hits weren’t as forthcoming and Frankie pushed stubbornly Taurus-like towards solo stardom as he approached his Saturn Return.