FRANKIE VALLI & THE FOUR SEASONS: ‘The Motown Years’ (Label: Hip-O Select)

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Although the soul of Motown Records remained inextricably bound to Detroit, the large car manufacturing city in Michigan where it was born in 1959, by 1972 Berry Gordy was looking westward and consequently moved the heart of his iconic label’s business to Los Angeles with a view to expanding its frontiers – not only did the Motor City mogul want to take Motown into the world of Hollywood movies but he added Caucasian acts Bobby Darin, Lesley Gore and Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons to the label’s roster, hoping that their presence would give the company a greater share of the white demographic. Ironically, none of the above acts really made a huge impact at Motown, though New Jersey’s The Four Seasons – originally a doo-wop group led by the leaping falsetto of Frankie Valli – enjoyed a huge UK smash in 1975 when ‘The Night’ broke into the Top 10, peaking at #7. With its throbbing bass line, propulsive drum beat and infectious chorus, the song – which originally appeared on Valli & The Four Seasons’ 1972 MoWest LP, ‘Chameleon’ – became a staple of the Northern Soul scene. It’s included here on a 2-CD/27-track collection that’s comprised of the ‘Chameleon’ LP and Valli’s 1975 solo Motown outing, ‘Inside You’ (which included a slightly different mix of ‘The Night’). Annotated by respected US popular music historian, Brian Chin, and featuring nine non-album bonus cuts, this proves to be an interesting limited edition compilation aimed at collectors. Although patently not a soul group, The Four Seasons, and in particular, Valli, himself, with his highly emotive, soulful delivery, seemed to establish an affinity with soul fans, especially in Britain – indeed, his 1967 solo 45, ‘You’re Ready Now’ is probably one of the biggest Northern Soul tunes of all time. As to the soul credentials of this retrospective, well, there’s a definite Motown-style groove underpinning the fast passages of ‘When The Morning Comes’ from ‘Chameleon.’ The same can be said of the stomping ‘Touch The Rainchild,’ arguably this set’s best cut. It’s also worth noting that Hal Davis produced some of the first CD’s bonus material. Furthermore, the track ‘Thank You’ taken from Valli’s solo opus, ‘Inside You,’ is written and produced by none other than the late great Willie Hutch. So although some soul fans might turn their noses up at this compendium, there’s plenty here to please both avid Motown collectors and Four Seasons’ fans.
(CW) 4/5