Sunday, November 20, 2011

November 20: The Four Seasons, "Big Girls Don't Cry"

Artist: The Four Seasons
Song: "Big Girls Don't Cry"
Album: Big Girls Don't Cry (single)
Year: 1962

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Though it has become somewhat "glossed over" due to the massive dominance of a certain band that began taking over the world in 1964, the reality is that the first few years of the 1960's yielded some of the most impressive and unique music in all of history.  As jazz and the "doo-wop" sound began to give way to the more rock-based pop style, it was the fusions of these approaches which breathed an entirely new life into the world of music.  It seemed that almost every month, a new take on these styles was emerging, and it was often when the "doo-wop" sound took on a more modern flare that the finest and most unforgettable moments of these years occurred.  To this end, while they would (like other bands of the era) become overshadowed by the aforementioned British band, there were few acts of the entire 1960's that were as successful in every sense of the word as The Four Seasons.  Combining some of the most impressive singing talents with a vocal range that has never been matched, the group rattled off a staggering number of hit singles throughout the 1960's, with more than a dozen finding their way into the top ten, including a handful of number one singles.  Due to this massive success, it is nearly impossible to choose just one as their definitive recording; and yet one can argue that everything that made The Four Seasons into the legends that they remain to this day can be heard on their iconic 1962 single, "Big Girls Don't Cry."

In many ways, the music that backs the singers on "Big Girls Don't Cry" is as definitive of the era as one can find anywhere.  Though it is rather simplistic in its arrangement and structure, there is no question that this song is all about the spirit that burst forth from the playing.  Each musician is clearly enjoying the job they are doing that day, and this mood enables "Big Girls Don't Cry" to quickly become nothing short of completely captivating.  The reality is the majority of the allure of this song comes from the multiple rhythms that are being simultaneously played on different instruments ranging from standard drum kits to simple hand claps.  It is the way that these sounds interact with one another, along with the fantastic and unique rhythm from the piano that helps to give "Big Girls Don't Cry" a sounding presence unlike any other song recorded history.  There is a sway and a groove that persists throughout the entire song that makes it almost impossible not to dance along, and it is due to this rhythm and groove that makes it understandable why the song was such a massive success almost instantly upon release.  Furthermore, this pure and almost organic musical approach has enabled the song to easily weather the decades, and it stands as one of the most unforgettable and truly perfect songs ever recorded.

However, it almost goes without saying that while the musical arrangement found on "Big Girls Don't Cry" is nothing short of perfect, it is the vocal performance by each member of The Four Seasons that turns the song into a truly iconic moment in history.  While one cannot write-off the singing of the other members of the group, it is the now-legendary lead vocals from Frankie Valli that truly stand out.  It is the way that he seems to almost have two voices on the song that makes it so significant, and one would be hard-pressed to find another singer of any era that can come even remotely close to this sonic diversity.  From the slightly gritty, perhaps edgy sounds on the verses,  to what has perhaps become his trademark "cry" at the end of each line, there is no question that "Big Girls Don't Cry" remains one of the most stunning vocal performances in history.  However, due to the significance of Valli's singing found here, most people tend to overlook the rather interesting lyrical content of the song.  Though at first glance it may seem like a "standard" song of teenage love and longing, the reality is that "Big Girls Don't Cry" takes a rather unusual spin, as the protagonist's plan goes awry quickly when his love has no problem accepting his request for breakup.  In many ways, one can see this as a nod to what would become known as "girl power," and yet due to Frankie Valli's absolutely stunning performance, this aspect goes missed amongst most listeners.

In many ways, the overall success of "Big Girls Don't Cry" is slightly less surprising in retrospect when one considers that only two months earlier, The Four Seasons had managed their first number one single with, "Sherry."  Truth be told, "Big Girls Don't Cry" was actually recorded during the same sessions as "Sherry," and this is much the reason that one can hear a number of similarities between the two songs.  However, there is no question that "Big Girls Don't Cry" easily stands on its own, and it would be the song that would largely define the group for the remainder of their exceptionally lengthy career.  Furthermore, "Big Girls Don't Cry" would make a number of appearances throughout various forms of popular culture, perhaps most memorably when it was performed by the legendary Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance on I Love Lucy.  In more recent years, "Big Girls Don't Cry" has been covered by everyone from Big Bird to some rather odd takes by punk rock bands, and this in itself shows the massive range of impact that the song has had in terms of both genre as well as generations.  Whether it is due to the adjustable musical arrangement, or the absolutely unforgettable vocal performance by the entire group, there's simply no arguing the historical significance and outright musical perfection that one can experience all across The Four Seasons' magnificent 1962 single, "Big Girls Don't Cry."

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