"Sherry" / The Four Seasons
It Was 50 Years Ago Today...
All righty then, one more 50 Year Anniversary post. The last, I promise, until the Kinks hit 50 in 2014....
As a Midwestern kid with my ear glued to the transistor radio, I felt torn. On one hand, there was the mellow sand-and-sun vibe of the Beach Boys; on the other, the East Coast urban grit personified by the Four Seasons. Great bands, both of them, and I loved their music . . but it wasn't MY music. What really spoke to me was Detroit soul, but as a white kid I couldn't claim that as my birthright, and God forbid I should go for cornpone country. In retrospect, it's no surprise that when Beatlemania and the British Invasion hit a few months later, I threw myself into with everything I was worth.
But let's pause in 1962, still trembling on the brink. Those are the anniversaries we celebrate this year, and listening to these artists again, at half a century's remove, is a strange experience. I'm surprised enough that the Beach Boys and the Beatles started at the same time -- but the Four Seasons? Their sound seems straight out of the 1950s.
Well, it was. Although this August 1962 record was technically their first hit, before they were the Four Seasons they performed for years as the Four Lovers, albeit without national success. It wasn't until they poached from the Royal Teens a young songwriter/keyboardist named Bob Gaudio that the pieces all fell together. Desperate for a gig, they changed their name to the Four Seasons after a New Jersey bowling alley that booked local alent, and voila! pop history was made.
I do remember the first time I heard "Sherry" blasting onto the airwaves, feeling a sort of sick fascination about Frankie Valli's voice. Surely no man could sing that high! (Though it wouldn't be long before Wayne Newton's "Danke Schoen" made Frankie Valli look like a baritone.)
On the surface, the lyrics weren't much, either -- mostly that ad infinitum chorus: "She-eh-eh-eh-ehrry bay-ay-bee (Sherry baby) / She-eh-rry can you come out tonight? (Come come, come out tonight)."
And where should she go if she does come out? Verse one explains: "To my twist party" where "I'm gonna make you mi-yi-yine." I love that image of the twist party -- I remember Chubby Checker on American Bandstand showing the youth of America how to dance the Twist. I also remember my parents and their friends at tipsy cocktail parties trying out their Twist moves and then pretending to call for their chiropractors. It wasn't their generation's fad; it wasn't mine either, though Kay Wolf and I did practice the Twist in her family 's wood-paneled rec room after school.
The Four Seasons still belonged to a more upright and innocent era of courtship, as the second chorus reveals: "You-ou-ou better ask your mah-ah-ma (Ask your mama) / Tell her everything is all right." None of this "I think we're alone now" stuff like you'd get a few years later with Tommy James and the Shondells. In fact, things only begin to get sexy in the last verse: "(Why don't you come out...) With your red dress on / (Come out) You look so fine / (Come out) Move it nice and easy / Girl, you make lose my mi-yind...." Frankie even adds a little growl and grind to his vocals for good measure.
And yet it's a sexy song, if only sexy in code, which of course I didn't get when I was eight. Songwriter Bob Gaudio had a great pop instinct: it's the delirious melisma of those "She-eh-eh-eh-eh-rys" that communicates adolescent hormones and desire running wild. Not to mention that Romeo-and-Juliet scenario of Frankie Valli outside Sherry's window, begging her to come out and play. If I'd been fifteen at the time and hot for some duck-tailed boy in tight jeans, I think I would feel very differently about this song.
Still, it amazes me to set this anniversary next to the other two -- to think that just as the Beach Boys and Beatles were poised to transform pop music, the radio was also welcoming the Four Seasons to what turned out to be a long and fruitful career. ("Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You" hit the charts in 1974, "My Eyes Adored You" in 1975 -- these guys had staying power, for sure.) Adding the Four Seasons to the 50th anniversary mix reminds us that things changed swiftly, but not overnight, and not all at once. That was what the 1960s was like, my brothers and sisters. No wonder it felt like such a crazy ride...