In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
Frankie Valli’s Four Seasons weren’t the first group to bring the overstatedly obnoxious nose-pinched falsetto yowl into pop music. They weren’t even the first group to land at #1 with it; Maurice Williams And The Zodiacs had done something similar, to much better effect, on “Stay” two years earlier. It was a pretty standard doo-wop technique. And yet Valli pushed that thing hard. He sounded like a playground bully making fun of a kid with a high-pitched voice. Listening to “Sherry” today, Valli’s voice cuts through the air like a Public Enemy sample. It’s urgently grating, as if being urgently grating was the whole point.
It worked. Four Seasons member Bob Gaudio wrote “Sherry” in about 15 minutes, originally titling it “Jackie” after Jackie Kennedy. And the song turned Valli and the rest of the group into instant stars. They dominated, scoring massive hits even as the Beatles were erasing the entire rest of the pop landscape and remaining capable of hitting #1 well into the ’70s. (No group has ever weaponized early-’60s nostalgia as well as the Four Seasons.) They’re now the first thing anyone thinks of when hearing the term “doo-wop,” even though they only showed up toward the end of the genre’s popularity.
Without that falsetto, “Sherry” is a pretty tight little doo-wop song. The arrangement is sharp and springy, and the vocal interplay is fun; I especially like the way bass singer Charles Calello comes in on the “oh, won’t you come out” bit. But Valli’s vocal remains a deep irritant, and I just can’t understand why anyone would intentionally seek it out. Valli would eventually get that trick under control, and some of the Four Seasons’ later hits are great. But I instinctively wince every time I hear what Valli was doing on “Sherry.”
BONUS BEATS: Frank Zappa’s Mothers Of Invention interpolated “Sherry” toward the end of “Wowie Zowie,” a song from Freak Out!, their 1966 debut album. Here’s that: