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.
There it is again: that falsetto, driven upward to angry-cat extremes, dominating everything around it. Is it possible to evince sincerity while belting out a tune in a dog-whistle howl? Did anyone ever think this was cool? Or — holy shit — sexy? To ponder the commercial dominance of the early Four Seasons is to ask questions that just don’t have answers.
A couple of months before “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” the Four Seasons had landed at #1 with “Sherry,” another song built entirely around Frankie Valli’s strangulated yawp. But “Sherry” is at least a functional doo-wop song, albeit one with a deeply irritating lead vocal. “Big Girls Don’t Cry” is something else. “Big Girls Don’t Cry” sounds like a prank.
Musically, the song is stiff and brittle, built on a trudging beat closer to polka than it is to R&B. This time, all the singers involved in the song sound like they’re having a laugh. Whereas bass singer Nick Massi was a highlight on “Sherry,” his “silly booooy” interjections on “Big Girls Don’t Cry” are nearly as bad as what Valli is doing.
If “Big Girls Don’t Cry” has a saving grace, it’s honestly the lyrics, specifically the first verse. Valli breaks up with his girlfriend, thinking she’ll fall to pieces and he’ll have the upper hand. But she stays blank-faced and tells Valli that big girls don’t cry. So Valli leaves, his head spinning, his own faith in his masculinity suddenly rocked. It doesn’t last, of course. By the end of the song, the girl is crying in bed, forced to admit she’d been lying. How does Valli know this? We never find out. It doesn’t matter. That image of this screeching human banshee realizing that he’s not as irresistible as he thought is almost enough to get me through this song. Almost.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s the punk-adjacent cover of “Big Girls Don’t Cry” that John Waters regular and true Baltimore character Edith Massey released in 1982: