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.
The Four Seasons – “Walk Like A Man”
HIT #1: March 2, 1963
STAYED AT #1: 3 weeks
It seems like somebody’s idea of a joke: a song called “Walk Like A Man,” delivered in a falsetto wail so piercing that it sounds like someone doing a really nasty impersonation of a toddler. It’s like the Four Seasons decided to provoke anyone who might’ve been irritated by Frankie Valli’s helium squeak, like they wanted to rub the world’s collective face in it. And yet “Walk Like A Man” fucking rules. The problem, it turns out, wasn’t Valli’s voice. It was figuring out what to do with Valli’s voice.
The Four Seasons’ two previous monster hits, “Sherry” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” had used that falsetto as a kind of parlor trick, building entire tracks around the way it could cut the air. But Valli wasn’t just about that falsetto, and when he wanted to, he could inject a real sense of swagger and venom into his voice. On “Walk Like A Man,” he and his band put the swagger, the venom, and the falsetto into the service of a tight, hard, exciting pop song.
The idea behind “Walk Like A Man” was that the band had gotten all wounded and sensitive on their previous two #1 hits, so they wanted to show a harder, tougher side, with Valli offering a nasty fuck-off to a girl who’s been “telling dirty lies to my friends.” The band literally recorded the song in a burning building. Producer Bob Crewe, who co-wrote the song with Four Seasons member Bob Gaudio, wanted to get the perfect take, so he locked the band in the studio, refusing to open things up even when smoke filled up the room and water leaked under the door. The session didn’t end until firefighters broke the door down. And maybe that’s part of the reason why “Walk Like A Man” has such a sense of taut urgency to it.
Where so many of the pop records of the day were dominated by swirling strings and aah-ing backing vocalists, there’s nothing in “Walk Like A Man” to sweeten the song up. Instead, it’s a brittle and hard-strutting rhythm section at work, the handclaps and wiry guitar stabs and drum-rolls all feeding the song’s martial groove. Even the Four Seasons’ backing vocals — “Walk! Walk!” — feel like part of the beat. The raw excitement of the early Beatles records is a big part of the reasons those songs, still months away from coming out in America, stood out so easily. And some of that excitement is there on “Walk Like A Man,” too. It’s a historical leveling-up from a group who, commercially at least, were doing just fine before they got good.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s regular John Waters star Divine’s video for their 1985 synthpop cover of “Walk Like A Man”:
BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s the opening-credits sequence of the pretty-great 1979 gang movie The Wanderers, set to “Walk Like A Man”: