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.
At a certain point in the mid-’70s, it must’ve felt like the Beatles never happened. A decade earlier, the Beatles had driven a permanent wedge into the history of pop music, separating it into the before and the after. But because of moony-eyed baby-boomer nostalgia, that wedge came to seem a whole lot less permanent around 1975. Covers of pre-Beatles nuggets — the Carpenters’ “Please Mr. Postman,” Linda Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good” — were getting to #1. So were profoundly gloopy ballads like Barry Manilow’s “Mandy” and Olivia Newton-John’s “Have You Never Been Mellow” — songs that, with minor adjustments, could’ve hit in 1960. Meanwhile, the best #1 hits — Average White Band’s “Pick Up The Pieces,” Ohio Players’ “Fire” – came from the James Brown tradition, which existed entirely parallel to the Beatles lineage. (In a plot twist, the actual best 1975 #1 single was a refracted James Brown riff co-written by an actual Beatle, but we’ll get to that.) And all of a sudden, the giants of doo-wop were returning.
Neil Sedaka, the schlubby Brill Building songwriter who became a temporary hitmaker, came back with “Laughter In The Rain.” A month and a half later, Frankie Valli, the doo-wop don who hadn’t hit #1 in more than a decade, followed. That must’ve been weird!
Actually, Valli had never hit #1 on his own. But as the leader of the Four Seasons, Valli scored four chart-toppers, each better than the last, in the early ’60s. He stuck around through Beatlemania, too, going back and forth between solo singles and tracks with his group. Valli’s 1967 solo jam “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” peaked at #2 in 1967. (It’s a 9.) He and his Four Seasons seemed to be doing just fine. But in 1970, the Four Seasons signed to Motown and promptly got lost in the shuffle.
The Four Seasons never firmly became part of the machinery at Motown. Instead, they kept recording with their old producer Bob Crewe, who had co-written most of the Four Seasons’ big hits with band member Bob Gaudio. While working under the Motown umbrella, the Four Seasons recorded “My Eyes Adored You,” a heart-struck ballad about lost young love. Crewe had written the song with Kenny Nolan, who was in the midst of co-writing what would become a string of big hits with Crewe. (As a solo artist, Nolan peaked at #3 with 1977’s “I Like Dreamin’.” It’s a 4.) The label never released the song; it sat on the shelf for a year and a half. In 1973, the Four Seasons’ Motown contract was up. But Valli, Crewe, and Gaudio knew they had something with “My Eyes Adored You,” so they paid the label $4000 for the rights to the song.
Every big label, clearly and understandably not anticipating the American public’s appetite for drippy ballads sung by early-’60s pop relics, passed on “My Eyes Adored You.” Finally, the former Bell Records exec Larry Utall, who’d just started his own short-lived Private Stock label, agreed to release it. Lo and behold, the song hit huge and revived both Valli’s career and those of the Four Seasons.
Like Neil Sedaka on “Laughter In The Rain,” Valli figured out how to adapt his sound to the soft-rock album. “My Eyes Adored You,” released as a Valli solo single even though he’d recorded it with the Four Seasons, finds ways to dig into nostalgia without sounding like early-’60s doo-wop. Valli spends the entire song lamenting a childhood crush that he never acted on. And while Valli didn’t write the song, Crew and Nolan knew to add in enough local New Jersey color that it sounded specific to his own experiences: “Walking home every day over Barnegat Bridge and Bay / Till we grew into the me and you who went our separate ways.”
A decade earlier, Valli had used the Four Seasons’ hits to falsetto-sob about lost love. That’s what he does on “My Eyes Adored You,” too, but he does it from a thoughtful adult perspective. Those romantic disappointments don’t feel like the apocalypse anymore, but they can still cause a certain pang when they bubble up in your brain. And that’s how Valli sings about them: “Funny, I seemed to find that no matter how the years unwind / Still I reminisce about the girl I miss and the love I left behind.”
Valli was no longer falsetto-yelping by 1975, thankfully. Instead, his voice took on a pleasantly weathered tone. On “My Eyes Adored You,” he wearily rhapsodizes around delicate guitars and lazy harmonicas and airy strings. It’s a soul song, more or less, though Valli never quite shows the churchy command of a real soul singer. And while the song is pretty enough, it’s a slow amble, and it disappears into the air. The same sleepiness that overwhelmed so much mid-’70s music even got to Frankie Valli, a man whose music, even at its worst, had never previously lacked for energy. And so “My Eyes Adored You” ultimately ranks as just one more reverie amidst so, so many.
It didn’t really matter. We’ll hear from Frankie Valli in this column again. We’ll hear from the Four Seasons, too, for that matter. And in the very next column, we’ll hear again from the songwriting team of Bob Crewe and Kenny Nolan. Next time, the song will be better.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s Bizzy Bone’s video for his 1998 single “Thugz Cry,” wherein Bizzy goes in fluidly and crazily over a “My Eyes Adored You” sample:
(As a member of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Bizzy Bone will appear in this column eventually.)
BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s a pre-fame, pre-shooting 50 Cent rapping over a “My Eyes Adored You” sample on “Power Of The Dollar,” a never-released but heavily-bootlegged 2000 track:
(50 Cent will appear in this column eventually. Like Frankie Valli, he knows all about being dropped from a big label and then going on to succeed.)