Thursday, December 29, 2011

Four Seasons -- "Rag Doll" (1964)

Such a pretty face
Should be dressed in lace

When it came to cranking out top 40 singles, the Four Seasons were a machine.  But it took years for that machine to get started.

Lead singer Frankie Valli's first record was released in 1953, and he and his bandmates -- they used over a dozen different names -- released a lot of unsuccessful singles.

Eventually, Valli teamed up with 16-year-old Bob Gaudio, the co-author of the 1958 hit "Short Shorts."  Gaudio and producer Bob Crewe clicked as a songwriting combination, and the first three Gaudio-Crewe songs that the Four Seasons recorded and released as singles -- "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," and "Walk Like A Man" -- were all #1 hits in 1962-63.  There were three more top ten hits over the next year, followed by the group fourth #1 single -- "Rag Doll."

The Four Seasons (from a 1964 TV appearance)
"Rag Doll" is about a wrong-side-of-the-tracks love affair.  (Billy Joe Royal's "Down in the Boondocks" is also a classic of this genre.)  The singer -- a typical, middle-class teenager -- is in love with a poor girl, but as we know (borrowing Shakespeare's words), "the course of true love never did run smooth." 

All the other kids laughed at the girl's hand-me-down clothes and called her "rag doll, little rag doll" when she moved into the town.  

The boy's parents want him to break things off -- they assume that just because she is poor, that she's "no good."  

The singer would "change her sad rags into glad rags" if he could, but it doesn't really matter to him how she's dressed -- "I love you just the way you are," he asserts.

The Four Seasons' only rivals for chart dominance until the Beatles came along were the Beach Boys.  Both groups sang simple songs aimed at a teenage audience, and both groups could sing harmony with the best of them.  

But in a way, the bands were mirror images of one another.  The Four Seasons were New York/Philly/Jersey boys, while the Beach Boys were pure southern California.  The Four Seasons were Italian-American, while the Beach Boys were WASPs.  

"Rag Doll" wouldn't have worked for the Beach Boys because there weren't any wrong-side-of-the-tracks girls in California in 1964 -- everyone there (except for movie stars, of course) was middle-class.  It was a different story on the mean streets of New York City, Philadelphia, and the New Jersey cities that were in-between.

"Rag Doll" was released in June 1964, just days after my 12th birthday.  I came down with the mumps that summer, and spent close to a week in bed.  I owned a copy of "Rag Doll" -- I only bought about half-a-dozen singles each year, so I must have really liked the song -- and played it about a thousand times while I had the mumps.  

Here's a picture of my copy of the "Rag Doll" 45.  (It's 47-plus years old, you say?  No, I don't think so -- you need to check your arithmetic.)

I played the "B" side of the single, "Silence is Golden" (which was a big hit in 1967 for the Tremeloes, an English group), almost as many times.

Shortly after I contracted mumps, a vaccine was developed for the disease.  You don't hear it much today.

But back in 1964, it was pretty common.  If you caught it when you were young, nothing much happened.  But it was a pretty scary disease if you were a postpubescent male.  

(Trust me, boys and girls, I was 100% postpubescent in the summer of 1964.  We don't need to get into the messy details of that, do we?)

Adolescent or adult males with mumps have about a 30% chance of suffering orchitis, and I do mean "suffering."  Orchitis is inflammation of the testicles, which often is quite painful and can result in some pretty gruesome things.  

In some cases, orchitis results in sterility or reduced fertility.  This obviously didn't happen in my case, because I have four children.  (Here's a funny thing -- my kids look a lot like the mailman in our old neighborhood.  Weird coincidence, huh?)

I do remember having a bit of orchitis.  What I remember most is the excruciating pain I felt when I tried to eat a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich when I had the mumps.  Mumps cause your salivary glands to swell up, and chewing when you are in that condition is something that I don't recommend.

I bring up "Rag Doll" after all these years because my mother-in-law recently treated my family to a performance of Jersey Boys, the hit Broadway musical about the Four Seasons.  

It's become a tradition for her to give all of us theatre tickets for Christmas.  Over the past few years, we've seen South Pacific, My Fair Lady, and West Side Story.  I voted that we go to a revival of Hair a couple of years ago, but a certain uptight and narrow-minded person who shares my last name and my address has a problem with full-frontal nudity in the theatre, even when it is artistically necessary.  (I told her about driving to San Antonio to see a production of Hair when I was in college, and I guess I let it slip that the finale of the first act of the play was performed au naturel.  Live and learn . . .)

Here's the original recording of "Rag Doll":

Here's a link you can use to order the song from Amazon:

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