Producer-songwriter Bob Crewe provided the lush music and achingly bittersweet lyrics for many of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons' biggest hits, including "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" and "My Eyes Adored You," as well as chart hits for Christina Aguilera, Pink, Mitch Ryder and dozens more. Crewe instinctively understood what teenage listeners wanted to hear in a pop song - a great beat, memorable hooks and emotional lyrics - and provided them all in a career that spanned three decades. His best work hinged on a signature sound anchored by martial-sounding beats, hand claps and soaring harmonies, as embodied by his best work with the Four Seasons; Crewe also oversaw the Toys' classical-influenced "Lover's Concerto" and Labelle's sassy disco favorite "Lady Marmalade." His songs were mainstays of radio, film and television for decades before becoming part of the Broadway tapestry with the Tony-winning "Jersey Boys." The show's phenomenal success underscored Bob Crewe's reputation as one of the most successful and innovative music figures of the 1960s.
Born Robert Stanley Crewe in Newark, New Jersey on November 12, 1930, he developed an interest in music from an early age, and educated himself in composition and arrangement by studying classical romantic composers and the jazz and swing performers of the postwar years. However, he initially decided to pursue architecture as his career, and studied for a year at the Parsons School of Design before deciding to become a singer. His initial efforts in that venue did not pay off, so Crewe teamed with pianist Frank Slay, Jr., to form a writing and producing partnership. They found almost immediate success with "Silhouettes," a 1957 single for the Rays that reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 on the strength of their hook-laded production and story-driven lyrics. The B-side of "Silhouettes," called "Daddy Cool," also became a Top 10 hit when a Canadian vocal group, the Diamonds, recorded the track in 1957. The back-to-back hits helped to secure Crewe and Slay a contract with Swan Records, for which they wrote and produced "Tallahassee Lassie," a huge hit for Freddy Cannon that showcased one of Crewe's most enduring musical trademark: a rhythm line built from foot stomps and hand claps that would be heard on many of his songs for the Four Seasons.
Crewe briefly revived his singing career in 1961 and scored a regional hit with a swing version of "The Whiffenpoof Song" for producer Ralph Burns, but soon returned to writing and producing for a new group, a teenaged vocal act from New Jersey called the Four Lovers which featured a powerhouse singer named Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio, a gifted songwriter who had scored a major hit by co-writing "Short Shorts." Crewe signed the Lovers as backing vocalists for other groups until Gaudio showed him an early draft of "Sherry." The song, recorded in 1962 under the group's new moniker, the Four Seasons, became their first No. 1 hit; under Crewe's guidance as producer and co-songwriter with Gaudio, the group would score numerous chart hits throughout the 1960s, including the No. 1 singles "Walk Like a Man," "Big Girls Don't Cry," and "Bye, Bye, Baby (Baby, Goodbye)." Though Valli's stratospheric falsetto and the martial-sounding backbeat were the songs' most memorable elements, Crewe also imbued these and other Four Seasons tracks with some unique sonic elements, like the ethereal glissandos on "Candy Girl" and a lonely harmonica on "Big Man in Town," which helped to usher the group to the forefront of the pop-rock scene.
The success of his work with the Four Seasons, as well as with other artists like Diane Renay, who scored a Top 10 hit with "Navy Blue" in 1964, gave Crewe the clout to launch two separate labels, New Voice and DynoVoice Records, in 1965. The latter imprint generated a slew of Top 100 Billboard, including the Toys' "A Lover's Concerto," an extraordinary pop track built upon the melody from Bach's "Minuet in G Major" that reached No. 2 in 1965. For New Voice, Crewe helped to transform a Midwestern act called Billy Lee and the Rivieras into the rock-and-soul powerhouse Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, which scored Top 10 hits with "Devil with a Blue Dress On" and "Sock it To Me, Baby!" Crewe himself returned to recording as the leader of The Bob Crewe Generation, an easy-listening ensemble fashioned after the brass-and-pop/rock sound of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. In 1967, the group scored a Top 20 hit with a fuzztone-flavored cover of Sid Ramin's "Music to Watch Girls By," an instrumental track initially written as a jingle for Diet Pepsi.
During this period, Crewe and Gaudio scored one of their most enduring hits with 1967's "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," which was credited as a Frankie Valli solo recording but actually featured Valli and the new lineup of the Four Seasons. The single reached No. 2 in 1967 and would become a staple of radio airplay and numerous film and television soundtracks. Crewe then shifted his attention to Oliver, an American singer with a shimmering tenor that reminded many listeners of Valli. Crewe oversaw two Top 5 singles for Oliver - a cover of "Good Morning Starshine" from the musical "Hair" and "Jean," which served as the theme for the film "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" (1969) - before their creative partnership ended in 1971. Crewe, however, would continue to mine gold throughout the decade from a variety of diverse artists, from the disco curiosity Disco-Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes ("Get Dancin'") to Labelle's "Lady Marmalade," which topped the charts in 1975. A reunion with Valli on "My Eyes Adored You" also reached No. 1 and launched the singer's second wave of popularity in the 1970s.
Crewe was less active in the decades that followed, though he netted a Grammy Award for producing the soundtrack album to the Broadway show "Leader of the Pack" in 1985, the same year he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He also entered the record books in 1999 when Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI) announced its Top 100 Songs of the Century. "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" was ranked in the list's Top 10 with six million airplays, or roughly 5.7 years of continuous airplay. In 2001, he returned to the charts when Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mya and Pink recorded a cover of "Lady Marmalade" stayed at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 200 for five weeks. Four years later, Crewe was featured as a supporting character in the Tony-winning Broadway music "Jersey Boys," which followed the Four Seasons' rise to fame. Crewe would devote the last decade of his life to a second career as a visual artist with gallery shows in Los Angeles before relocating to Maine. One year after Clint Eastwood depicted Crewe's work with the Four Seasons in the film version of "Jersey Boys," the songwriter suffered a fall that led to declining health prior to his death at the age of 83 on September 11, 2014,
Music (Feature Film)
Music (TV Mini-Series)
Produces the Four Seasons' breakout hit "Sherry"
Reaches the Top 20 as bandleader of the Bob Crewe Generation on "Music to Watch Girls By"
Co-writes, produces "Can't Take My Eyes Off You"
Scores a No. 1 hit with "Lady Marmalade"
Depicted in the 1985 Broadway musical "Jersey Boys"
The Christina Aguilera/Pink/Mya/Lil' Kim cover of "Lady Marmalade" returns to No. 1
"Jersey Boys" brought to the screen by Clint Eastwood