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Italians Who Changed Rock and Roll: Franki Valli

Few artists have such a singular voice as Franki Valli. His voice - an extraordinarily powerful lead falsetto challenged (and changed) the standing idea of what rock and popular music could sound like. With his band The Four Seasons, Valli set the soundtrack to the 1960s and 70s. Today, new audiences still discover and devour his music. Though it’s been six decades since Valli arrived on the scene, there still hasn’t been another voice quite like his. 

Like all good rock and roll origin stories, Valli’s started when he was down and out in New Jersey. Born Francesco Stephen Castelluccio to regular, working-class Italian American parents, Valli knew he wanted to be a singer as soon as his mother took him to New York City to see Frank Sinatra at the age of seven. While it may have seemed like a pipe dream at the time, it did not stay that way.

Frankie Valli

(Photo Credit: Gold Radio)

Valli’s dream turned into a reality when he started performing in the 1950s with other musicians under various band names. He first gained traction singing in a group called the Four Lovers. As the story goes (which has been famously retold in the Broadway musical Jersey Boys) the Four Lovers eventually became the Four Seasons, and the rest was history. 

With the Four Seasons, Valli released twenty-nine Top 40 hits and five No. 1s. While this in itself was a striking accomplishment, it wasn’t simply the number of hit singles that made Valli and the Four Seasons so remarkable. Valli’s unconventional voice brought a new sound to the charts and added layers of complexity. At times, his falsetto could be almost feminine– and yet here he was belting out hits like “Walk Like A Man” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry” that spoke directly to men and boys with instructions on how to play the game of love. Whether the subtle subversion was intentional or not, one can’t help but draw a throughline between Valli’s unconventionality and the wide range of expression that is available to artists today.

Frankie Valli

Valli’s vocals aren’t the only aspect of his artistry that has shaped American music and culture. His showmanship and true entertainer’s attitude have been electrifying audiences and inspiring other musicians since he began. Songs like “Who Loves You,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You,” and “December 1963 (Oh What a Night!),” have become crowd-pleasing, joy-inducing celebratory standards. Step into any theater where the Jersey Boys production is playing, and you’ll see fans young and old dancing and singing in their seats. 

There are so many important factors that contribute to Valli’s enduring legacy: the one-in-a-million voice, the unstoppable hits, and the American Dream come true. The magic ingredient, though, has always been Valli’s remarkable ability to create and share joy– to make us dance and exclaim, “Oh, what a night!”

Natalli Marie Amato 

Natalli Amato is a music and lifestyle journalist from Sackets Harbor, New York.  Her bylines include Rolling Stone, Vice, and The Boot. She is also the author of several collections of poetry.