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Bob Crewe Knew How To Make Artists Sing

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Bob Crewe Knew How To Make Artists Sing

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Bob Crewe Knew How To Make Artists Sing

Bob Crewe Knew How To Make Artists Sing

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Bob Crewe co-wrote and produced such hits for Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons as "Walk Like A Man," "Rag Doll" and "Sherry." He died Thursday at the age of 83.


One of last century's great songwriters and producers died this past week. Bob Crewe helped bring us some the biggest hits of the 1960s, many for Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. Bob Crewe dies Thursday at the age of 83. He had been living in a nursing home in Scarbrough, Main. He'd been in ill health after a bad fall. NPR's Neda Ulaby has this remembrance.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: The story of Bob Crewe and The Four Seasons is a major part of the stage and screen musical "Jersey Boys."


MIKE DOYLE: (As Bob Crewe) (Phone rings) Bob Crewe.

ULABY: It was 1962. Frankie Valli remembers that at that moment, he and his band had become very frustrated with Bob Crewe.

FRANKIE VALLI: We were frustrated with the fact that he signed us as artists. And we ended up doing backgrounds and instrumental work for all of the artists that he was recording.

ULABY: Doo-wop groups like Danny and The Juniors. So The Four Seasons gave Bob Crewe an ultimatum.

VALLI: Hey, if you're not going to record us, let us out of our contract.

ULABY: Crewe told the band they needed a hit. So just like in the musical, they called Crewe up with a new song and sang it over the phone.


JOHN LLOYD YOUNG: (As Frankie Valli) Just listen, just listen. Here we go. One, two, three, four. (Singing with The Four Seasons) Sherry.

ULABY: Crewe, played in the movie by Mike Doyle, could barely believe his ears.


DOYLE: (As Bob Crewe) Set up the 8-track.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) What for?

DOYLE: (As Bob Crewe) We're going to double Frankie's voice. It's going to explode right off the radio.

ULABY: "Sherry" was written by The Four Seasons' Bob Gaudio. He and Crewe went on to compose a string of hits together.


FRANKIE VALLI AND THE FOUR SEASONS: (Singing) Big girls don't cry. Big girls don't cry.

ULABY: "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like A Man," "Rag Doll."


FRANKIE VALLI AND THE FOUR SEASONS: (Singing) Let me down. When she was just a kid, her kids were hand-me-downs. Hand-me-downs. They always laughed at her when she came into town. Called her rag doll. Little rag doll.

ULABY: Bob Crewe was the lyricist, and often, the producer. Gaudio says it didn't matter that Crewe didn't know how to read music or even play an instrument. He knew how to work with artists.

BOB GAUDIO: If you have but one creative bone in your body, Bob would find it.

ULABY: Like the members of The Four Seasons, Crewe was born in New Jersey, but his background was more refined. He went to art school, traveled in Europe. He tried out being a singer, but found more success working for and eventually owning record labels, production companies and music publishing firms. Bob Gaudio says Bob Crewe always had long lists of song titles lying around. That's where Gaudio got ideas.

GAUDIO: "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" was exactly that situation. I saw the title, and I started playing around with a verse to that.


FRANKIE VALLI AND THE FOUR SEASONS: (Singing) You're just too good to be true. Can't take my eyes off of you. You'd be like heaven to touch.

ULABY: While he and Bob Crewe were working on the song, Gaudio says he got stuck.

GAUDIO: I could not figure out how to tie the verse to the chorus because they seemed like two different songs to me. And he came in and listened, and said, you know, this is working. Let's stay with it. Don't get disappointed.


FRANKIE VALLI AND THE FOUR SEASONS: (Singing) I love you baby. And if it's quite all right...

ULABY: That song would be played to wake up astronauts on the space shuttle and adopted as an anthem by the Welsh national football team. And like so many songs Crewe co-wrote, it's been covered by hundreds of artists. Over a six-decade career, Crewe worked with singers ranging from Michael Jackson to Roberta Flack to Patti LaBelle. In fact, Crewe co-wrote her biggest hit.


PATTI LABELLE: (Singing) He met Marmalade down in old New Orleans. Struttin' her stuff on the street.

ULABY: When "Lady Marmalade" hit number one on the charts in 1975, it actually replaced another song Bob Crewe had co-written - "My Eyes Adored You" for Frankie Valli. The musical "Jersey Boys," about Valli and The Four Seasons, was a triumph for Crewe. He's credited as the lyricist for the musical. It premiered 10 years ago, won four Tony's, including Best Musical and is still playing on Broadway. Its success enabled Crewe to start a foundation to help people with AIDS, bring music and art to kids in poor communities and promote rights for gay people. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.


FRANKIE VALLI AND THE FOUR SEASONS: (Singing) My eyes adored you, though, I never laid a hand on you. My eyes adored you. Like a million miles away from me, you couldn't see how I adored you.

NEARY: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. B.J. Liederman composed our theme music. I'm Lynn Neary.

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