#112 – The Night

19 Oct

Frankie Valli

Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons – The Night
Pulp – The Night
Lene Lovich – The Night
Klaxons – The Night
The Night at Pulpwiki

“This song invents Pulp right?”
– commenter Nabisco on Ich Lüge Bullets.

Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons; the great survivors of pop music, the only American group to have hits before, during and after the Beatles, and yet they don’t get the respect that others do. Perhaps it was the timing of their arrival – too late for the rockers, too early for the hippies, perhaps the falsetto vocals are a little too easy to mock, perhaps surviving as a long-running musical isn’t really cool, or perhaps it’s a lack of engagement with the politics, the drugs, the counter-culture, the general experimentation of the 60s. As the vocal group hall of fame website puts it, they were “too cornball and clean-cut.”

Keeping them in this “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” cliché misses out an important chapter in the group’s history, though – the late 60s, when artists as mainstream as Kenny Rogers played with psychedelia. The Four Seasons tried variations on the subcultural theme, releasing Dylan covers under a pseudonym, writing an attempt at a socially conscious concept LP, and finally signing for Motown – a move that proved commercial suicide for one reason or another. A few years later, when the group had moved back to more mainstream sounds and had entered a new wave of success, northern soul DJs discovered US promos of Motown-era promo-only single ‘The Night’ and it proved enough of a club hit for Motown to decided to put out a proper single in 1974, turning a rejected single from a failed album into a UK top ten hit.

It’s easy to see why it was a hit, and a little less easy to see why Motown kept it on the shelves for so long. Instead of the falsettos there’s a darkly intoned, ice-cold vocal singing superbly crafted, metered lyrics about a smooth man-about-town with a hidden dark side, and the massed forces of Motown’s finest session musicians backing them. The bassline in particular sounds like it’s a good twenty years ahead of its time.

The group having moved on, the case for ‘The Night’ had to be made by DJs, compilers, curators – and other artists, who often fill all of these roles. Above you can hear three alternate versions of the song; by Lena Lovich, who draws out the threatening lyrics, by Klaxons, who pump up the bassline, and by Pulp, who exploit the themes and movements of the song, turning it into something they could almost have written themselves.

It was only a one-off cover version for The Black Sessions, a French radio programme, but considering this it’s pretty well-accomplished. It sounds like a synthesis of the synth-drenched His ‘n’ Hers era and the more mainstream rock sounds of This Is Hardcore. Candida is well on form, and Steve does a decent job on the bassline too. The rest of the band, including Jarvis, are just ok, but bearing in mind it’s a single-shot effort, it’s remarkably successful.

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