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Bob Crewe (born Stanley Robert Crewe, November 12, 1931, Newark, New Jersey) is an American songwriter, dancer, singer, manager, record producer and fine artist. He is known for producing, and co-writing with Bob Gaudio, a string of Top 10 singles for The Four Seasons. He is equally known for his hit recordings with The Rays, Diane Renay, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Freddy Cannon, Lesley Gore, Oliver, Michael Jackson, Bobby Darin, Roberta Flack, Peabo Bryson, Patti LaBelle and his own The Bob Crewe Generation.
Reared in Belleville, New Jersey, Crewe demonstrated an early and apparent gift for both art and music. Although lacking in formal musical training, he instinctively gravitated to learning from many of the great 19th and 20th century classical romantic composers as well as giants of jazz and swing, including Stan Kenton, Harry James, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and Tommy Dorsey. He studied for almost a year at Parsons School of Design in New York City with the intention of eventually pursuing a career in architecture.
After a European trip as a young man, Crewe returned to the U.S. and landed a succession of recording contracts as a solo singing artist. Although he was an attractive and strong singer, his gifts as a songwriter and entrepreneur were to bring him his greatest attention, success and acclaim.
In 1953 Crewe met and partnered professionally with Frank Slay Jr., a young pianist from Texas. Their collaboration created several hit songs (including a small record label XYZ), for which Crewe performed as the demo singer. Crewe and Slay's 1957 recording session with The Rays for their XYZ label (picked up nationally by Cameo Records) produced two big song hits. Produced by Crewe, the record's A-side, "Silhouettes", became a doo-wop anthem of the era. Climbing to #3 on The Billboard Hot 100 for 1957, "Silhouettes" displayed the flair for story-driven lyrics, innovative musical "hooks," and a final lyrical twist that were to become known as Crewe trademarks. In 1965, with a slightly faster tempo, "Silhouettes" became a hit again for the British group Herman's Hermits, reaching #5 on The Billboard Hot 100. Although Bob Dylan also recorded "Silhouettes" during his legendary Basement Tapes sessions of the late '60s, that version remains unreleased.
"Daddy Cool" was the B side of that same 1957 session. The song, also written and produced by Crewe-Slay, achieved considerable note. Both "Daddy Cool" and "Silhouettes" were covered the same year by the Canadian group The Diamonds. The Diamonds' version of "Daddy Cool" reached #10 on the Billboard charts. In 1961, Guy "Daddy Cool" Darrell released another single version on the Warwick label. In 1977, the UK band Darts made the song their first-ever studio recording and, released as a single, it hit #6.
Crewe and Slay built on those successes with a deal with new Philadelphia-based Swan Records. Sessions with Billy and Lillie, singers Billy Ford and Lillie Bryant, produced in 1958 the hit "Lah Dee Dah", which reached the #9 position on The Billboard Hot 100; the following year, Billy and Lillie's recording of "Lucky Ladybug" hit #14.
The early 1960s
As a solo singer, Bob Crewe recorded a pair of albums in 1961, one of which included a Ralph Burns-produced swing version of Yale University's signature "The Whiffenpoof Song." The record became a major hit in New York and led to Crewe's receiving "teen heartthrob" coverage in such popular teen magazines as 16 Magazine and to guest appearances with Mickey Rooney and Connie Francis on such TV variety shows as the Emmy-winning The Revlon Revue.
In the early 1960s, Bob Crewe began writing with Bob Gaudio, who had risen to fame at age 15 when, as a member of the Royal Teens, he co-wrote the hit "Short Shorts." The first Crewe-Gaudio collaboration, "Sherry," was written by Gaudio and produced by Crewe. It became a #1 single in 1962 for The Four Seasons (fronted by Frankie Valli). The pair wrote many other songs for the group, including the #1 hits "Big Girls Don't Cry", "Rag Doll" and "Walk Like a Man," as well as "Ronnie", "Bye, Bye, Baby (Baby, Goodbye)" and "Connie-O."
Crewe collaborated with Sandy Linzer and Denny Randell on The Four Seasons hit "Let's Hang On!." The Four Seasons were also the first to record the enduring Crewe-Gaudio composition "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine (Anymore)", later covered virtually note-for-note by the American singing group The Walker Brothers, who recorded their #1 selling version in England; their version made the American Top 10 as well. The Crewe-Gaudio collaborations capitalized on the extraordinary and distinctive voice of Frankie Valli, who could effortlessly swoop to a soaring, piercing, emotionally-expressive falsetto that became one of the emblematic and widely-imitated sounds of the era. Record sales racked up by The Four Seasons are estimated as being between anywhere from 100 million to 199 million.
As the "Four Seasons sound" became more and more defined, other signature touches emerged, including dense but pristine-sounding percussion, military-sounding march cadences and drum-stomp of "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Walk Like a Man," and the other-worldly glissandos of "Candy Girl". The sophisticated harmonic patterns of The Four Seasons punctuated by the distinctive falsetto of Frankie Valli were at once classic and innovative, as were Crewe's use of a melancholy harmonica in "Big Man in Town" and the space-era organ of "Save It For Me".
In addition to his work with The Four Seasons, Crewe also oversaw recording sessions by such artists as Dee Dee Sharp, the Orlons, and Ben E. King. He also cowrote "Navy Blue" (with Bud Rehak and Eddie Rambeau) and produced the record for singer Diane Renay. Renay's recording made the top ten on the US pop chart in early 1964, and number one on the adult contemporary chart.
The mid to late 1960s
In 1965, Crewe formed his own record label, DynoVoice Records. With the release of the 1965 hit Concrete and Clay by Eddie Rambeau, DynoVoice launched a run of twenty-one Top 100 hits. The label found early success with the R&B trio The Toys, best known for their single "A Lover's Concerto", a #2 hit single, and "Attack." The Toys were produced by Denny Randell and Sandy Linzer for executive producer Crewe. Writing about "A Lover's Concerto", based on a melody inspired by "Minuet in G major", critic Dave Thompson observed, "Few records are this perfect. Riding across one of the most deceptively hook-laden melodies ever conceived ... 'A Lover’s Concerto' marks the apogee of the Girl Group sound." The song has been subsequently recorded by The Lennon Sisters, The Delfonics, Sarah Vaughan, The Supremes, Mrs. Miller, Audrey Hall and Kelly Chen.
Another DynoVoice powerhouse of the mid-60s came when Crewe discovered a band called Billy Lee & The Rivieras. The group had limited success until he renamed them Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels. Under his direction, they scored eleven Top 100 hits, most notably Crewe's powerful and muscular arrangements of "Devil with a Blue Dress On", the group's highest-charting single at #4, as well as "Sock It to Me, Baby!", a #6 hit in 1967, and "Jenny Take a Ride", which reached #10 in 1965.
Another often-recorded song from the 1965 Linzer-Randell album by The Toys is "Can't Get Enough of You Baby". The number, co-written by Sandy Linzer and Denny Randell, was also recorded by the Bay City, Michigan, rock group Question Mark and the Mysterians, best known for their 1966 hit "96 Tears". "Can't Get Enough of You Baby" has enjoyed subsequent reinterpretations by Colour Field and Smash Mouth, among many others.
Crewe's record label scored another hit with Norma Tanega's off-beat, folksy "Walkin' My Cat Named Dog". Crewe also helped bring success to the group The Tremeloes with their hit Epic Records cover of "Silence Is Golden", a song originally written for and recorded by The Four Seasons.
Bob Crewe himself (recording as The Bob Crewe Generation) released the 1967 Sid Ramin's instrumental single "Music to Watch Girls By" (originally composed as a Diet Pepsi commercial jingle) on DynoVoice. The song became a Top 20 hit and spawned another successful instrumental version by Al Hirt and a vocal hit by Andy Williams. In 1967, Bob Crewe produced and wrote seven of the songs sung by Lesley Gore on her last commercially successful album, California Nights. The Bob Crewe Generation also recorded the Bob Crewe-Charles Fox original soundtrack for the 1968 Paramount Pictures motion picture Barbarella starring Jane Fonda and directed by Roger Vadim. The soundtrack for the cult favorite features vocals by Crewe and the group The Glitterhouse.
In 1967, Crewe and Gaudio scored one of their greatest successes with "Can't Take My Eyes Off You", recorded by Frankie Valli with The Four Seasons. The song reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and earned a gold record. Subsequently, "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" has been recorded by a number of international vocalists and bands through the years. The 1968 version by singer Andy Williams climbed to #5 on the UK Singles Chart. Also achieving chart status over the decades were such other English-language versions as those by The Lettermen, Maureen McGovern, and Lauryn Hill. The song has also been heard in numerous motion pictures, including The Deer Hunter, The Fabulous Baker Boys, Conspiracy Theory, 10 Things I Hate About You, Drop Dead Gorgeous, and Bridget Jones's Diary.
In 1969, Crewe collaborated with the singer known as Oliver, including the production of his pop hit "Jean", a song written by poet Rod McKuen that served as theme to the Oscar-winning film The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie starring Maggie Smith. Crewe also produced a hit single of Oliver performing the optimistic "Good Morning Starshine" from the rock musical Hair. The song reached #3 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Easy Listening singles surveys.
The Crewe record label released a series of well-received recordings such as Ben Bagley's Cole Porter Revisited and Rodgers and Hart Revisited featuring vocal performances by such artists as Harold Arlen, Elaine Stritch, Dorothy Loudon, Anthony Perkins, Ann Hampton Callaway, Bobby Short, Jerry Orbach, Tammy Grimes and Blossom Dearie.
Bob Crewe also appeared on ABC-TV's American Bandstand and also Where the Action Is, both with Dick Clark. He was interviewed and some of his current 60's songs were played for the dancers and crowds. Bob also once had a crewcut, then changed his blonde/reddish hairstyle. [JS]
The Bob Crewe Generation reappeared as a chart act briefly in the mid-1970s, recording material for the disco era. The Generation's 1970 LP Let Me Touch You, including covers of Henry Mancini's "Moon River" and "Two For The Road", remains a favorite of lounge music collectors. In 1975, Crewe wrote and produced disco material for The Eleventh Hour who had dance club success with at least three releases on 20th Century Records: "Hollywood Hot" (45 rpm single, number: TC-2215), "Bumper to Bumper" and "Sock It To Me/It’s Your Thing".
In the mid-1970s, Crewe formed with Sir Monti Rock III the disco club favorites Disco-Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes, best known for their 1975 successes "Get Dancin'" and "I Wanna Dance Wit' Choo". The group is referenced by Elvis Costello in his song "Invasion Hit Parade" and by The Pet Shop Boys in their song "Electricity."
In 1977, Crewe recorded in Memphis a solo album at the insistence of producer Jerry Wexler, who had been an early mentor of his. Barry Beckett co-produced. The album, entitled Motivation, was a showcase for his singing voice. Although the album did not achieve chart success, it included the great ballad "Marriage Made In Heaven" -- a collaboration between Crewe and Kenny Nolan. The song later became popular with Carolina Beach bands.. The album also produced the song "It Took a Long Time (For The First Time In My Life)," also recorded by Patti Labelle.
Crewe had previously written two other hit singles with Nolan, which became back-to-back #1 records in 1975. "My Eyes Adored You" was produced by Crewe and performed by Frankie Valli with the Four Seasons. When the record label balked at releasing it, Crewe, certain of its quality and hit potential, bought back the rights for $4000. Despite widespread rejections from music industry pundits, the song became a smash solo hit for Valli, was the #1 chart-topping song of the year.
Another memorable and enduring Bob Crewe-Kenny Nolan collaboration, "Lady Marmalade," recorded by Labelle, became notorious for its sexually provocative, New Orleans-inflected chorus, "Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir?" The song became a radio and dance club sensation. It achieved status as the #1 chart-topper of 1975 and has since been used in numerous motion pictures including Cheech and Chong's The Corsican Brothers, Beethoven, Carlito's Way, The Birdcage, The Long Kiss Goodnight, and Semi-Pro.
The 1980s and beyond
In 1984, a collaboration by Crewe and writers Jerry Corbetta and Bob Gaudio produced another Billboard Top 100 success with the romantic duet "You're Looking Like Love To Me," sung by Roberta Flack and Peabo Bryson. Another Crewe-Corbetta project united them with singer-songwriter-producer Ellie Greenwich for whom they produced the original cast album for Greenwich's Broadway musical Leader of the Pack. The album was a Grammy Award nominee and the show itself was nominated for a Tony Award.
In 1985, Crewe was inducted into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame.
"Lady Marmalade" was re-recorded by Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mýa and Pink for the soundtrack of the 2001 film Moulin Rouge!, and this version stayed at #1 in the U.S. for five weeks. It repeated the same chart position in the United Kingdom and Australia. Rolling Stone ranked "Lady Marmalade" as the 479th greatest song of all time.
In 1999, when the US performing rights and royalties organization BMI (Broadcast Music Incorporated) announced its Top 100 Songs of the Century, "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" landed in the top ten with six million airplays or BMI calculates one million continuous performances of a song of the average length (3 minutes) as representing 5.7 years of continuous airplay.
In addition to his numerous benchmarks and accolades in music, Crewe has also achieved recognition as an artist, having designed a number of album covers as well as having had highly successful one-man gallery showings of his paintings at the Earl McGrath Gallery, Thomas Soloman's Garage and Jan Baum Gallery in Los Angeles.
Since 2005, Crewe has been featured as a supporting character (played originally by Peter Gregus) in Jersey Boys, the multiple Tony Award-winning, long-running Broadway musical based on the story of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons that has gone on to become an international hit. Crewe is credited as the show's lyricist.
Currently, Crewe is involved in a number of new writing and producing projects.
Selected U.S. singles (written and/or produced by)
US peak chart position on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart follows the song title. Only singles that reached a position of #30 or higher on the Hot 100 are listed here.
- 1957: "Silhouettes", #3.
- 1957: "Daddy Cool", #10.
- 1958: "La Dee Dah", #9.
- 1959: "Lucky Ladybug", #14.
- 1962: "Sherry", #1
- 1962: "Big Girls Don't Cry", #1
- 1963: "Walk Like a Man, #1
- 1964: "Dawn (Go Away)", #3
- 1964: "Ronnie", #6
- 1964: "Navy Blue", #6
- 1964: "Rag Doll, #1
- 1964: "Save It For Me", #10
- 1964: "Big Man in Town", #20
- 1965: "Bye, Bye, Baby (Baby, Goodbye)", #12 ("Bye Bye Baby" on initial release)
- 1965: "Let's Hang On!", #3
- 1965: "A Lover's Concerto," #2
- 1965: "Silhouettes," #5 [Herman's Hermits cover]
- 1965: "Girl Come Running," #30
- 1965: "Jenny Take A Ride," #10
- 1966: "Devil With A Blue Dress On," #4
- 1966: "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine," #13
- 1967: "Sock It To Me, Baby," #6
- 1967: "Music To Watch Girls By," #15
- 1967: "Silence Is Golden," #11 [Tremeloes cover]
- 1967: "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You," #2
- 1967: "I Make a Fool of Myself," #18
- 1967: "To Give (The Reason I Live)," #29
- 1969: "Jean," #2
- 1969: "Good Morning, Starshine," #6
- 1974: "Lady Marmalade", #1
- 1974: "Get Dancin'," #10
- 1975: "Swearin' To God", #6
- 1975: "My Eyes Adored You," #1
- 1975: "I Wanna Dance Wit' Choo," #23
- 1975: "The Proud One," #22 [The Osmonds cover]
- 1976: "December, 1963 (Oh What a Night)," #1
- 2001: "Lady Marmalade", #1 [Christina Aguilera cover]
- Kicks, Warwick W-2009 (1960, out-of-print)
- Crazy In The Heart, Warwick W-2034 (1961, out-of-print)
- All The Song Hits Of The Four Seasons, Philips 600150 (1964, out-of-print)
- Bob Crewe Plays The Four Seasons' hits, Philips 600238 (1967, out-of-print)
- Music To Watch Girls By, DynoVoice 9003 (1967, out-of-print)
- Music To Watch Birds By, DynoVoice 1902 (1967, out-of-print)
- Barbarella (Original Soundtrack Recording), originally published by Famous Music Corporation (1968, out-of-print), re-released by Soundtrack Classics SCL 1411 (2004)
- Let Me Touch You, CGC 1000 (1970, out-of-print)
- Street Talk, Elektra Records 7E-1083 (1976, out-of-print)
- Motivation, Elektra Records 7E-1103 (1977, out-of-print)
- The Best of The Bob Crewe Generation, Varèse Vintage 302 066 703 2 (Feb 2006)