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|Birth name||Robert Stanley Crewe|
November 12, 1930|
Newark, New Jersey, U.S.
|Died||September 11, 2014
Scarborough, Maine, U.S.
|Occupation(s)||Record producer, songwriter, singer|
|Associated acts||Frankie Valli, The Four Seasons, Disco-Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes|
Robert Stanley "Bob" Crewe (November 12, 1930 – September 11, 2014) was an American songwriter, dancer, singer, manager, and record producer. He was known for producing, and co-writing with Bob Gaudio, a string of Top 10 singles for the Four Seasons.
As a songwriter, his most successful songs included "Silhouettes" (co-written with Frank Slay); "Big Girls Don't Cry", "Walk Like a Man", "Rag Doll", "Silence Is Golden", "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine (Anymore)", "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" and "Bye, Bye, Baby" (all co-written with Gaudio); "Let's Hang On!" (written with Sandy Linzer and Denny Randell); and "My Eyes Adored You" and "Lady Marmalade" (both co-written with Kenny Nolan). He also had 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, Barry Manilow, and his own Bob Crewe Generation.
Born in Newark in 1930 and reared in Belleville, New Jersey, Crewe demonstrated an early and apparent gift for both art and music. Although lacking in formal musical training, he 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.
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-hit songs. 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 in 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, this time 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 1960s, 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 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 the 1958 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. Also for Swan Records, Crewe and Slay helped continue the rise of Freddy Cannon with their Top 10 hits "Tallahassee Lassie" and "Okefenokee".
The early 1960s
As a solo singer, 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 Revlon Revue.
In the early 1960s, 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 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 soar to a 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-stomps 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 produced recording sessions by such artists as Dee Dee Sharp, The Orlons, Ben E. King, and The Highwaymen (On a New Road). 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 10 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-1960s 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 Sid Ramin's 1967 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, including producing the title track. 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, Boys Town Gang 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.
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 1960's songs were played for the dancers and crowds.
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", arranged by Charles Fox, remains a favorite of lounge music collectors.It was also their only quadraphonic release.
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 (Doo Dat Dance)". 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 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 $4,000. Despite widespread rejections from music industry pundits, the song became a smash solo hit for Valli, and was the #1 chart-topping song of the year.
Another 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.
"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 10 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 (later a film) 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. He used his proceeds from the show to start a foundation supporting people with AIDS, gay rights, and bringing music and art to children in deprived communities.
Crewe was portrayed as "overtly gay" in Jersey Boys, but his brother Dan told The New York Times he was discreet about his sexuality, particularly during the time he was working with the Four Seasons.
"Whenever he met someone, he would go into what I always called his John Wayne mode, this extreme machoism," Dan Crewe told The New York Times.
From April 2014 until his death, Crewe resided in a Scarborough, Maine, nursing home. His Bob Crewe Foundation donated $3 million to the Maine College of Art in April 2014.
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", The Rays, #3
- 1957: "Silhouettes", The Diamonds, #10
- 1958: "La Dee Dah", Billy & Lillie, #9
- 1959: "Lucky Ladybug", Billy & Lillie, #14
- 1962: "Sherry", The Four Seasons, #1
- 1962: "Big Girls Don't Cry", The Four Seasons, #1
- 1963: "Walk Like a Man, The Four Seasons, #1
- 1964: "Dawn (Go Away)", The Four Seasons, #3
- 1964: "Ronnie", The Four Seasons, #6
- 1964: "Navy Blue", Diane Renay, #6
- 1964: "Rag Doll", The Four Seasons, #1
- 1964: "Save It For Me", The Four Seasons, #10
- 1964: "Big Man in Town", The Four Seasons, #20
- 1965: "Bye, Bye, Baby (Baby, Goodbye)", The Four Seasons, #12 ("Bye Bye Baby" on initial release)
- 1965: "Let's Hang On!", The Four Seasons, #3
- 1965: "A Lover's Concerto", The Toys, #2
- 1965: "Silhouettes", Herman's Hermits, #5
- 1965: "Girl Come Running", The Four Seasons, #30
- 1965: "Jenny Take A Ride", Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, #10
- 1966: "Devil With A Blue Dress On", Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, #4
- 1966: "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine", The Walker Bros., #13
- 1967: "Sock It To Me, Baby", Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, #6
- 1967: "Music To Watch Girls By", The Bob Crewe Generation, #15
- 1967: "Silence Is Golden", The Tremeloes, #11
- 1967: "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You", Frankie Valli, #2
- 1967: "I Make a Fool of Myself", Frankie Valli, #18
- 1967: "To Give (The Reason I Live)", Frankie Valli, #29
- 1969: "Jean", Oliver, #2
- 1974: "Lady Marmalade", LaBelle, #1
- 1974: "Get Dancin'", Disco Tex & His Sex-O-Lettes, #10
- 1975: "My Eyes Adored You", Frankie Valli, #1
- 1975: "Swearin' To God", Frankie Valli, #6
- 1975: "I Wanna Dance Wit' Choo (Doo Dat Dance)", Disco Tex & His Sex-O-Lettes, #23
- 1975: "The Proud One", The Osmonds, #22
- 2001: "Lady Marmalade", Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mya, and Pink, #1
- 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)
- The Bob Crewe Foundation; accessed September 22, 2014.
- ELEVENTH HOUR - Hollywood Hot. Archived February 2, 2014, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 2 September 2007.
- Williams, Richard (17 September 2014). "Bob Crewe obituary: Songwriter and record producer whose work with the Four Seasons led to many Top 10 hits". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 October 2014.
- Yardley, William (12 September 2014). "Bob Crewe, Songwriter for Frankie Valli and Four Seasons, Dies at 83". The New York Times. p. A19.
- "Maine College of Art gets $3M gift". SeacoastOnline.com. Retrieved 2014-07-29.
- Harrity, Christopher (12 September 2014). "#TBT: The Gay Jersey Boy". Advocate.com. Here Media. Retrieved 11 September 2014.
- Ocamb, Karen (11 September 2014). "Bob Crewe, Gay Music Legend, Dead at 82". FroniersLA.com. Retrieved 11 September 2014.
- Bob Crewe at the Songwriters Hall of Fame
- Bob Crewe on Internet Movie Database
- Bob Crewe at the Internet Broadway Database
- "Bob Crewe: The Master And The Music" - a four-part radio tribute hosted by Ronnie Allen and starring 38 music business professionals: singers, songwriters, producers, arrangers, musicians and deejays
- 2008 Bob Crewe radio interview show from 2008 with Ronnie Allen (researcher for Casey Kasem)
- Bob Crewe at Find a Grave