Written by the staple Four Seasons' songwriting team of Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio, this was Frankie Valli's biggest solo hit (not counting Four Seasons work) until his #1 "My Eyes Adored You" in 1975.
Did we just mention Bob Gaudio? We can't do that without also pointing out that he was a former member of the band The Royal Teens of "Short Shorts" fame. You know who else was in that band? Al Kooper, who went on to Blood Sweat & Tears. Just in case the brass section in "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" wasn't enough of a clue that the two were colleagues.
This song reeks of success, and just about everybody involved in it went on to a smash career. The song itself is almost an institution - it's a contender for one of the top most-covered songs of all time. Cover versions include artists Andy Williams, Engelbert Humperdinck, Diana Ross & the Supremes, The Temptations, Julio Iglesias, Gloria Gaynor, Maureen McGovern, Manic Street Preachers, and Lauryn Hill (who got a Grammy nomination - Best Female Pop Vocal Performance - for her version).
In our interview with Frankie Valli, he said: "It's a very, very tough song to do badly. When the song is that strong to start off with, that's the kind of song you look for. I mean, if I were to do an album of songs that I wish I would have recorded, I certainly would have looked for those big ones. I wouldn't be looking for obscure ones, I'd be looking for ones that people have success with."
In our interview with Bob Gaudio, he explained that this was one of the most challenging songs he ever wrote, and that only Frankie Valli could have pulled it off. The song makes great use of Valli's exceptional vocal range, covering a wide swath of musical ground.
Gaudio thinks the song contains equal parts rock, pop, and middle of the road. Normally, trying to cover all these formats would get you run over, but on this song they all came together to deliver a tune with far-reaching appeal.
Bob Crewe came up with the title for this song, which started the process. From there, he and Gaudio crafted the story about a man who is exuberantly in love. "It's kind of an amalgam of people and circumstances," Gaudio told us. "Some women, but not one specific, and certain situations that people I've known have found themselves in."
Andy Williams recorded the hit version in the UK, which peaked at #5 in 1968. In 2002 he redid the song as a duet with the musical actress Denise Van Outen 2002, this time peaking at #23. He was aged 74 at the time and Van Outen 28. According to our records, their age difference of 45 years 1 month and 11 days makes them the most disparately aged duo to chart in the UK.
Other UK hit versions were recorded by Boystown Gang (#4 in 1982) and The Pet Shop Boys in a medley with "Where The Streets Have No Name" (#4 in 1991).
In songwriting circles, "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" is a case study on how to built intensity. Getting from the tender verses to the explosive chorus required a creative transition to avoid a train wreck, and Bob Gaudio found the solution in horns, which bridge the gap without losing momentum.
Notably, Lauryn Hill's rendition doesn't use horns in the transition - she gets there with a mix of organ and vocal stabs. Gaudio was impressed. "I love the record, it's one of my favorite versions," he said.
This song has a way of sticking to film soundtracks - that's Coneheads (1993),Conspiracy Theory (1997), Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999), Bridget Jones's Diary (2001), and Son of the Mask (2005). Not to mention 1978's The Deer Hunter, where the characters trill along with it as it plays on the jukebox. It's also had too many TV and other media appearances to count - it seems to be a favorite pick for karaoke scenes in film and television. Come to think of it, real-life karaoke singers as well. And if you're a fan of the HBO original series The Sopranos, you also recognize Valli as the mobster Rusty Millo from Seasons 5 and 6.
This was featured in the 1978 movie The Deer Hunter in a scene where the song plays on the jukebox as a group of guys are shooting pool before shipping out to fight in the Vietnam War. In the scene, Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken's characters boisterously sing along to the song, getting load when the song reaches its "I love you baby" climax.
This scene got the attention of the song's writer Bob Gaudio, who saw how powerful a song could be if placed in the right visual context. This gave him the idea for the stage production Jersey Boys, which was later made into a movie. "That was the spark way, way, way back then that made me think something could happen visually," Gaudio told us. "And the first thing that crossed my mind was a Broadway show."