Apr 08

FOUR SEASONS – “December 1963 (Oh What A Night)”

FT + Popular106 comments • 6,163 views

#385, 21st February 1976

Another one tainted slightly by personal memories: on the jukebox at University, this was a chosen singalong track of the rugby lads. I did not like the rugby lads; they did not like me – ergo I did not like the song. In fact when I first acquired it for Popular, I had avoided it studiously since 1995 and firmly expected to hate it.

I don’t hate it. I don’t love it, either, but at a safe distance it wins me over: its warm combination of throwback pop and disco bump is inclusive enough to embrace me and my old college foes. Though it’s ironic that the best thing about “December, 1963” is its gentility: its sly lyrics full of vague little placeholders (“as I recall”, “as I remember”), and the chuckling “what a lady, what a night”. It’s quite the friendliest song about losing your virginity to a prostitute I can think of. Beyond the instant-impact chorus it never really takes off as a performance (none of the shared leads have the presence of Valli in his pomp, though to be fair their slight hesitancy suits the lyric), and the sudden, incongruous synth solo had me checking I hadn’t got hold of some bogus re-recording by accident. But I’m glad I’ve come round to it, however grudgingly.



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  1. 76
    Waldo on 29 Apr 2008 #

    My main memory of this was a gigantic cock-up by the BMRB, which produced the chart for Radio One back then. I remember very clearly being at home, either on a sickie or half-term, on the Tuesday the chart came out. From the offset things were crazy with most peculiar movements all over the place. I was actually writing the chart down and at one point scribbled “Oh, what a chart!” in the margin. At one o’clock, Johnnie announced the number one as Geoff Love’s “Rodrigo’s Guitar Concerto” and this was promptly played as the new chart topper. Almost immediately, it was admitted that there had been “irregularities” with the calculating computer and that the chart was suspended. As it turned out, there were no nefarious goings-on. The computer had simply suffered a malfunction. Nevertheless, it was pointed out that certain sections of the chart were wrong and that the rundown would have to be recalculated.

    Later that afternoon, Dave Lee Travis, who regularly reprised the chart on his show, welcomed a lady from the BMRB onto the air to explain the error. In a nice touch, DLT asked the lady to deliver the revised and now correct chart rundown. This order of play was void totally of any salmon-like leaps by records which had previously been on the way down having already peaked and The Four Seasons were reinstated at number one, thereby confining the ill-starred Mr Love (ludicrously billed as “Manuel and the Music of the Mountains”) to the records books as “the number one that never was”.

    As for “December ’63…”, I felt that this was first rate, an excellent piece of pop fully deserving of its success during what was the second or perhaps even third coming of this particular pop group. I nevertheless remained conscious that the date in the song was indeed a “very special time” in the United States, Kennedy having just been made a monkey of in Dallas.

  2. 77
    Waldo on 29 Apr 2008 #

    Rosie # 69 – That may well be true but I’m far too sensible to want to try and find out. With regards Stockwell Manor (now Stockwell Park) I continue to follow the principle of Steely Dan…

  3. 78
    DJ Punctum on 29 Apr 2008 #

    Many thanks to Waldo for definitively clearing up the Manuel situation, but were the BMRB really using computers at that time or still relying on the thick bound Peter Stuyvesant-style black A4 diaries that they received back from the Woolworths and Rumbelows counters of this great nation?

    However, I cannot remotely remember what prompted the Geoff Love/Manuel disc to become so popular in the first place since I don’t remember it being used on any TV show or film at the time. Maybe some people thought it was something to do with Fawlty Towers.

  4. 79
    Waldo on 29 Apr 2008 #

    Unless I’m mistaken, the “Fawlty” episode in question (to wit – The Rat) was second season (1979) and thus was three years after this event.

  5. 80
    Mark G on 29 Apr 2008 #

    I remember my mother raving about this fantastic piece of music she’d heard, and from the title of it I was expecting some incredibly flamboyant piece of flamenco music. Then I heard it and was ‘oh’. I suspect Terry Wogan was to blame.

  6. 81
    DJ Punctum on 29 Apr 2008 #

    Revisiting Slik’s “Requiem” over the weekend, I was tickled to be reminded that its intro is identical to that of “Rodrigo”!

    Mr Love also recorded funky big band workouts under the pseudonym of “Mandingo” around the same time as well as being the musical director for Max Bygraves and his heartrending Singalonga series of albums, all of which cumulated in 1976 with the most ludicrous album title ever, 100 Golden Greats (on Ronco, no less).

  7. 82
    mike on 29 Apr 2008 #

    Mandingo was a couple of years earlier, DJP: I’ve got some promo 7″s of theirs (or rather his) from 1973 or thereabouts. Pretty good stuff actually, and I enjoyed that whole Sound Gallery revivalist phase from the back end of the 1990s.

    I’ve also got a whole clutch of the Actual Real Life type-written Telexes which Radio One sent out, announcing the weekly charts, circa 1972-73 I think. They’ve got Derek Chinnery’s name at the top and everything! (More James Hamilton residuals, y’see.) I really ought to dig one out and scan it.

  8. 83
    DJ Punctum on 29 Apr 2008 #

    Nearly every one of my classmates had one or more of those Geoff Love Plays Great TV Themes/Great Movie Themes albums in the dark days when you couldn’t get copyright clearance for the originals.

  9. 84
    jeff w on 29 Apr 2008 #

    My parents had Big Western Movie Themes (c.1970) and later acquired Big Bond Movie Themes, possibly for me actually though I can’t recall for sure now.

    This LP, from Love’s disco period, contains a couple of awesome cover versions:

  10. 85
    Tom on 29 Apr 2008 #

    I had a bunch of the Geoff Love LPs – certainly Western, Love, Sci-Fi themes – courtesy of the 10p basement. I think Western was the only one I actually sat all through.

  11. 86
    intothefireuk on 29 Apr 2008 #

    Well you can partially blame me for Manuel’s success as I actually went out and bought it for my Mum (my idea of a gift) – she probably still has it ! I didn’t actually mind it that much either.

  12. 87
    Erithian on 29 Apr 2008 #

    I think there was an album chart in late 1976 where the top three was:
    20 Golden Greats – Glen Campbell;
    22 Golden Guitar Greats – Bert Weedon;
    100 Golden Greats – Max Bygraves.
    Weedon had replaced Led Zeppelin’s “The Song Remains The Same” at number one. Record Mirror interviewed a variety of current stars about Bert Weedon being number one; Jimmy Page reportedly “just smiled” and John Bonham said “I learned to play guitar from Bert’s Play In A Day book – that’s why I’m the drummer.”

  13. 88
    DJ Punctum on 29 Apr 2008 #

    Indeed – it was the chart w/e 27 November. The album at number four – the week’s highest selling non-compilation album and one of only six albums in that Top 20 which wasn’t a compilation album or a live album – was Songs In The Key Of Life.

  14. 89
    Dan M. on 22 May 2008 #

    As I recall, this song seemed a little insipid to my 15 year old ears; 1963 was too long ago to be cool. The whole Franki Valli comeback was strange to me, then. I had only been following “Top 40” for a year or so. The Four Seasons I knew only from UHF TV ads for a nostalgic greatest hits disc. The music seemed ancient to me, and I was suspicious of the sudden re-emergence of FV&4S, even though I kind of liked the songs: how could musicians from a by-gone era make legitimate hits of TODAY???

    I prefer Who Loves You and Swearin to God, but December ’63 was and is acceptable hyper-catchy fluff.

    The song contributed one of those minute, embarrassing moments that will remain with me, bobbing to the surface of consciousness every so often, until Alzheimer’s. My best friend (who I looked up to in many areas, including pop music), remarked while this song was on “nice bass.” December ’63 was borderline too “white” for us, but close enough to early disco or soul-pop, I guess, to make the grade. Now, I didn’t have any bass-line-judging criteria (still don’t, really), but it seemed like a very erudite type of observation, and a few days later when the song came on the jukebox in the student lounge, I took the opportunity to repeat it to another kid (who I think was more a Jethro Tull type and would have disdained this number). He challenged me: “what’s so good about the bass?” I had no idea, of course. I’m not even sure I had actually picked out the bass line with my ears. I’m pretty sure I learned from that minor humiliation never to repeat someone else’s opinion as though it were my own.

    But all this talk of doo-wop… is there a trace of the doo-wop style in any of The Four Seasons’ 70s hits?

  15. 90
    and everybody elses Mark G on 22 May 2008 #

    “doo doo dooop doo doo, Doo doop doo Oh what a night..”

    also on Silver Star (I think) and four part harmonies on “Who Loves You”, etc..

  16. 91
    Dan M. on 23 May 2008 #

    “doo doo dooop doo doo, Doo doop doo Oh what a night..”

    also on Silver Star (I think) and four part harmonies on “Who Loves You”, etc..

    Hmmm… I guess you’re right as far as a “trace…” But vocal harmonizing in itself isn’t exclusive to doo-wop, is it? Though the 4 seasons are definitely harmonizing in these numbers — especially Who Loves You — I just don’t hear these songs as having any doo-wop flavor. At least in an anachronistic or “nostalgic” sense. Maybe it’s nouveau-doo-wop.

  17. 92
    richard thompson on 2 Jun 2008 #

    I’m a bit like Cliff Richard here, I didn’t know this song was about a prostitute, this wasn’t long after honky tonk angel which he sang on supersonic, I remember the chart cock up as well, no pun intended.

  18. 93
    Pauline Tolerfield on 26 Aug 2010 #

    Does anyone out there have a CD of Geoff Love’s Big Concerto Movie Themes. I have the record but nothing to play it on these days. Does anyone know who can record this to CD for me at a reasonable price?
    Much appreciate any help I can get. email me at:- paulinetollerfield@hotmail.com Thanks.

  19. 94
    Pauline Tollerfield on 26 Aug 2010 #

    Does anyone out there have a CD of Geoff Love’s Big Concerto Movie Themes? Have the record but nothing to play it on!!! Do not know anyone who could put it on to CD either. Would appreciate any help anyone can give. Thanks! pauline tollerfield

  20. 95
    malmo58 on 13 Jan 2012 #

    One of my favourites. I’ve never imagined this to be about a prostitute, I’ve always interpreted it as the narrator remembering how, as a young man in ’63, he copped off with a random young lady at a party and his first sexual encounter resulted.

  21. 96
    wichita lineman on 14 Jan 2012 #

    Swede – do you have the ’76 chart with Manuel at no.1 written down anywhere? It must have been half term as I remember it clearly, but missed all the apologies and ebarrassment. Until I started reading Popular I never knew what the heck had happened (and I’d pretty much forgotten all about it, to be honest).

    Rodrigo’s Guitar Concerto (not the Manuel 7″ edit) was a big deal in our house. I like the chirpy third ‘movement’ even more than the ‘hit’.

  22. 97
    mapman132 on 11 Jun 2014 #

    Notable for being one of the few Hot 100 #1’s to become a US top 40 hit all over again years later. The 1994 remix reached #14 and the combined total of 54 weeks on the Hot 100 between the two releases briefly held the all-time record in that category (since broken many times over). I’m not sure what inspired the remix – I mean why this particular hit and not others from that era?? I do remember this song was a favorite among my college age friends even before the remix appeared so perhaps the Dutch DJ behind it knew what he was tapping into. Anyway, another one of those peculiarities in the long history of the Hot 100 and US pop music….

  23. 98
    swanstep on 2 Jul 2014 #

    I like this track lot. Apart from the obvious melodies and harmonies, the weird slap-back echo on the kick drum (and on the hi-hats too some of the time) is cool, anticipates the little stutters in the main piano riff, and overall gives the track a unique feel; the way the bass comes in mid-bar is killer (many people including, ahem, myself, have tried to nick this!) as is the addition of lots of little variations and fills as the track progresses; the way the guitar fills fit into the groove of the piano riff; the way the synth brass and the real brass fit together. The lyric’s always struck me as a bit sordid, even without the prostitute reading, but as someone observed above, the sheer peppiness of the track gets you past thinking about that too much. I agree with the people above who suggested that December 1963 was chosen with the post-American Graffiti audience in mind, but also agree with the idea that that month – the month before Beatlemania hits the US – must have an independent significance for the Four Seasons. (I’ve read that in the new Jersey Boys movie the ’60s are sketched but that it’s essentially an alternative universe where neither the Beatles nor Motown ever happened.):
    8 (and the first 5000 times I heard it, it was probably a 9)

  24. 99
    hectorthebat on 16 Jul 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Dave Marsh & Kevin Stein (USA) – The 40 Best of the Top 40 Singles by Year (1981) 38
    Q (UK) – The 1001 Best Songs Ever (2003) 283
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

  25. 100
    Lazarus on 26 Aug 2014 #

    I saw Jersey Boys at the weekend – an enjoyable couple of hours of hokum – and afterwards read up on the band as I didn’t know much about them and wanted to know how much the storyline, such as it was, tallied with the facts. The show had Tommy de Vito and Nick Massi leaving in the wrong order (Massi was the first to go), but what I hadn’t realised was how old they are. De Vito, the oldest, is 86 now, Valli turned 80 in May and the baby of the group Bob Gaudio, a mere 72. A lot was made about De Vito mentoring the young Valli in the early days of the group but there was no mention of the eight year age gap between Valli and Gaudio.

  26. 101
    enitharmon on 27 Aug 2014 #

    @100 Oddly enough my reaction to that is surprise that Bob Gaudio is ‘only’ 72 (to be pedantic, not 72 until November) as the Four Seasons seem to me to have been around forever. Meaning that while I can actually remember the Beatles bursting onto the pop scene, the Four Seasons were already in place as a sound that I could recognise immediately. By the time December 1963 (the song not the date) came round they were a relic of the primeval pop swamps.

  27. 102
    Lazarus on 27 Aug 2014 #

    Fair enough, I think of them just as much, if not more so, as a mid-seventies band as that’s when my first memories of them are – Who Loves You, December 63, Silver Star and the Mowest (Northern Soul?) release Night forming a splendid introduction. What the show didn’t feature, and I was waiting for, was the back-story for Rag Doll – Gaudio handing a $10 bill to a scruffy young windshield-wiper at the lights, and watching her in the mirror, standing dumbstruck as he pulled away. It would have been difficult to work into the story though.

    Frankie Valli being 80 surprised me, but that would have made him mid-forties when he recorded the Grease theme, which seems about right.

  28. 103
    punctum on 12 Sep 2014 #

    RIP Bob Crewe: http://www.broadway.com/buzz/177434/hit-making-jersey-boy-bob-crewe-dead-at-82/

    (and also Sir Donald Sinden – “Call me Sir again, Punctum, and you’ll be liable for a long spell in hospital”)

  29. 104
    Jimmy the Swede on 14 Sep 2014 #

    #103 – “My dear fellow, you really mustn’t get excited. You must forgive me. You see, I have a problem. Tell him my problem, Thorpe.”

    “You appear to have died, sir.”

    Number Six: “Well, Colonel, that makes the three of us. But I also have a problem. I don’t know which side runs these Pearly Gates…”

    Elaine Stritch: “ROBERT!!”

    Colonel; “Bugger.”

  30. 105
    speedwell54 on 2 Mar 2015 #

    Brought here after looking through the French charts (the proper ones 1984 onwards) and finding Yannick – a french rapper who in 2000, spent 15 weeks at number one with “Ces Soirees-la” variously translated as ‘Those nights’, ‘These evenings’ and ‘at those parties’ .

    The tune is ‘December ’63′ with a new lyric. Tom and others mention the original song is about someone losing their virginity to a prostitute which was news to me. I thought it was just about a night out so good they’re still singing about it twelve years later.

    The b side ‘Slip Away’ is amazing and a real surprise treat, quite different from the flip side. A bit Dean Friedman meets the Beach Boys – imo well worth a listen.

  31. 106
    Jessica on 30 Jan 2018 #

    I’m delighted to have found this informative and entertaining thread. I came hoping to get some insight as to why this song is SO catchy. The part about “.. When she walks in the room..” up to “Oh what a night..”– what is going on there technically / compositionally?

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