“ELECTRIC STORIES” (WRITERS: SANDY LINZER–MIKE PETRILLO)
ARTIST: THE 4 SEASONS
RELEASED 1968 ON 7” 45
Between 1962 and 1967, The 4 Seasons—Frankie Valli, Nick Massi, Tommy DeVito, and Bob Gaudio—were among the most popular acts in the world. Together since the mid-fifties, they made it big in 1962, when “Sherry” exploded onto the pop scene, hitting #1 on Billboard’s pop AND R&B charts, pretty amazing stuff for a white act. It helped, of course, that the records were issued by Vee-Jay, Chicago’s stalwart R&B label.
The quartet enjoyed three more #1 hits and more than a dozen top twenty smashes over the next five years, combining good songs, an identifiable doo-wop/R&B/pop vocal blend, excellent arrangements and production, and the occasional sonic innovation. A move to the Philips label in 1964 only increased the band’s international reach.
But changing tastes in pop music moored the band in its place. Following “C’mon Marianne,” a nice chunk of white Motown that climbed to #9 in Billboard during the summer of 1967, their next three singles were far less successful. The third, “Saturday’s Father,” didn’t even dent the Hot 100. By this time, Nick Massi was gone, and Joe Long was the group’s bassist.
The band members, wary of being viewed as somewhat passé, felt a need to make a coherent contemporary statement. The band spent extensive time in 1968 recording an album eventually released as Genuine Imitation Life Gazette. Gaudio, who’d co-written most of their hits, and new collaborator Jake Holmes—yes, Jake Holmes, who wrote “Dazed and Confused”—penned all the material for the album.
Genuine Imitation Life Gazette featured some strong songs and performances, such as “Idaho,” “Mrs. Stately’s Garden,” and “Saturday’s Father,” the failed single. But while the project was an ambitious attempt to grow, it didn’t sound like the 4 Seasons and didn’t cohere enough to establish a new identity.
As a result, the ornately-produced, expensively-packaged, and highly promoted LP, which sported a gatefold jacket and inserts as part of a strange satirical newspaper, turned into one of the biggest stiffs in rock music. The group’s older fans were confused, the new rock audience unconvinced, and unsold albums filled the bargain bins for years.
To keep the group on the market prior to the soon-to-be-issued Genuine Imitation Life album, Philips released a non-LP single, “Electric Stories,” in late November 1968. It was written by Sandy Linzer and Mike Petrillo, both of whom had, separately, penned big hits for the Seasons like “Let’s Hang On!,” “Tell it to the Rain,” and “Working My Way Back to You.”
“Electric Stories” was quite a change in sound for the band. Draped with loud electric guitar, a goofy piano-led rooty-toot tempo that seemed to speed up and slow down, aggressive drums, and oddly processed backing vocals, “Electric Stories” actually rocked, though in an off-kilter way that made for uneasy listening.
Pairing such a setting with provocative lyrics about the games men and women play to exploit and hurt each other barely made sense even in the late 1960s.
It’s a truly entertaining listen, for sure, albeit one that eventually did little to improve the perception of the group’s status. It was certainly telling that the song didn’t even get much airplay in the 4 Seasons’ home turf of New York City, failing to get heavy play on any of the local stations. (It did do some business in the suburbs and in Connecticut.)
“Electric Stories” made top five in some middle markets like Tulsa and Grand Rapids, but only enjoyed big-market success in Los Angeles, San Diego, and St. Louis. Stations in Detroit, Chicago, the Bay Area, Philadelphia, Cleveland, etc., never even picked up on it.
Such a performance would seem to reflect its #61 topping out on the Billboard chart. But the song performed much better on the Cashbox chart, reaching #41, while Record World had it peaking at #38. 23 chart points is an unusual degree of difference.
The methodology for these music charts, never disclosed back in the day, is still a matter of speculation. Many have accused various chart-makers of taking payments for higher chart positions, so it’s hard to really know how much a record sold or how popular it was.
My theory is that “Electric Stories” sold in numbers out of proportion to its somewhat limited radio play. This would make sense considering that the 4 Seasons still were considered a top act in the smaller markets, but were no longer considered “hip” in the major markets.
Therefore, while for various reasons—most of all, its longevity—Billboard charts have become the standard by which pop music success is judged, the evidence points to “Electric Stories” being a much more popular song than first impressions would have you believe.
I’ve chosen to present this song in its original, extremely “hot” mono mix, which is the only way anyone heard it in 1968–69. It was only released in stereo years later, remaining a sort of “lost” 4 Seasons single in that it never appeared on an original album.