Bob Crewe, the veteran singer, songwriter and producer who penned a string of hits for the Four Seasons, including “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man” and “Rag Doll,” died Thursday at the age of 83. Crewe’s brother, Dan, confirmed the songwriter’s death to Rolling Stone. Crewe made an indelible impact on pop music, co-writing the ubiquitous “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” in 1967 for Frankie Valli and Labelle’s 1974 hit “Lady Marmalade” alongside tracks for Michael Jackson, Roberta Flack and Peabo Bryson.
Crewe began his career in the 1950s as a singer and producer, writing for doo-wop/pop group the Rays. The group scored their biggest hit with 1957’s “Silhouettes,” which would later be covered by Herman’s Hermits and Bob Dylan, the latter recording the track for his legendary Basement Tapes sessions.
Crewe would spend most of the Fifties writing hits for other singers before recording two albums himself in 1961 and becoming a “teen heartthrob” alongside Ricky Nelson and Paul Anka. After meeting songwriter Bob Gaudio, the duo would go on to write and produce some of the biggest hits of the decade, starting with “Sherry.” Recorded in 1962 by the Four Seasons, the song became a Number One hit. Crewe produced the 1963 hit “Candy Girl” and wrote and produced the 1965 Four Seasons track “Let’s Hang On!,” both of which remain pop standards.
In 1965, Crewe formed DynoVoice Records, releasing the psychedelic lounge-pop track “Music to Watch Girls By” (famously covered by Leonard Nimoy in 1967 as “Music to Watch Space Girls By”) alongside albums by Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, R&B trio the Toys and the soundtrack to the 1968 sci-fi cult film Barbarella. The Toys would score a hit in 1965 with “A Lover’s Concerto,” which would go on to sell more than two million copies, while Mitch Ryder’s Crewe-produced cover of Shorty Long’s “Devil With a Blue Dress On” in 1966 became a Top 5 hit for the band and classic rock staple.
In 1967, Crewe wrote and produced “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” which would become one of his biggest hits and a perennial cultural touchstone, appearing in countless film and television appearances. Originally recorded by Frankie Valli, the song has been covered by everyone from Diana Ross and Julio Iglesias to Pet Shop Boys, Lauryn Hill and Muse.
Crewe continued to work in various genres in the Seventies, recording and writing both pop and disco hits and forming cult disco group. Disco-Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes. In 1974, Crewe penned the Allen Toussaint-produced “Lady Marmalade” for Labelle. While frontwoman Patti Labelle was unaware that the titular character was a prostitute, the song became a Number One hit and Crewe’s “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir?” another cultural touchstone.
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In 2011, Rolling Stone included “Lady Marmalade” on the list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, noting that “the group was from Philadelphia, but the nasty groove was classic New Orleans, with producer Toussaint and his house band, legendary R&B stalwarts the Meters, funking up the beat.” The song would end up being covered by numerous vocalists and groups, most notably Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mýa, and Pink in 2001 for Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 film Moulin Rouge!
Crewe was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1995 and would later become a fine artist, designing album covers and showcasing exhibitions of his paintings. In 2004, Jersey Boys, the jukebox musical based upon the songs and career of the Four Seasons, premiered, with Crewe getting credited as the show’s lyricist. It moved to Broadway in 2005 and won four Tonys, including Best Musical, the following year. A Best Musical Show Album Grammy would follow in 2007.
According to the Miami Herald, Crewe’s brother Dan had transferred the musician to a nursing home after he was diagnosed with dementia. “He was responsible for that signature Four Seasons sound,” Jonathan Hadley, who portrayed Crewe in Jersey Boys, told the Herald in 2012. “He’s an unsung hero.”