As I’ve been in the process of moving house I only just got round to seeing Jersey Boys, a film I was very interested and curious about for the past few months. I’ve never seen the stage show but as a fan of Clint Eastwood, Christopher Walken and 50s/60s music, my hopes were high.

jerseyboysBorn Francesco Castelluccio in Newark on May 3rd 1934, Frankie Valli had aspirations of musical stardom but settled on his father’s career as a barber. He performed where he could, showing off his impressive falsetto at every opportunity.

Near the beginning of the film, Four Season Tommy DeVito explains that for a young man in their neighbourhood there were three options: joining the army, running for the mob, or fame. Despite early brushes with the law and Four Seasons members Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi serving time in prison, the boys strived for the latter.

Jersey Boys details the Four Seasons’ origins, their rise to fame, financial difficulties and subsequent breakdown, with family and relationship problems thrown in for good measure. All the hits are there: Sherry, Walk Like A Man, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Oh What A Night, and Big Girls Don’t Cry. The use of My Eyes Adored You during Frankie’s daughter’s funeral is particularly poignant.

The film is slightly similar in tone to A Bronx Tale, with a touch of The Soprano’s. Incidentally, Frankie Valli featured in seven episodes of The Soprano’s as Rusty Millio. There’s also an obvious Goodfellas link: Joe Pesci grew up with the Four Seasons and he is played by Joseph Russo in a small role. However, Pesci’s Goodfellas character, Tommy DeVito, was not called after the Four Seasons member of the same name.

Christopher Walken is excellent as always as mob boss Gyp DeCarlo, one of the few actors who didn’t feature in the original Broadway show. With the exception of Boardwalk Empire star Vincent Piazza (Tommy DeVito), the rest of the Four Seasons were the Broadway stars of Jersey Boys, with John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli collecting a Tony for his performance

The Jersey Boys movie won’t set the film world alight, but it’s a well-produced feature (I really felt like I was in 50s post-war USA), with touches of humour and punchy performances – both acting and singing. The Italian-American clichés are inevitable and perhaps the films strays too far towards nostalgia at times, but it’s a very good example of a musical movie.

Jersey Boys is described as a musical, but it’s more of a biopic and the majority of the songs were performed live for the film in clubs.

This got me to thinking about other musical biopics. There are some great ones out there such as Control (Joy Division) and Behind the Candelabra (Liberace), and some that are currently in the works that sound very interesting indeed: Iggy Pop, Elvis Presley and Freddie Mercury to name but a few.

However, there are many more terrific artists that I feel deserve a biopic, those whose lives I believe would make a great movie. Artists like:

 

Del Shannon (1934 – 1990)

Born Charles Weedon Westover in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Del Shannon was a country music turned rock and roll star of the early 60s. He had several self-penned hit singles such as Little Town Flirt, Hats Off to Larry and of course Runaway, but he had just as many hits covering other peoples records. Del Shannon had a knack of taking the songs of others – like Chuck Berry and The Beatles – and making them better, almost making the originals redundant. He was popular in both the US and the UK and had several top ten hits.

Many of Del’s songs centred on heartbreak and sorrow, such as Keep Searchin’ and Break Up, and in his personal life Shannon suffered from depression and alcoholism, which eventually made it difficult for him to continue recording. He sadly committed suicide by gunshot on the 8th of February 1990.

In 1999 he became a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee. His most famous song, Runaway, has been covered by many artists including Elvis Presley, the Traveling Wilburys and the Misfits.

 

Roy Orbison (1936 – 1988)

A Roy Orbison film would certainly have huge highs – solo success, hits as part of the Travelling Wilburys and songs immortalised in feature films (from Pretty Woman to Blue Velvet) – but also massive lows. Roy’s life was blighted by tragedy; his first wife died in a motorcycle accident, and his eldest two sons lost their lives in a house fire.

At his musical peak at the same time as Del Shannon, Roy’s songs were also concerned with love, and could be tormented as well as light hearted (Crying and Pretty Woman respectively).

Roy was the first rock star to wear shades indoors, leaving some to think he was blind. Rumour has it he misplaced his regular glasses and had to wear his prescription shades as an alternative. This only added to the mystery of The Big O. Roy was not flamboyant or charismatic like many rock and rollers but all his passion came out in his wonderful voice, which earned him many fans including U2 and Bruce Springsteen.

In the late 70s he underwent a triple heart bypass due to years of heavy smoking. After a resurgence in Roy’s back catalogue in the 80s, the man with the Ray Bans was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. In 1988, Roy died aged just 52 of a heart attack. Some say he worked himself too hard, others say all the pain he had endured was too much for one lifetime. Roy was a true individual with an effortless style and unmistakable talent.

 

Dion DiMucci (1939 – )

A Bronx native, born to Italian parents, Dion first came to prominence in the late 50s as the lead singer of Dion and the Belmonts, named for the New York street they used to rehearse on before they hit the big time. The Dion story would naturally draw parallels with the Frankie Valli story: both are Italian-American lead singers with backing bands during the same era, who went on to achieve solo success. However, Dion’s story grew darker as he had been battling heroin addiction since his mid-teens, directly opposing his clean-cut teen idol image.

The Belmonts’ hit song I Wonder Why has been used in many films such as A Bronx Tale and Christine. They had several successful singles like A Teenager in Love but Dion decided to move on from doo-wop to create a more rocky, rhythmic sound, branching out on his own. The transition from Teenager in Love to to Ruby Baby via Runaround Sue was complete.

During a tour with several other bands, Dion gave up his seat on the ill-fated flight that took the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper as he didn’t want the extra expense.

Dion continues to make music, but with a blues inflection. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, with celebrity fan Lou Reed making the introductions. John Lennon was also a big fan of Dion; he used his image on the cover of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

 

Johnny Thunders (1952 – 1991)

John Anthony Genzale aka Johnny Thunders grew up in Queens, New York and was destined for baseball stardom. He was scouted in his early teens for the Boston Red Sox and the Philadelphia Phillies but his sporting career was over before it began. An antiquated Little League rule stated that the player’s father must be present at the games; Johnny’s father had long abandoned the family and was a known womaniser. This loss hit him hard and he concentrated on putting all his energy into his other great love: music.

He flirted with the name Johnny Volume and fronted his own band as a teenager. Johnny first found real fame as a guitarist with the New York Dolls, who produced hits like Personality Crisis, Trash and Private World. Malcolm McLaren was fascinated by them and attempted to emulate their style and sound with a well-known UK punk band.

Johnny founded The Heartbreakers when the Dolls disintegrated, recruiting former Dolls drummer Jerry Nolan and former Television bassist Richard Hell. He was a great songwriter, in spite of his struggles with literacy. He was also a strong guitarist despite his raging heroin habit. His guitar sound was raw and powerful, as was his voice, which emulated the sense of pain and suffering he put his body through with addiction.

After the demise of The Heartbreakers he recorded and performed as a solo artist with several different backing bands. In the months leading up to his death he already resembled a cadaver, with a pallid sunken face and a vacant stare. He died somewhat mysteriously in New Orleans aged just 38. Whilst several illegal substances were found in Johnny’s system, it wasn’t enough to kill him. Foul play was rumoured but the likelihood was that Johnny had already succumbed to cancer brought on by a serious intravenous infection.

One of Johnny’s final performances (Just Another Girl).

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