Bob Crewe, who helped create a parade of indelible hits, most notably for Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, including “Sherry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Rag Doll” and Valli’s soaring anthem of adoration “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” died Thursday in Scarborough, Maine. He was 83.
His brother, Dan Crewe, confirmed his death. He said his brother had been in declining health after a fall several years ago.
Mr. Crewe was a singer in the 1940s and ’50s, but he found his niche writing, co-writing and producing for a wide range of other artists, sometimes on record labels he started, including DynoVoice. His first hit, written with Frank Slay, was the 1957 single “Silhouettes”; a Top 10 hit for the Rays, it became a Top 10 hit again for Herman’s Hermits in 1965.
That same year he produced “Devil With a Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly” a hit for Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels.
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Nearly a decade later he wrote, with Kenny Nolan, “Lady Marmalade,” popularized by Patti LaBelle with the group Labelle. Propelled by its provocative and irresistible chorus in French, “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir,” it rose to No. 1 in 1974. Nearly three decades later, a new version of the song featuring Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Pink and Mya, featured in the movie “Moulin Rouge,” was also a No. 1 hit.
But it was in his work with the Four Seasons and the striking falsetto of Valli that Mr. Crewe established himself as a master purveyor of pop sentimentality. In less than 10 years he helped make the group one of the best known in the history of popular music.
The group had been struggling to find a hit and a record label in the early 1960s when Mr. Crewe, who had worked with Valli in the past, decided to take a chance. In 1962, he produced their first No. 1 hit, “Sherry,” written by the group’s keyboardist, Bob Gaudio, and he soon began helping write songs for the group.
With Gaudio composing most of the music, Mr. Crew wrote most of the words — some syrupy, some shamelessly ogling — that Valli sang with urgency. Mr. Crewe is portrayed in the hit Broadway musical “Jersey Boys” and credited as the show’s lyricist; in the movie version, directed by Clint Eastwood, he is played by Mike Doyle.
Few of Mr. Crewe’s songs are more enduring than “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” which Valli recorded as a solo artist and which rose to No. 2 in 1967. Mr. Crewe, the producer, wrote the lyrics; Gaudio, the music.
With bright bells, ample strings and big, precise percussion, Mr. Crewe’s productions were crisp confections that gave little ground to the rougher rock that was on the rise in the 1960s. He wrote about innocent crushes, direct sexuality and heartache, his metaphors always accessible. Against the big melody of “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore),” which was first recorded by the Four Seasons but became a bigger hit for the Walker Brothers, he wrote in sad counterpoint:
“Loneliness is the coat you wear,
A deep shade of blue is always there.
The sun ain’t gonna shine anymore.
The moon ain’t gonna rise in the sky
The tears are always clouding your eyes
When you’re without love.”
Robert Stanley Crewe was born on Nov. 12, 1930, in Newark, N.J., and grew up in Belleville. He took tap-dance lessons as a boy and performed on street corners in Newark. After graduating from Belleville High School, he studied briefly at the Parsons School of Design in Manhattan before dropping out to pursue music. He met Slay in New York and by the early 1950s they were writing songs together.
Mr. Crewe recorded some songs as the Bob Crewe Generation in the 1960s and had a modest hit with the instrumental “Music to Watch Girls By.” He also produced “Good Morning Starshine,” a single by the singer Oliver from the score of the musical “Hair.”
“He had what they used to call ears,” said Ralph Newman, who worked in music publishing in the 1960s and ’70s and knew Mr. Crewe. “He could recognize what the popular taste was.”
Mr. Crewe was gay, and his brother, his only survivor, said he was discreet about his sexuality in many of his social circles. He noted that in “Jersey Boys,” Mr. Crewe was portrayed as overtly gay, but in real life that was not the case, Newman said, particularly during the period he was working with the Four Seasons. Promotional material for DynoVoice Records quoted a female singer fawning over Crewe’s handsomeness.
“Whenever he met someone, he would go into what I always called his John Wayne mode, this extreme machoism,” Dan Crewe said.
That fact that Mr. Crewe wrote so many songs about women reflected the complicated culture of his era as well as his shrewd professionalism, his brother said. Asked if some of his songs had been inspired by male romantic interests, Dan Crewe said: “It wasn’t motivated by anything, except he had an intense love affair with words. He told stories.”