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Released April 1977, Helicon was the followup to The Four Seasons’ incredible 1975 comeback Who Loves You. While WLY charted at a modest #38, it nevertheless spawned three hit singles and launched the band (with a fresh new lineup) on a strong second wind of their career. It seemed as though their next album would make just as good of a showing.
Sadly, that wasn’t to be. As strong as this album is, it only made it to #168, and the album’s sole single, “Down the Hall,” only made it to #65 (though it was #40 on the Adult Contemporary chart). As had happened several times during the band’s career, there was more success in the U.K., where “Down the Hall” was #34 and “Rhapsody” was #37.
Once again, songwriter Bob Gaudio kept a keen ear to popular sounds and translated that into songs that would work with The Four Seasons’ unique style and voice. While this yielded a smooth, mature album both timeless and in tune with the musical landscape of 1977, it wasn’t what most U.S. fans wanted at the time. Why?
Helicon has more of a rock sound, not enough touches of the blue-eyed soul and harmonies which defined much of the band’s previous work. While WLY does have a disco sound on some of the songs, that actually wasn’t a major trend in 1975. The Four Seasons were ahead of the game, but fans didn’t want them to be so ahead of the game they left those aspects of their signature sound behind or neglected them too much.
Bob had always written towards the next or current big sound, but this time he didn’t pay enough attention to harnessing the things which had already given his band their biggest hits, esp. the most recent. There’s obviously no denying his talent and keen ear towards the musical climate, but his songwriting strategy did start suffering a bit at this time.
Think of it like a writer who’s achieved great success with, e.g., historical fantasies, and then decides to try her hand at contemporary urban fantasy, steampunk, and alternative history. It’s somewhat of a departure from the established style, but still within the general genre. Some fans will eagerly follow, while others will be upset the new books aren’t the exact subgenre they came to know and love.
I’ll continue building on this analogy in my posts for Streetfighter (1985) and Hope + Glory (1992).
If you listen to the entire Helicon album, you’ll hear obvious evidence of harmonies and danceable songs, but those weren’t the songs pulled for singles in the U.S. Albums often sell on the strength of their singles, giving people a taste for the entire product. If the wrong singles are chosen, sales often aren’t so hot. In Helicon‘s case, the singles didn’t build on the sound which had earned the band success with their comeback.
Additionally, Frankie’s otosclerosis was gradually worsening, and he only appeared on lead in “Rhapsody,” “Put a Little Away,” and “I Believe in You.” As with WLY, the vast majority of vocals were handled by bassist Don Ciccone and drummer Gerry Polci. Since Frankie was in the thick of a solo career, he needed relief from too much singing.
“If We Should Lose Our Love”
“Let’s Get It Right”
“Down the Hall”
“Put a Little Away”
“New York Street Song (No Easy Way)”
“I Believe in You”
Helicon is a wonderful album which deserved so much better, and has begun to be reappraised. If only certain things had been done a bit differently, it might’ve had a lot more success.