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Surf Mesa Spreads the Love for ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,’ Bringing the Modern-Day Standard Back to Top 40

“Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” returns to the top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 this week as a prominent feature of “ily,” the sleeper hit by surf mesa featuring Emilee. The Surf Mesa recording jumps from No. 49 to No. 37 in its 18th week on chart (dated Oct. 3).

Frankie Valli introduced the rousing, romantic pop song, taking it to No. 2 on the Hot 100 in July 1967. (It was kept out of the top spot by The Association’s effervescent “Windy.”)

“Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” was Valli’s first top 10 hit as a solo artist. The New Jersey native, who was 33 at the time, had by that point amassed 12 top 10 singles with The Four Seasons, including four No. 1 hits: “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man” and “Rag Doll.” The Four Seasons landed their 13th top 10 hit, the zesty “C’mon Marianne,” while “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” was in the top 10.

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“Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” stood apart from most of The Four Seasons hits because of its grown-up pop sound. The song has strong echoes of Frank Sinatra, another of New Jersey’s finest, whom the Four Seasons had saluted in song just the year before. The group’s version of Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” which Sinatra had definitively covered in 1956, made the top 10 in October 1966.

“Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” was an instant pop standard. Valli’s version received two Grammy nominations: best vocal performance, male and best contemporary male solo vocal performance. (Glen Campbell’s sublime recording of Jimmy Webb’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” won both awards. You can’t argue with that outcome, though it’s a shame two award-worthy records had to go up against each other.)

Moreover, dozens of artists covered “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” on their own albums or sang it on TV variety shows of the era. By the end of 1968, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” had appeared on 19 albums that made the Billboard 200, including such top sellers as Andy WilliamsLove, Andy, Vikki Carr’s It Must Be Him and Engelbert Humperdinck’s A Man Without Love.

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The Lettermen recorded the song in a medley with Little Anthony & the Imperials’ 1964 pop and R&B hit “Goin’ Out of My Head’’ — another of the most ubiquitous songs of the era. That medley, which was recorded live, made the top 10 on the Hot 100 in February 1968 and received a Grammy nomination for best contemporary pop performance, vocal duo or group.

Pop, soul and jazz singer Nancy Wilson put “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” on the Hot 100 for a third time in 1969. Her smoky, jazzy version reached No. 52 in the last week of the year. EDM stars Pet Shop Boys charted with the song in 1991, this time in a medley with U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name.” The unlikely mash-up reached No. 72 in June 1991. A version by Lauryn Hill reached No. 35 on the Hot 100’s Radio Songs airplay chart in September 1998. Hill’s recording received a Grammy nod for best female pop vocal performance. It was featured on her debut album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which topped the Billboard 200 for four weeks.

Hill’s version of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” was featured in the Mel Gibson film Conspiracy Theory. Other versions of the song have been featured in other films. Bar patrons sang along with Valli’s original version in a key scene in The Deer Hunter, the 1978 Oscar winner for best picture.

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A version by Morten Harket, a-ha’s lead singer, was featured in the 1993 film Coneheads. In a charming scene, the late Heath Ledger serenades Julia Stiles with the song in the 1999 film 10 Things I Hate About You. Andy Williams’ cover version was featured in Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001). (Williams’ version had been a big hit in the U.K., where that film was made.)

The song has also been heard in recent TV dramas. In 2018, it was featured in HBO’s miniseries Sharp Objects. A group of teenagers sing along to it in a party scene. In 2019, Williams’ version was heard in the Netflix series Black Mirror, in the Season 5 episode “Smithereens.”

English rock band Muse recorded the song in 2002. It was released on a CD edition of their single “Dead Star”/“In Your World.” The rub of an edgy rock band covering such a quintessential pop song is what gives the recording its power.

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Barry Manilow, who built a career on the formula of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” — building from a tender opening to a big, rousing chorus — chose the song to lead off his 2006 album The Greatest Songs of the Sixties, which reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200.

The song has appeared on various Billboard charts several other times. Maureen McGovern took a disco version of the song into the top 30 on Adult Contemporary in 1979. Jennifer Peña recorded a Latin version, “No Hay Nadie Igual Como Tú,” which reached No. 33 on the Regional Mexican Songs chart in 2004. Another Spanish-language version, “Te Quiero Baby (I Love You Baby),” recorded by Chesca, Pitbull and Valli, climbs into the top 10 of the Latin Pop Songs airplay chart this very week.

And, of course, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” was one of the highlights of the long-running jukebox musical Jersey Boys; a song practically guaranteed to make the audience swoon and cheer. The show ran for 4,642 performances on Broadway, the 12th longest run in Broadway history. It won four Tony Awards in 2006, including best musical. It also won a Grammy for best musical show album.

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So what is it about “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” that has allowed it to have such a long life? It’s a marvelous example of a song that starts out one place and takes you someplace completely unexpected. The pre-chorus tempo change, the introduction of that iconic horn riff and Valli’s sudden change in vocal register and urgency are among the record’s most notable features. Valli’s “I love you, baby” represents that moment where someone breaks free of their self-imposed restraints and states unequivocally what they want and need.

The song is ear candy, and a certain kitsch factor is probably part of its enduring appeal. But Valli’s absolute sincerity in expressing his pent-up feelings makes it ring true. It’s a song of deep yearning, power and passion.

The song’s co-writers, Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio, were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1995. Gaudio and Valli were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 as part of the Four Seasons (along with Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi).

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Crewe produced Valli’s recording. Artie Schroeck and Gaudio came up with the superb arrangement. Phil Ramone, a future producing legend, engineered the session.

You might reasonably think that Valli’s original recording must have been one of the biggest hits of 1967 on Billboard’s Easy Listening chart, which is now known as Adult Contemporary. Surprisingly, Valli’s recording didn’t appear at all on that chart. It was considered too mainstream pop for that chart, which in 1967 was in transition from what are now seen as old-fashioned notions of what constitutes “easy listening” to a more contemporary outlook.

Ed Ames, Perry Como, Andy Russell, Al Martino and John Gary all topped the Easy Listening chart that year with songs that didn’t crack the top 40 on the Hot 100. Some contemporary pop hits, such as Nancy and Frank Sinatra’s “Somethin’ Stupid” and Petula Clark’s “Don’t Sleep in the Subway,” topped the Easy Listening chart that year, but the door was not open to all pop hits.

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Other artists who have covered “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” include The Supremes & The Temptations, Brook Benton, Eddy Arnold, Brenda Lee & Pete Fountain, Gloria Gaynor, Boys Town Gang and Jimmy Somerville.

“Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” has retained its magic and punch across more than 50 years and many different genres. Now, that’s what you call a modern-day standard.