Dion and the Belmonts
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Dion and the Belmonts were a leading American vocal group of the late 1950s. All members were from the Bronx, New York City. The group formed when Dion DiMucci, lead singer (born July 18, 1939), joined The Belmonts – Carlo Mastrangelo, bass-baritone (born October 5, 1938), Fred Milano, second tenor (August 22, 1939 – January 1, 2012), and Angelo D'Aleo, first tenor (born February 3, 1940), in late 1957.
The name The Belmonts was derived from the fact that two of the four singers lived on Belmont Avenue in the Bronx, and the other two lived near Belmont Avenue.
After an unsuccessful single on Mohawk Records in 1957, the group signed with Laurie Records in early 1958. The breakthrough came when their very first Laurie release, "I Wonder Why" reached No. 22 on the Billboard Top 100 charts, and they appeared for the first time on the nationally televised American Bandstand show, hosted by Dick Clark. Dion said of the Belmonts; "I'd give 'em sounds. I'd give 'em parts and stuff. That's what 'I Wonder Why' was about. We kind of invented this percussive rhythmic sound. If you listen to that song, everybody was doing something different. It was totally amazing. When I listen to it today, often times I think, 'Man, those kids are talented'. Dion and the Belmonts were the sound of the city. Their roots were groups like the Flamingos, the Five Satins, and the Dells; acts who developed their sound in urban settings on street corners, mimicking instruments with their voices, even complex jazz arrangements.
They followed the hit with the ballads, "No One Knows" (No. 19) and "Don’t Pity Me" (No. 40), which they also performed on Bandstand. This early success brought them their first major tour in late 1958, with The Coasters, Buddy Holly and Bobby Darin. It was followed by the historic and tragic, "Winter Dance Party" tour featuring Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper. On February 2nd 1959, after playing the Surf Ballroom, Holly arranged to charter a plane. Dion decided he couldn't afford the $36 cost to fly to the next venue. "$36 seemed like an awful lot of money to me," he said, and told Holly, no. Shortly after midnight, on February 3rd 1959, the plane crashed near Clear Lake, Iowa, with Holly, Valens, The Big Bopper, and the pilot, Roger Peterson, all being killed. Bobby Vee, then an unknown artist, performed in Holly’s place at the very next concert. Later, Jimmy Clanton, Frankie Avalon, and Fabian were hired to finish the tour in place of the three deceased headliners.
In March 1959, Dion and the Belmonts’ next single, "A Teenager in Love", broke the Top Ten, reaching No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 28 on the UK Singles Charts. Written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, it's considered one of the greatest songs in Rock and Roll history. It was followed by their first album, "Presenting Dion and the Belmonts". Their biggest hit, "Where or When", was released in November 1959, and reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the group making another national appearance on American Bandstand. The flip side, "That's My Desire", although never charting nationally, is as well known in many areas, especially New York City.
Other singles released for the group that year continued to chart Billboard, but were less successful. In early 1960, Dion checked into a hospital for heroin addiction, a problem he had since his mid-teens. At the height of the group's success his drug dependency worsened. When, "Where or When", peaked, he was in a hospital detoxifying. In addition, there were financial and musical differences between Dion and members of the Belmonts. "They wanted to get into their harmony thing, and I wanted to rock and roll," said Dion. "The label wanted me doing standards. I got bored with it quickly. I said, I can't do this. I gotta play my guitar. So we split up and I did, "Runaround Sue", "The Wanderer", and "Ruby Baby". In October 1960, DiMucci decided to quit for a solo career. Now simply known as "Dion", his first major hit, "Lonely Teenager" was backed by a female chorus . He eventually chose to work with The Del-Satins, who backed him (uncredited) on all his early Laurie and Columbia Records hits, such as "The Wanderer", "Runaround Sue", "Ruby Baby", and "Donna the Prima Donna". Later reissues of these songs would often be erroneously attributed to Dion and the Belmonts. The Belmonts also continued to release records on their own label, Sabina Records, but with less success.
Dion and the Belmonts reunited in late 1966 for the album Together Again on ABC Records. Produced by "DiMont Music", two singles were released from the LP, "My Girl The Month of May" / "Berimbau", and "Movin' Man" / "For Bobbie". Neither charted in the United States, but fared better in England. "My Girl The Month Of May" broke the "Radio London Fab 40" top ten at No. 9 the week of December 25, 1966. One reviewer stated, "some British radio DJ's gave it a lot of airplay at the time." The follow up, "Movin Man", reached No. 17 on the "Radio London" charts on March 26, 1967. "My Girl The Month Of May", was later covered by English artists Alan Bown in 1967, and by The Bunch (featuring Sandy Denny of Fairport Convention) in April 1972. During their brief mid 60's reunion, Dion and the Belmonts appeared on the popular "Clay Cole Show" performing "Berimbau" and "My Girl The Month of May", and occasionally performed at local New York City clubs such as "The Mardi Gras" on Staten Island (April 29, 1967) before disbanding. The original group reunited once again June 2, 1972 for a show at Madison Square Garden, which was recorded and released as a live album for Warner Brothers. A year later, in 1973, DiMucci, Mastrangelo, Milano and D'Aleo performed once more, doing a sold out concert at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island, New York. No recording of the 1973 reunion was ever released.
In 1968, as a solo performer, Dion recorded "Abraham, Martin and John" written by Dick Holler. It is a tribute to social change icons, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy. It was written as a response to the assassination of King and the younger Kennedy in April and June of 1968. When producer Phil Gernhard initially presented the song to DiMucci, the latter didn't care for it. With the persistence of Gernhard, and Dion's wife Susan, he flew to New York that summer. He recorded just one take and history was made. Laurie Records released the single in September of that year and it quickly raced up the charts, peaking at number four in November. DiMucci was invited to sing his new hit on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour”, as well as many other top shows, and Dion was once again a star.
In 2000, Dion and the Belmonts were inducted in the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.
Dion and the Belmonts released four albums:
- Presenting Dion & The Belmonts (1959) Laurie Records
- Wish Upon a Star (1960) Laurie Records
- Together Again (1966) ABC Records
- Reunion: Live at Madison Square Garden (June 2, 1972) Released in 1973 by Warner Brothers Records
The two Laurie Records LPs are the most collectible, especially the first pressings of "Presenting Dion and the Belmonts", issued as Laurie LLP-1002 (later reissued as LLP-2002). There were also later compilations, some of which included the separate hits of The Belmonts, and some that included the hits of Dion, and Dion and The Belmonts.
All singles released by Dion & The Belmonts
|Year||Single||U.S. label||Billboard Hot 100||UK Singles Chart|
|Oct 1957||"We Went Away" / "Tag Along"||Mohawk 105||–||–|
|Apr 1958||"I Wonder Why" / "Teen Angel"||Laurie 3013||22||–|
|Aug 1958||"No One Knows" / "I Can't Go On (Rosalie)"||Laurie 3015||19||–|
|Dec 1958||"Don't Pity Me" / "Just You"||Laurie 3021||40||–|
|Mar 1959||"A Teenager in Love" / "I've Cried Before"||Laurie 3027||5||28|
|Aug 1959||"Every Little Thing I Do" / "A Lover's Prayer"||Laurie 3035||48||–|
|Nov 1959||"Where or When" / "That's My Desire"||Laurie 3044||3||–|
|Apr 1960||"When You Wish Upon a Star" / "Wonderful Girl"||Laurie 3052||30||–|
|Jun 1960||"In the Still of the Night" / "A Funny Feeling"||Laurie 3059||38||–|
|Oct 1966||"My Girl The Month of May" / "Berimbau"||ABC 10868||–||9|
|Jan 1967||"Movin' Man" / "For Bobbie"||ABC 10896||–||17|