Dion & The Belmonts
From the working class neighborhood of the Bronx came one of the defining vocal groups of the late nineteen fifties. They were Dion & The Belmonts (named for a neighborhood street - Belmont Avenue), and the members were Dion DiMucci - lead, Fred Milano and Angelo D'Aleo on tenor, and Carlo Mastroangelo on bass. At first Dion and The Belmonts were separate entities although they seemingly traveled in the same circles in their neighborhood, and both first recorded for the small independent Mohawk label - Dion with "The Chosen Few" and "Out In Colorado" on #105 which sounded like a pair of tunes from a grandiose western movie, certainly not the type of songs from the central Bronx of 1957. The Belmonts did not do much better with "Teenage Clementine" and "Santa Margarita" on #106 (who was picking these songs?). Neither record surfaced at all, and on Mohawk #107 both parts of the equation came together and Dion & The Belmonts recorded "We Went Away" and "Tag Along". The record drew another blank and that was the end of Mohawk Records as far as the newly formed vocal group was concerned.
Enter a newly formed record company called Laurie Records (was there a connection with Mohawk, or just neighbors in the same building on New York City's Broadway? ). In any event, whether it was a canny A & R man (maybe Sol Winkler or Ernie Maresca), luck, or divine guidance,the first release for the label by the group on Laurie #3013 "I Wonder Why" exploded on the street like a cannon shot. In my then neighborhood (Fox Street between 163rd and Southern Blvd in the Bronx) the tune was everywhere, coming out of every radio, every record player, every open car door. These were our guys and they were hitting the big time. The flip side "Teen Angel" never got a play so dominant was the up tempo 'A' side. Every kid did his five-and-dime imitation of Carlo's stattaco bass intro and that became one of the signature sounds of the rock 'n' roll age. Dion & The Belmonts came off the starting line in full stride and never looked back.
Waiting for a follow up, listeners were surprised by the choice of a sentimental ballad instead of the usual copy cat repeat of the hit. The tune "No One Knows" on #3015, was an earnest story of unrequited teenage love, and it was a winner as fans took to the ballad sound. As for chart sales, it outdid their initial recording for Laurie, getting into the top twenty national pop charts which was a heady accomplishment for a doowop group in 1958 on their second try for the label. With that success, Laurie Records kept the group on track for a number of ballads, and all were successful in varying degrees proving out the direction that the group was taking. Now with a rocking hit and a ballad smash, the group hit the road for a period of extensive touring. They did a number of one nighters in the East and went out nationally on package tours around the country.
Just after the new year in 1959, the new release by the group was Laurie # 3021"Don't Pity Me" and "Just You". The sound of melancholy on "Don't Pity Me" worked for the group and it hit the national pop charts again although not as famously as the previous two records. In support of the new record, the group went out on a touring revue called "The Winter Dance Party" that played the Midwest. This show lives on in infamy because of the plane crash that took the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. (The Big Bopper) Richardson near Clear Lake, Iowa. By late spring Dion & The Belmonts were readying their new Laurie release on #3027, called "A Teenager In Love". Once again the song struck a chord in the lives of so many of the listeners that lived the words of the tune, and as a result, sales for the record were phenomenal. A top five best seller and a pop chart record for four months, it was by far the biggest seller to date and the group was certainly a hot property. The song sung in tempo as midway between a ballad and a rocker was also great for dancing ( it had a good beat and . . . .).
At this time one of the inevitabilities of any comparable situation arose. There were forces at work to make Dion DiMucci a solo performer and to showcase his talent (and consequently to have a much fewer number of voices) inputting plans and ideas. But for the time being the group moved ahead on their next record. Immediately following the new year of 1960, the quartet went into the studio and tried their hand on a pop standard "Where Or When" which featured a lovely counter melody played on sax in the intro and ending. The interesting flip side was the group's take on The Channels version of the Frankie Laine pop hit of "That's My Desire" which featured impeccable harmony without the bombastic bass which was a feature of the original version on Whirlin Disc. The record on Laurie #3044 was a huge success, dominating the pop charts in early 1960 and challenging for the top position on the national best sellers list (locked out of gaining the top spot by Percy Faith's MOR movie tune "Theme From A Summer Place"). It seemed that Dion & The Belmonts could do no wrong. Everything they put on record was a smash. In the spring they recorded a tune made famous by the Walt Disney movie "Pinnochio". The song was "When You Wish Upon A Star", and again the Belmonts and Dion made the charts though not anywhere as dominant a position as the two previous hits.
There was one more chart hit for the group that summer, "In The Still Of The Night" (the 1930s pop standard, not the Five Satins tune) on #3059. The successful formula that served the group so well for the last two years seemed to be played out now. The record barely charted, getting into the 30s just briefly. By the end of the year the split (mostly amicable according to those involved) took place, and Dion went out into the world as a solo performer and was signed as such by Laurie, while The Belmonts carried on with Carlo taking over the lead singing spot. Both parts of the act had a measure of fame and fortune - the Belmonts certainly must be classified as a moderate success, while Dion had some monumental hit records during the early sixties, with some of his tunes becoming teenage anthems that would last a lifetime.
The Belmonts had two chart hits with Carlo - "Tell Me Why" on Sabrina #500, (this was released also on Surprise #1000) which was an uptempo take on Norman Fox & The Rob Roys (another Bronx based group who somehow wound up recording for Duke/Peacock Record boss Don Robey in Houston, Texas) which had a nice run into the top twenty in the summer of 1961. Their second charted tune was on the list a year later "Come On Little Angel" for the renamed Sabina label #505. The group recorded eight other sides for the label without achieving national success - "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" . "Searching For A New Love" on #501; :I Need Someone"/ That American Dance" on #502; "I Confess" / "Hombre" on #503; "Come On Little Angel"/ "How About Me" on #505; "Farewell"/ "Dickee-Dee-Dum" on #507; "Ann Marie"/ "Accentuate The Positive" on #509; "Walk On By"on #513; "Let's Call It A Day" / "More Important Things To Do" on #517; "Why"/"Come On Everybody" on #519; "Summertime" / "Nothing In Return" on #522; and "You're Like A Mystery" and a version of the Del-Vikings "Come Go With Me"on #526 the final release in 1965.
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