Dion Biography

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During his peak, from 1958-63, Dion (Dion Francis DiMucci, 18 July 1939, the Bronx, New York City, New York, USA) was the quintessential Italian-American New York City rocker and was, perhaps, the first major white rock singer who was not from a southern city. The career of one of America’s legendary artists has spanned six decades, during which time he has made numerous musical style changes. Between 1958 and 1960 Dion And The Belmonts were one of the leading doo-wop groups. The Belmonts comprised Angelo D’Aleo (b. 3 February 1940, the Bronx, New York City, New York, USA), Carlo Mastrangelo (b. 5 October 1938, the Bronx, New York City, New York, USA), and Freddie Milano (b. 22 August 1939, the Bronx, New York City, New York, USA). The slick besuited Italian look rivalled the black harmony groups that dominated the era. They had nine hits in two years, including two of the all-time great examples of white doo-wop, ‘I Wonder Why’ and ‘No One Knows’. Their classic reading of the Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman song ‘A Teenager In Love’ with the memorable line of teenage despair ‘each night I ask, the stars up above, (bom, bom, bom, bom), why must I be a teenager in love?’ It poignantly articulated growing pains in an era when conservative values were being challenged by a new moral climate. In 1960 they attempted a version of ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ from Walt Disney’s Pinocchio and followed with a worthy, but slushy cover version of Cole Porter’s ‘In The Still Of The Night’.

Dion left for a solo career in 1960 and had immediate success in the USA with ‘Lonely Teenager’. The following year he had two consecutive hits that made him one of America’s biggest artists. Both the chart-topping ‘Runaround Sue’ and the number 2 hit ‘The Wanderer’ are rock classics; the former, warning everybody to keep away from Sue, while the latter warns Flo, Jane and Mary to steer clear of the wanderer. The similarity of the theme can be forgiven as they are both wonderfully uplifting songs, great dance records and two of the finest of the era. Dion sustained an incredible output of hits, including another classic ‘Lovers Who Wander’. In 1963 with seven major singles he was in the US charts for the entire year. The following year Dion disappeared from the scene to fight a serious addiction to heroin, a drug to which he had fallen victim in 1960.

Although Dion and the Belmonts reunited briefly in 1966, little was heard of him until December 1968. He returned during a turbulent year in American history; the escalation of the Vietnam War had received strong opposition, particularly from the music world, and the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were fresh in people’s minds. The emotional Dick Holler song, ‘Abraham, Martin And John’ was a perfectly timed stroke of genius. This lilting folksy ballad barely left a dry eye as it climbed to number 4 in the US charts. The following year a heroin-free Dion delighted festival and concert audiences with a striking solo act, accompanied on acoustic guitar. That same year the excellent Dion was released, including sensitive covers of songs by Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, and a brave attempt at Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze’.

Dion’s critical ranking was high but his commercial standing dwindled, and two acoustic-based albums were commercial disasters. Wily entrepreneurs encouraged another reunion with the Belmonts in 1973, and in 1975 Phil Spector produced ‘Born To Be With You’. An excellent album of the same name (on Spector’s own label) failed, and another underrated album, Return Of The Wanderer, appeared in 1978 on Terry Cashman and Tommy West’s Lifesong Records. For the next few years Dion became a devout born-again Christian and recorded sporadically, releasing Christian albums including Inside Job (1980) and Kingdom In The Street (1985). He returned to rock ‘n’ roll in 1988, playing with Bruce Springsteen and receiving his induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame the following year. Shortly after his induction, he released the Dave Edmunds -produced Yo Frankie. Dion also toured the UK, a country where he has always found an enthusiastic cult following.

Dion was relatively quiet during the following decade, releasing only two albums. The surprisingly fresh Déjà Nu was a notable surprise in 2000, receiving a host of excellent reviews and selling well. The follow-up New Masters (2003) saw the singer revisiting some of his classic 60s hits alongside some strong new material. The acoustic blues album Bronx In Blue (2005) was nominated for two Grammy Awards and spawned a similarly styled follow-up collection, Son Of Skip James.

Dion is one of the few survivors from a school of American vocalists who had genuine talent, and he should be credited for a series of uplifting songs that still sound remarkably fresh.


Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.


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