Dion DiMucci greeted the 1960s on his own, just 20 years old but already a chart veteran with soon-to-be-classics like “I Wonder Why” and “A Teenager in Love” under his belt. Those songs, though, were recorded with his friends The Belmonts. When Carlo Mastrangelo, Angelo D’Aleo and Fred Milano wanted to emphasize doo-wop harmonies and Dion wanted to rock and roll, Dion and the Belmonts split. How would the Italian kid from the Bronx follow that amazing first act? The results have been comprehensively chronicled for the very first time on Real Gone’s 2-CD The Complete Laurie Singles (RGM-0092) covering each of Dion’s solo 45s released on the New York indie between 1960 and 1969.
The heart and soul of The Complete Laurie Singles is the run of songs that cemented the Dion legend, forever immortalizing that cocky street corner kid. The first of those songs was Dion’s first No. 1. “Here’s my story, it’s sad but true…It’s about a girl that I once knew…” The song started like any of the other maudlin ballads that Dion had recorded in his first year as a solo artist, with a chorus backing him sympathetically. “She took my love then ran around…” He stretched the word, dramatically. “…with every single guy in town!” And then the Del-Satins launched into their wordless backing vocals, snapping and stomping like on the street corner, while Dion wailed the warning to “keep away from Runaround Sue!” Dion’s own composition with Ernie Maresca, “Runaround Sue” introduced a near-mythological character to the rock and roll pantheon. Though intricately arranged by the singer, “Runaround Sue” has the sound and the spirit of the street corners on which Dion first sang, the same corner that the two-timing Sue doubtlessly prowled. Much like Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons epitomized blue-collar New Jersey, Dion was New York in the pre-Beatles era, and “Runaround Sue” could have been a barroom sing-along, with one misfit advising the crowd of small-time hoods and dreamers in song as he riffs and scats over the wail of a lonely saxophone.
Dion must have been particularly gratified that “Runaround Sue” made it to No. 4 on the R&B chart. He had always been drawn to the blues, and to the sadder side of the pop spectrum. But its B-side, “Runaway Girl,” typified the melancholy, sad songs he had been recording prior to the blast of energy provided by “Sue.” His supremely sensitive vocals elevated many of these tracks, including the No. 12 hit “Lonely Teenager” and the ironically titled Pomus and Shuman tune “Havin’ Fun” (in which Dion is accompanied by a sad horn as he cries, “Friends keep on tellin’ me that I’m a fool to be so in love while you’re just havin’ fun…”), but “Runaround Sue” introduced a new persona, with the Del-Satins replacing the ubiquitous female backing vocals heard on many of the early singles. “Runaway Girl” was immediately a relic of the past, although Dion would return to this sound as on “Little Girl” from the same writing team of Barbara Baer, Eliot Greenberg and Robert Schwartz. Its tinkling piano recalls Johnny Mathis’ “Misty,” but Dion’s vocal roots it squarely in the streets.
“Runaround Sue” was followed by “The Majestic,” a dance number with a “Sue”-derivative melody, but its B-side soon eclipsed it. Another story in song, Maresca’s “The Wanderer” was inspired by a real-life Bronx character observed by Dion. “The Wanderer” built off of its “Kansas City”-esque shuffle and was, in many ways, a “Runaround Sue” in reverse: “I’m the type of guy who will never settle down/Where pretty girls are, well, you know that I’m around/I kiss ‘em and I love ‘em/’Cause to me they’re all the same! I hug ‘em and I squeeze ‘em/They don’t even know my name!” Many of the elements from “Sue” were amplified in the irresistible “Wanderer”: the prominent group backing vocals, the insinuating, bleating sax, the rawness and bravado. The brash Dion scored another No. 2 hit, and memorably followed it up with the almost unbearably dark and pained “(I Was) Born to Cry” and its B-side, “Lovers Who Wander.” Both echoed “Runaround Sue” and “The Wanderer,” but rather than seeming like pale imitations, all of these songs were truly of a piece, or variations on a theme. “Born to Cry” was even referenced in the opening lines of the boisterous “Lovers Who Wander,” which boasted yet another infectious Dion vocal riff.
There’s plenty more on Mr. DiMucci following the jump. Plus: David Cassidy’s Romance!
The Complete Laurie Singles reveals an artist always ready to experiment, whether with the strings on the pre-“Runaround Sue” song “Kissin’ Game” or a kazoo (!) on the tortured “Little Diane” in which Dion confronts this variation on Runaround Sue, but finds he can’t leave her despite her transgressions! But his biggest experiment was simply in being true to his blues roots, never flinching from a sad lyric even if it was set to an ironically bright melody. The chronological journey on the new compilation, then, seems a bit jarring as the second disc opens. In 1962, Dion defected for Columbia Records, where his hitmaking streak continued with songs like “Ruby Baby” and “Donna the Prima Donna.” He even took the Del-Satins with him! Undeterred, Laurie chose to mine Dion’s unreleased material, going back as far as his Belmonts days. These outtakes continued to be sporadically released through 1965. Despite being an enjoyable upbeat track with his trademark vocalizing, “Sandy” (recorded in January 1961) ended Dion’s Top 10 streak at Laurie. From these vault sessions, you’ll hear outtakes from Dion’s standards album sessions (Arthur Schwartz and Yip Harburg’s “Then I’ll Be Tired of You”) and some versions of familiar songs (“Come Go with Me,” “Shout!”) and an unusual paean to “Faith.” His heart just isn’t in these tracks.
Throughout the Columbia years, in which Dion reconnected with his blues roots, drugs continued to take their toll on the artist. So it must have been completely unexpected when he bounced back in 1968 not only as a sober man, but as an artist with his first Top 10 Pop hit since 1962. Dion’s empathetic reading made Dick Holler’s heartfelt “Abraham, Martin and John” into an anthem for a generation, as he plaintively wondered in plain-spoken terms, “Can you tell me where [they’ve] gone?” of the three slain leaders. “I just looked around – and he’s gone.” The song still strikes a nerve today, simply but eloquently encapsulating a nation’s pain over the recent deaths of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. Though Dion seemingly didn’t much approve of it, even the string arrangement for the song adds to its power. The final sides on Complete Laurie Singles show the full range of Dion’s talent. The dark, primal blues of “Daddy Rollin’ (In Your Arms)” doesn’t sound too far removed from the kind of music being created today by young artists like The Black Keys. Dion also nodded to his rock and folk contemporaries with singles by Fred Neil (the dreamy “The Dolphins”), Joni Mitchell (a straightforward “Both Sides Now”) and even Jimi Hendrix (a quietly forceful “Purple Haze”). The restless artist was back and still relevant, not content quite yet to become an oldie-but-goodie.
Even today, Dion’s music still touches on all of the strains present on The Complete Laurie Singles. All of these tremendous songs are put in perspective by compilation producer Ed Osborne’s excellent 14-page essay. Kevin Bartley has remastered each track. The replica Laurie labels are a final, crowning touch. The Complete Laurie Singles is the definitive account of Dion DiMucci’s rise from a street corner in the Bronx to the world stage, spreading the gospel of R&B, doo-wop and rock-and-roll as nobody else quite could or would again.
And now for something completely different…!
David Cassidy wasn’t having very much luck getting albums heard in his home country. Though 1976’s Gettin’ It in the Street (previously reissued in the U.S. by Real Gone Music) boasted some strong material from Cassidy and co-writer/co-producer Gerry Beckley of the band America, RCA withdrew copies of the LP from the U.S. market. The label didn’t even deign to release it in the U.S., where Cassidy’s fan base was even stronger. Nine years elapsed before Cassidy continued his recording career, during which period he embraced his theatrical lineage with roles in stage musicals. That 1985 Arista Records “comeback,” Romance, is the latest Cassidy reissue from the Real Gone team (RGM-0089). Like its predecessor, it never saw U.S. release…until now!
For his eighties album debut, Cassidy turned to producer Alan Tarney (Cliff Richard, Leo Sayer, a-ha) and fully embraced the decade’s prevailing sound. His reassuringly familiar voice, though still strong, was swathed in shimmering electronics and drum machine patterns, making Romance quite different than anything Cassidy had recorded before. Tarney also co-wrote almost every track on the album, most with Cassidy himself, and themes of love naturally dominated.
If Romance is remembered at all, it’s likely for “The Last Kiss,” performed by Cassidy with George Michael on fairly prominent backing vocals. Michael didn’t just sing on the track, though; his presence also gave it a kind of benediction. Despite its burbling percussion, it lyrically could have been a Partridge Family tune in its sweet sentiment of unrequited love: “If this is the last kiss/If this is the last touch/If this is the last time I can ever be holding you…” The song’s dramatic build and cool production helped earn the singer a U.K. Top 10 hit. Plentiful singles were released from Romance, all crisp, upbeat and glossy pop nuggets reflective of a revitalized artist.
The arrangements on Romance all have a certain consistency (or sameness, your choice!), though the songs’ tempi are appropriately varied. “Someone” is one of the strong up-tempo pieces (“If ever someone needed someone/Then that someone’s me who’s needing you”), though it nearly recalls the Partridges’ immortal question of “Doesn’t somebody want to be wanted like me?” Things get hot and heavy on “Romance,” with Cassidy and guest Basia offering hushed vocals over the light, airy, electronic soundscape.
Guitars are at the fore of the comparatively tough rocker “The Letter,” while Cassidy’s clear voice never sounded better than out front on “Tenderly” (“I’m in love tenderly/Hoping and praying/Thinking and saying/Touching and holding you here/And loving you so tenderly”). Though effects enhance his voice at points throughout Romance, there’s never any doubt that his instrument was in top shape. Another hit arrived in the form of “She Knows All About Boys.” Despite its familiar man-eater theme, the song is nonetheless a catchy and enjoyable one.
It’s been refreshing to see Cassidy’s recording career treated with the kind of respect that has been accorded it by Real Gone. That exemplary treatment continues here, with Vic Anesini’s remastering and Mike Ragogna’s strong liner notes. Following Romance, Cassidy didn’t record another pop record until 1990, when his self-titled album for the Enigma label yielded his first Top 30 hit in almost two decades: “Lyin’ to Myself.” Bring it on!