CARLO & THE BELMONTS: Carlo & The Belmonts
At the height of their
popularity in the late fifties, Dion &, The Belmonts were regarded
as the quintessential white doo-wop group and even now their name is
synonymous with an era when four youths only had to gather on a
street corner for an informal croon and a group would be formed.
majority of their contemporaries 4 and there were literally dozens -
were well - intentioned amateurs who considered themselves fortunate
to have a record released, let alone make a hit, and even those who
made the charts were fated to become one-hit-wonders such as The
Elegants, The Mystics, The Earls and The Capris.
Dion &, The
Belmonts (Carlo Mastrangelo, Freddie Milano, Angelo D’Aleo and Dion
DiMucci) were a cut above their rivals. Firstly, there was a
uniformity about their looks which gave them the appearance of a
group, not some ill-assorted bunch of cruds gathered for a team
photo- graph. Bronx-born second generation Italian-Americans, their
saturnine faces wore the same forbidding expression of solemn menace
which Al Pacino used to good effect in ‘The Godfather’. On the
musical side, their harmonies were tight but not so clean as to lose
that ‘street’ sound and in Dion DiMucci they had a lead vocalist
of rare distinction. They were also fortunate in that their record
company, Laurie, displayed its faith in the group with a selective
method of recording which paid off when all eight of their Laurie
singles made the American charts beginning with ‘l Wonder Why’
which went to No 22 in June 1958 and ending with ‘In The Still Of
The Night‘ a No 38 hit in August 1960. In between they had two
smash hits with ‘A Teenager in Love’ (No 5 in May 1959) and
‘Where Or When’ (N03 December 1959), and lesser hits with ‘N0-One
Knows’ (No 19 in September 1958), 'Don’t Pity Me’ (No 40,
January 1959) and ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ (No 30, April
1960). Dion &, The Belmonts were at the height of their popularity
when Dion left the group to pursue a solo career in a blaze of
publicity in the summer of 1960.
Whether Dion was persuaded to leave
the group by his handlers or made the decision voluntarily has never
been established, either way, there was an element of risk involved
in separating the components of such a popular group.
Dion DiMucci (born 1939) had made his first record, ‘The Chosen Few’, at the age of 18 for Mohawk Records, one of the many independent labels operating from seedy premises in New York's Tin Pan Alley district. ‘It was a colossal bomb,‘ Dion explained in a 1961 interview with a fan magazine, “but the guy who owned the label told me: ‘Look, you’re okay, but we’re looking for a group. You gotta group?’ “Have I gotta group! Boy, I got the greatest group you ever heard anywhere!" I shouted.
‘Okay’, he said, ‘Bring ‘em up
here tomorrow.‘ ‘I blazed a new trail back to the Bronx and by
evening my buddies - Carlo, Freddie and Angelo - and I - were
polishing off some of the arrangements we'd worked out on the street
corners and in the subway stations of New York City."
In fact Dion was moving slightly ahead of the story because a Belmonts single without Dion ‘Santa Margherita’ c/w ‘Teen-Age Clementine’, appeared shortly after wards on Mohawk (106) which would indicate that although Dion had brought his buddies to the attention of Mohawk, he did not actually team up with them until the next Mohawk release (107), ‘Tag Along‘ o/w ‘We Went Away‘, which was credited to Dion &, the Belmonts. Shortly after ‘Tag Along’ had been released, Mohawk’s owners - former bandleader Irv Spice, Alan Sussell and two brothers, Gene and Bob Schwartz — decided to part ways. Spice kept Mohawk for himself while Sussell and the Schwartz brothers set up their own label, Laurie, (named after Sussell‘s daughter), taking Dion &, The Belmonts as their principal act.
Released as Laurie's debut single in March 1958, ‘I
Wonder Why‘ by Dion &, the Belmonts served as a prototype for
dozens of soundalike records, notably Jan &, Arnie‘s 1958 smash
‘Jennie Lee’ and Jan &, Dean’s 1959 hit ‘Baby Talk’,
which in turn, formed the basis of the Callfornian ‘surfing sound’
of the early sixties.
‘I remember a funny thing that happened after
‘I Wonder Why’ made it big”, Fred Miiano told ‘16’ magazine
in 1961. ‘We had gone downtown and bought ‘outfits’ for our
act. You know, matching sweaters and pants. Naturally, we had to wear
them home. On the way to the Bronx, in the subway, we started singing
our song together - and like - man - we were singing it loud! We were
proud of it. Anyway, when we got through, this real nice man gets up
and walks over and hands Dion a dollar. He said ‘Real nice,
fellows. Real nice,’ For a minute, we stood there not knowing what
to do, then Dion handed the guy back his dollar and said, ‘Thanks a
lot, mister. I really mean it. But we can’t take your money. You
see, we're professionals."
After a patchy start - only one of
his first tour singles was a hit - Dion suddenly hit a winning streak
with ‘Runaround Sue’ and ‘The Wanderer’ in late 1961.
departure had left the Belmonts with an image problem - there were
only two of them because Angelo D’Aleo who sang “the thrilling
notes you hear on their records” (quoting from a Laurie handout)
had been inducted into the U.S. Navy in 1959 and could only attend
sessions and made the odd TV appearance when on leave. The Belmonts
stayed with Laurie for only one single, a revival of Robert &,
Johnny’s 1958 hit, ‘We Belong Together‘ c/w ‘Such A Long
Way’, both included here in ‘before-and-after’ form: the
versions heard on side two are the preliminary session tracks (in
stereo) prior to the addition of Angelo’s falsetto overdub, at
which point the stereo masters were mixed to mono‘ Mono versions of
these two songs with Angelo’s overdubs are on side one, although
‘We Belong Together’ features a different overdub take from the
final master. issued here for the first time is an out-take from that
same session, a revival of ‘My Foolish Heart’ which is closely
patterned on their earlier revival of another standard (and their
biggest hit), ‘Where Or When‘.
By 1961, the American pop scene was experiencing something of a ‘doo-wop' revival as a new generation of teenagers began to identify with a genre which was thought to have gone out of fashion in the late fifties. A slew of records which hadn't made it the first time around began to be re- issued or were ‘covered ‘ by latter day stylists. As veterans of the fifties, The Belmonts straddled both eras and were readily on hand to exploit this latest trend.
Disillusionment with Laurie
prompted The Belmonts to take the bold step of striking out on their
own. Backed by local businessmen, they revived ‘Tell Me Why’, la
minor doo-wop hit in 1957 by Norm Foxx &, The Rob Roys) and
pressed up a few copies on their own Surprise label. The record was
well received and was re-pressed shortly after wards on a new label,
Sabrina (later amended to Sabina).
An infectious and timely record,
‘Tell Me Why’ gained considerable airplay from sympathetic
deejays and eventually peaked at No 18 on the ‘Hot 100', stealing a
march on Dion, whose then current single, ‘The Kissin’ Game‘
had stalled at No 82.
The Belmonts had lesser hits on Sabina with
‘Don't Get Around Much Anymore’ (No 57, September 1961), ‘I
Need Someone‘ (No 75, January 1962), ‘Come On Little Angel’ (No
28, August 1962), ‘Diddle-Dee-Dum’ (No 53, December 1962) and
‘Ann-Marie’ (No 86, May 1963) before the inevitable fadeout
although they continued to record for Sabina well into 1964.
September 1962, alter five consecutive top ten hits, Dion moved from
Laurie to Columbia where he continued notching up hits. Anxious to
find a replacement for their departed star, Laurie signed Carlo
Mastrangelo (born 1937) to a solo contract when he split with the
Belmonts shortly after their revived success with ‘Come On Little
Angel’. Laurie launched him as ‘Carlo‘, a Dion surrogate with a
sound to match, although it was occasionally updated to include a
hint of the Spector sound, especially noticeable on ‘Mairzy Doats‘
and ‘Five Minutes More‘.
However, the times were-a-changin‘
fast and by the time Carlo‘s fourth solo single, ‘Ring-A-Ling’,
appeared in 1964, even Dion himself was struggling as an entire era
was sucked into the slipstream of nostalgia. For the last word we
turn to Richard Price, Bronx-born author of ‘The Wanderers’, a
novel (and later a film) about a pre-Beatles Bronx gang that
worshipped the ground Dion walked on:
‘The Bronx, 1958-1963. Dion &,
The Belmonts. Sharkskin pants, Flagg Brothers dagger-toed roach
killers. Waterfall pompadours. Teen Strut. Kicking ass!
The Beatles? There goes the neighbourhood. Dylan? You ever try to dance to Dylan? We never quite got into The Beatles. Bell-bottoms took a long time to get used to (and we still wore the roach killers). We were the only guys to use hairspray on our new long hair. But Dion was ours. He made sense . . ."
Rob Finnis 1988
Article properties: CARLO & THE BELMONTS: Carlo & The Belmonts
|Carlo & The Belmonts - Carlo & The Belmonts LP 1|
|01||We Belong Together|
|02||Such A Long Way|
|03||Little Orphan Girl|
|05||Five Minutes More|
|06||Write Me A Letter|
|07||Brenda The Great Pretender|
|09||We Belong Together|
|10||My Foolish Heart|
|11||Such A Long Way|
|15||The Story Of Love|
The Belmonts with Pete Bennett Orchestra
Come On Little Angel
Dion DiMucci and The Belmonts went their separate ways in late summer of 1960, due to a difference regarding musical direction. Dion liked to rock, while The Belmonts preferred a poppier approach. The Bronx group recorded in both styles during the late '50s at Laurie Records, scoring hits with everything from I Wonder Why and A Teenager In Love to Where Or When and When You Wish Upon A Star. Yet Come On Little Angel sounds a lot like solo Dion: brawny rock and roll. Only difference was, Carlo Mastrangelo now fronted The Belmonts.
First tenor Angelo D'Aleo was just back from the Navy in November of 1960 when he, Carlo, and second tenor Freddie Milano cut their first post-Dion 45 for Laurie, a revival of Robert & Johnny's We Belong Together. Then musician/arranger Pete Bennett convinced The Belmonts to form their own label with him, initially called Surprise. Their inaugural remake of Norman Fox and The Rob Roys' '57 single Tell Me Why did a lot better than the original, peaking at #18 during the spring of '61 despite their label being forced to change its name to Sabrina because there was already a Surprise logo. The trio next transformed Duke Ellington's Don't Get Around Much Anymore into a rock and roll tune, scoring a #57 hit that fall.
Prior to the release of their third consecutive hit, the infectious I Need Some One, which made it to #75 (Carlo co-wrote it), there was a last label name change to Sabina Records. Come On Little Angel came next. A swaggering slice of street corner harmony written by homeboy Ernie Maresca (who had his own '62 smash for Laurie with Shout! Shout! [Knock Yourself Out]) and Tom Bogdany with Bennett leading the backing combo, it was released in July of '62 and climbed to #28 pop late that summer with How About Me, penned by Carlo, on the flip.
Carlo followed Dion's lead and went solo, returning to Laurie and making several 45s under his first name only. The Belmonts replaced him with Frank Lyndon. At Sabina, Bennett was history as the label secured national distribution from Canadian-American Records. Gerry Granahan, former leader of Dicky Doo and The Don'ts, would now be involved in production. The Belmonts managed two more Sabina chart entries with Diddle-Dee-Dum (What Happens When Your Love Has Gone) in late '62 and Ann-Marie in early '63. Granahan brought The Belmonts over to United Artists in 1964, but their run was over.
A reunion with Dion elicited a '66 album for ABC-Paramount, but lightning didn't strike twice. "You just can't go back, you know?" muses Dion. "It just wasn't there." There were more reunions, with and without Dion. Fred and Angelo performed in one Belmonts lineup until 2011. Milano died on New Year's Day of 2012.
Various - Street Corner Symphonies Vol.14, 1962 The Complete Story Of Doo Wop
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