1961 – Runaround Sue (Dion) was a hit on this day in rock history!

Dion

1961 – Runaround Sue (Dion) was a hit on this day in rock history!

Dion Francis DiMucci (born July 18, 1939), better known as Dion, is an American singer-songwriter who blended elements of doo-wop, pop, and R&B styles.

Early years

Dion was born to an Italian-American family in the Bronx. As a child, he used to accompany his father, a vaudeville entertainer, on tour, and developed a love of country music – particularly Hank Williams – and the blues and doo-wop stars he heard in local bars and on the radio. His singing abilities were honed on the street corners of Crotona Avenue, where he rounded up other local singers inventing a cappella licks, and in local clubs.

In early 1957 he auditioned for Bob and Gene Schwartz, who had just formed Mohawk Records. They recorded him with a vocal group, The Timberlanes, and released a single “The Chosen Few”, arranged by Hugo Montenegro, which became a minor regional hit.

Career

With the Belmonts, 1957-1960

See main article Dion and the Belmonts

Schwartz also signed up Dion’s friends, The Belmonts, named after nearby Belmont Avenue. Their breakthrough together came in early 1958, when “I Wonder Why” made #22 on the national US charts, followed up with “No One Knows” and “Don’t Pity Me” which were also chart hits.

This success won Dion and the Belmonts a place on the “Winter Dance Party” tour with Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. On February 2, 1959, after playing in Clear Lake, Iowa, Dion decided that he could not afford the $36 cost of a flight to the next venue. The plane crashed, and Holly and the other stars were killed, still the tour continued with Jimmy Clanton and Bobby Vee being added to the bill as replacements. Dion and the Belmonts continued to perform until the end of the tour.

In March 1959, Dion and the Belmonts’ next single, “A Teenager in Love”, was released, making #5 in the US pop charts and #28 in the UK. Their biggest hit, “Where or When”, was released in November 1959, and reached #3 on the US charts. However, in early 1960, Dion checked in to hospital for heroin addiction, a problem he had had since his mid-teens. Further single releases for the group that year were less successful. There were musical and financial differences between Dion and members of the Belmonts, and in October of 1960, Dion decided to quit for a solo career. The main reason was because of his heroin addiction.

Solo stardom, 1960-1964

By the end of 1960, Dion had recorded and released his first solo album, Alone with Dion, and the single “Lonely Teenager”, which rose to #12 in the US charts. The performer name on his solo releases was denoted simply as “Dion” without the last name. Follow-ups “Havin’ Fun” and “Kissin’ Game” had less success, and the signs were that Dion would drift onto the cabaret circuit. However, he then recorded, with new vocal group the Del-Satins, an up-tempo number co-written with Ernie Maresca. The record, “Runaround Sue”, stormed up the charts, reaching #1 in the US charts in September 1961, and #11 in the UK, where he also toured.

For the next single, the record company promoted the A-side, “The Majestic”, but it was the B-side, Maresca’s song “The Wanderer”, which received the radio plays and again rose swiftly up the charts, reaching #2 in the US charts in December 1961 and #10 in the UK. As a classic oldie, it made the UK top 20 again in 1976.

By the end of 1961, Dion was a major star, with a worldwide touring schedule, and an appearance in the Columbia Pictures musical film Twist Around the Clock. He followed up with a string of hit singles – “Lovers Who Wander” (#3), “Little Diane” (#8), “Love Came To Me” (#10) – all making the top 10 in 1962. Several of these were written or co-written by Dion. He also had successful albums with Runaround Sue and Lovers Who Wander.

At the end of 1962, Dion moved from Laurie to Columbia Records, the first rock-and-roll artist ever signed to that label. The first Columbia single, Leiber and Stoller’s “Ruby Baby”, was a big hit, reaching #2, and “Donna the Prima Donna” and “Drip Drop” both reached #6 in the charts in late 1963. (Dion also recorded an Italian version of “Donna the Prima Donna” using the identical backup vocals.) His other Columbia releases were less successful, and problems with his addiction and changing public tastes caused him to enter a period of commercial decline.

Changing fortunes, 1964-1968

Following a European tour, Dion returned to the USA and was introduced to classic blues music by Columbia’s John Hammond. To the consternation of his management, he began recording more blues-oriented material, including Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man” and “Spoonful”, but these releases – some produced by Tom Wilson, with Al Kooper on keyboards – were not commercially successful.

In 1966, Dion briefly reunited with the Belmonts for the album Together Again on ABC Records. Again, this bombed, despite one classic self-penned song, “My Girl The Month Of May”. Although by this stage Dion’s career appeared to be nearing an end, he retained enough credibility to be, along with Bob Dylan, one of the only two pop artists featured on the album cover of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967.

In April 1968, Dion experienced what he identified as a powerful religious experience. After getting clean from drug use, he approached Laurie Records for a new contract, and they agreed on condition that he record the song “Abraham, Martin and John”, written by Dick Holler (also the writer of The Royal Guardsmen’s “Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron”) in response to the assassination of John F. Kennedy and those of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy during the summer of 1968. The success of this song – later recorded by many others including Marvin Gaye – which reached # 4 in the US charts and #1 in Canada, resuscitated Dion’s career.

The mature period, 1968-1986

For the next few years, Dion’s music became radically different, moving to more contemplative and mature material. He released several albums essentially as a singer-songwriter, to critical acclaim but moderate sales, moving to the Warner Brothers label in 1969.

There followed a one-off live reunion show with the Belmonts at Madison Square Garden in 1972, released on album. This was followed in 1975 by the album Born To Be With You, produced by Phil Spector. The album was a commercial failure, but has been subsequently praised by such artists as Jason Pierce of Spiritualized and Pete Townshend of The Who.

In 1978 Dion released an album drawing on many of his teenage influences, Return of the Wanderer, another critical success and commercial failure. In December 1979 he experienced a life-changing religious experience. Thereafter, his recordings for several years were in a contemporary Christian vein, in which he released a number of albums on the Dayspring label reflecting his religious convictions.

Recent work

In 1987 Dion agreed to do a concert of his old hits at Radio City Music Hall in New York. This helped free him to celebrate both his past and his future, and led to a series of special appearances, including a fundraiser for homeless medical relief. There he shared the stage with fans such as Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon and Lou Reed, all of whom cited Dion as one of their prime influences.

In 1988 Dion’s autobiography (co-authored by Davin Seay) titled The Wanderer: Dion’s Story was published. In the following year, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the induction speech being given by Lou Reed.

In 1989 he returned to secular rock music with the album Yo Frankie, and since then has released several albums with contemporary rock artists. His Déjà Nu album in 2000 found him covering Bruce Springsteen, a major follower over the years. Dion joined Springsteen onstage in Miami in 2002 for a performance of “If I Should Fall Behind” from Deja Nu.

He joined Scott Kempner of the Del-Lords and Mike Mesaros of The Smithereens in a short-lived band called Little Kings. A live album was later released, but not widely circulated or promoted.

In January 2006, he released Bronx in Blue, an album of blues and country standards, which was critically acclaimed and nominated for a Grammy. In November 2007 he issued a follow-up in similar vein, Son of Skip James.

As a practicing Catholic, Dion pursues prison ministry and reaches out to men going through addiction recovery. He now lives in Boca Raton, Florida

* 1959: Presenting Dion & The Belmonts
* 1960: Wish Upon a Star With Dion & The Belmonts
* 1961: Alone With Dion
* 1961: Runaround Sue #11
* 1962: Lovers Who Wander #12
* 1962: Love Came to Me
* 1963: Dion Sings to Sandy’ (and all his other gals)’ #115
* 1963: Ruby Baby #20
* 1963: Donna the Prima Donna
* 1967: Dion & The Belmonts – Together Again
* 1968: Dion #128
* 1969: Wonder Where I’m Bound
* 1970: Sit Down Old Friend
* 1971: You’re Not Alone
* 1971: Sanctuary #200
* 1972: Suite For Late Summer #197
* 1973: Dion & The Belmonts – Reunion, Live at Madison Square Garden #144
* 1975: Born to Be With You
* 1976: Streetheart
* 1978: Return of the Wanderer
* 1980: Inside Job
* 1981: Only Jesus
* 1984: I Put Away My Idols CCM #37
* 1984: Seasons
* 1985: Kingdom in the Streets
* 1986: Velvet & Steel
* 1989: Yo Frankie #130
* 1990: Fire in the Night (recorded 1979)
* 1992: Dream on Fire
* 1993: Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas
* 2000: Déjà Nu
* 2003: New Masters
* 2005: Live New York City
* 2006: Bronx in Blue #2 Blues Lps.
* 2007: Son of Skip James #4 Blues Lps.

Chart singles
Release date     Title     US record label     Chart Positions
US Charts     AC     UK Singles Chart     Black Singles Chart
Dion and the Belmonts
1958     “I Wonder Why”     Laurie     22
1958     “No One Knows”     Laurie     19             12
“Don’t Pity Me”     Laurie     40
1959     “A Teenager in Love”     Laurie     5         28
“A Lover’s Prayer”     Laurie     73
“Every Little Thing I Do”     Laurie     48
“Where or When”     Laurie     3             19
1960     “Little Miss Blue”     Laurie     96
“When You Wish Upon a Star”     Laurie     30
“In The Still of the Night”     Laurie     38

Dion
“Lonely Teenager”     Laurie     12         47
1961     “Havin’ Fun”     Laurie     42
“Kissin’ Game”     Laurie     82
“Somebody Nobody Wants”     Laurie     103
“Runaround Sue”     Laurie     1         11     4
“The Wanderer”     Laurie     2         10
(also 16, 1976)
“The Majestic”     Laurie     36
1962     “Lovers Who Wander”     Laurie     3             16
“Little Diane”     Laurie     8
“(I Was) Born to Cry”     Laurie     42
“Love Came to Me”     Laurie     10             24
“Ruby Baby”     Columbia     2
1963     “Sandy”     Laurie     21
“This Little Girl”     Columbia     21
“Come Go With Me”     Laurie     48
“Be Careful of Stones That You Throw”     Columbia     31
“Lonely World”     Laurie     101
“Donna the Prima Donna”     Columbia     6             17
“Drip Drop”     Columbia     6
1964     “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man”     Columbia     113
“Shout”     Laurie     108
“Johnny B. Goode”     Columbia     71
1968     “Abraham, Martin and John”     Laurie     4
“Purple Haze”     Laurie     63
1969     “From Both Sides Now”     Laurie     91
1970     “Your Own Back Yard”     Warner Bros.     75
1971     “Sanctuary”     Warner Bros.     103
1989     “And The Night Stood Still”     Arista     75     16
1990     “Sea Cruise” (From “Ford Fairlane”)             28

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