The Belmonts’ first single, “Teenage Clementine” / “Santa Margherita,” was recorded in 1957 for arranger Irving Spice’s New York based Mohawk Records. Unlike subsequent recordings, Milano did the lead vocal on the ‘A’ side, “Teenage Clementine”, and D’Aleo sang lead on “Santa Margherita”. Also recording on the label was Dion DiMucci, whose first release was backed by a group he never met, the Timberlanes. DiMucci added the lead vocal to existing pre-recorded tracks, and the final composition was released as, “The Chosen Few” / “Out In Colorado”, by “Dion and the Timberlanes”. After receiving some airplay on the east coast, the single was later leased to the larger Jubilee label for better distribution, although it failed to chart nationally. DiMucci states he never knew then, or now, who the Timberlanes were. “The vocal group was so white bread, I went back to my neighborhood and I recruited a bunch of guys, three guys, and we called ourselves Dion and the Belmonts.”
Initially billed as “Dion with the Belmonts”, the new group recorded, “We Went Away” / “Tag Along”, on the Mohawk label before leaving for newly formed Laurie Records. Known thereafter as “Dion and the Belmonts”, their first Laurie release, “I Wonder Why”, was recorded at New York’s Bell Sound Studios and brought them immediate success. Released the first week of May 1958, it appeared on the national charts two weeks later, rising to No. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100. It led to their first appearance on the nationally televised American Bandstand show, hosted by Dick Clark. The group followed with the ballads, “No One Knows” (No. 19) and “Don’t Pity Me” (No. 40), which were also performed on Bandstand. In 1959, Dion and the Belmonts were part of the historic and tragic Winter Dance Party tour that lost three performers in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa; Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. Richardson “The Big Bopper.” DiMucci was offered a seat on the plane by Holly, but thought the fee of $36 was too much for such a short plane ride and declined. Photographs taken at the concert the night before the accident show Holly filling in on drums for the Belmonts, whose drummer had frostbite. After the plane crash, Bobby Vee, then an unknown, was asked to perform in Buddy Holly’s place. Later, Frankie Avalon, Fabian, and Jimmy Clanton were hired to finish the tour in place of the three deceased headliners.
Shortly after the tragedy, the quartet hit again with, “A Teenager in Love.” It became their first release to break the Top Ten, reaching No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. D’Aleo went to great efforts to contribute his famous falsetto to the song. “I was in the Navy,” the singer recalls. “I got a call from Fred. ‘We’ve gotta finish up the album. You’ve gotta get over here’. So I got a flight and went in. One of the last songs we did was “A Teenager in Love”. I listened and said, ‘What? I hope this song doesn’t go out as a single. It’s a terrible song’. I hated the song. Later on, I’m heading to South America with the fleet and my friend in the radio shack said, ‘Hey, get down here and listen to this!’ It was “A Teenager in Love”. In seven days, it became a hit!”. Their appearance on American Bandstand was without D’Aleo however, who returned to duty with the Navy. At various times the group performed without him. During one national TV appearance on Clark’s Saturday night program (“Live from the little theater on 44th Street in Manhattan”), he was filmed in Navy uniform, arriving just in time for the filming session. There were several picture sleeves from this era that did not picture D’Aleo, although he performed on all recordings.
After their top ten success with, “A Teenager in Love”, Dion and the Belmonts recorded four more singles. By the time of their breakup, all eight Laurie releases charted Billboard. Every ‘A’ side made the top 40, except “Every Little Thing I Do”, which made the top 50. Their biggest hit and largest selling record, “Where or When,” climbed to No. 3 on the Billboard charts in early 1960. The ‘B’ side, “That’s My Desire”, highlighted D’Aleo’s soaring falsetto. It also received considerable airplay, especially in the New York City area. This time their appearance on American Bandstand once again featured all four members.
Due to musical differences between DiMucci and the Belmonts, Dion decided to leave the group. “They wanted to get into their harmony thing, and I wanted to rock and roll,” said Dion. “The label wanted me doing standards. I got bored with it quickly. I said, I can’t do this. I gotta play my guitar. So we split up and I did, “Runaround Sue”, “The Wanderer”, and “Ruby Baby”. D’Aleo recalls, “The breakup? I loved that guy. But there was a reason why he left. Our reason was, we wanted to stick to light rock ‘n’ roll and standards, and he wanted to get into the blues”. He said, ‘I want to do blues and country. I think it’s time to go our separate ways’. We agreed. There was no shouting or anything like that. We had “Tell Me Why”. Dion had “Runaround Sue” and “The Wanderer”. He took off. Not the route he wanted, though. He loved the blues. But when you put out a single and people buy it, they’re telling you what they want you to sing.” DiMucci was also struggling with a heroin problem at the time. At the height of the group’s success his drug dependency worsened. When “Where or When” peaked, he was in a hospital detoxifying. Now a trio, they continued as “The Belmonts,” with Mastrangelo singing lead. In January 1961, before leaving the Laurie label, they released their own rendition of “We Belong Together,” covering the Robert and Johnny classic. The song bubbled under the Billboard Hot 100, charting at No. 108. Although not a hit, it is still valued today.
After leaving Laurie Records, the Belmonts continued to record throughout the 1960s on the Sabina, United Artists, and Dot record labels. The trio had six songs on the US Top 100 between 1961 and 1963. Their greatest, “Tell Me Why,” released in May 1961 on the Sabrina (aka Sabina) label, reached No. 18. Subsequent Billboard charted songs included, “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” (No. 57), “I Need Someone” (No. 75), “Come On Little Angel” (No. 28), “Diddle-Dee-Dum” (No. 53), and “Ann-Marie” (No. 86). While not charting nationally, other singles receiving airplay included, “Such A Long Way” (4 surveys), “I Confess” (4), “More Important Things To Do” (3), “Hombre” (2), “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive” (2), “Walk On Boy” (1), “Let’s Call It A Day” (1), “I Don’t Know Why, I Just Do” (1), and the medley: “Have You Heard/The Worst That Could Happen” (1). The song, “C’mon Everybody (Do You Wanna Dance),” received enough airplay on NYC radio station WINS, that it was re-recorded and used as the sound-bite introduction for deejay Murray the K’s “Triple Play” segments. Overall, including Billboard Hot 100 singles, the Belmonts charted 486 radio station surveys across the United States during the 1960s. The group’s rare and highly collectible album from this period, “The Belmonts: Carnival of Hits”, was released on October 1, 1962, and consisted solely of their Sabina recordings. These songs have often been reissued in combination with other “Dion and the Belmonts” recordings through the years.
After the hit, “Come On Little Angel,” a split developed within the group concerning the finances of their privately owned label, Sabina Records. Mastrangelo said, “That was the worst move we ever made. If we didn’t do that, we would have been together all these years. It was very sad, like leaving my two brothers”. He was replaced by Frank Lyndon. Mastrangelo attempted a solo career on Laurie Records, releasing four singles under the name “Carlo.” He was backed vocally by the uncredited Tremonts (aka The Demilles). His first single, “Baby Doll,” received considerable airplay in Florida, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut, but didn’t make the national charts. It was followed by an up-tempo rock ‘n’ roll version of the classic, “Mairzy Doats”, which was very different from the original. His final Laurie recording, “Stranger in My Arms,” was written especially for him by hit maker Ernie Maresca (“The Wanderer”, “Runaround Sue”). However, the flip, “Ring-A-Ling”, was a favorite of New York disc jockey Murray Kaufman. He featured it on his weekly “Record Review Board Contest,” and it clearly won as the best new release. It received airplay on New York radio stations WINS and WENE, but also failed to chart nationally. After leaving Laurie Records, Mastrangelo became DiMucci’s occasional songwriting partner, backup vocalist, and drummer in the group, “Dion and the Wanderers”, which also featured John Falbo on guitar and Pete Baron on bass. Between 1964 and 1966, they released three uncharted singles for Columbia Records, making national appearances on Dick Clark’s “Where The Action Is”, and “The Lloyd Thaxton Show.”
In late 1966, the three original Belmonts, Mastrangelo, Milano, and D’Aleo, reunited with DiMucci and recorded the album, “Dion & The Belmonts Together Again”, for ABC Records. Produced by “DiMont Music”, Mastrangelo played drums and DiMucci contributed guitar to reduce the need for additional session musicians. Two singles were released from the LP, “My Girl The Month of May” / “Berimbau”, and “Movin’ Man” / “For Bobbie”. Neither charted in the United States, but fared better in England. “My Girl The Month Of May” broke the “Radio London Fab 40” top ten at No. 9 the week of December 25, 1966. One reviewer stated, “some British radio DJ’s gave it a lot of airplay at the time.” The follow up, “Movin Man”, reached No. 17 on the Radio London charts on March 26, 1967. “My Girl The Month Of May”, was later covered by English artists Alan Bown in 1967, and The Bunch (featuring Sandy Denny of Fairport Convention) in April 1972. During their brief mid-1960s reunion, Dion and the Belmonts appeared on the popular “Clay Cole Show” performing “Berimbau” and “My Girl The Month of May”, and occasionally performed at local New York City clubs such as “The Mardi Gras” on Staten Island (April 29, 1967) before disbanding. After DiMucci left the Belmonts, Frank Lyndon returned. Lyndon continued as lead singer for the next five years, being replaced by Warren Gradus in the early 1970s. Later, they became a quartet with Milano, D’Aleo, Gradus, and Daniel Elliott (née Rubado, ex-The Monterays, Glenn Miller Orchestra) who joined in 1974.
In 1968, D’Aleo and Milano composed the lyrics for a vocal version of the instrumental theme to the Mission:Impossible TV series, which was recorded by the Kane Triplets and released on United Artists Records.
Mastrangelo, D’Aleo, Milano, and DiMucci reunited on June 2, 1972, at the Felt Forum in New York, for a Richard Nader “Rock and Roll Revival” concert. Nader said, “From our very first rock ‘n’ roll revival I must have received one hundred, two hundred, three hundred letters at every single show asking, ‘Can’t you get Dion and the Belmonts back together?’ It took three years, but in 1972 we got both Dion and the Belmonts to say “yes.” With only one brief rehearsal behind them, the eagerness with which the audience awaited their arrival on stage could be gauged from both Nader’s ecstatic introduction and the booming audience reaction that greeted it. Singer Billy Vera recalled the moment, “It was like an earthquake; you could literally feel the stage shake.” The live performance was released as an album by Warner Brothers titled, “Dion and The Belmonts – Reunion: Live at Madison Square Garden 1972”. The following year, all four original members reunited once again, doing a sold out concert at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island, New York. No recording of the 1973 reunion was ever produced, nor were there any studio recordings made with the Belmonts and Dion, as DiMucci was still contracted to Warner as a solo artist. In 1972, the Belmonts (Milano, Gradus, D’Aleo, and friends) also recorded an a cappella album, “Cigars, Acappella, Candy”, for Buddah Records. It was distinguished for its medley of 13 doo-wop tracks called “Street Corner Symphony.” Mastrangelo and Lyndon, their two former lead singers from the 1960s, contributed backing vocals. Mastrangelo also sang lead vocals on the songs, “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever”, and “We Belong Together”. Concurrently, Mastrangelo released a progressive jazz-rock album on Thimble Records titled, “Pulse…featuring Carlo Mastrangelo”. It received a small amount of airplay on New York rock stations WPLJ and WLIR, but overall was unsuccessful.
In 1975, the Belmonts (Milano, D’Aleo, Gradus, and Elliott) released one single on Laurie, followed by the album, Cheek to Cheek for Strawberry Records. Gradus and Elliott also moonlighted on Laurie Records in the late 1970s under the alias, Foreign Intrigue, releasing three singles.
In 1981, the Belmonts recorded a single with Freddy Cannon titled, “Let’s Put the Fun Back in Rock and Roll,” for MiaSound Records. The song charted for four weeks, peaking at No. 81 on Billboard. With their newly charted record, the Belmonts and Freddy Cannon appeared on Solid Gold and The Mike Douglas Show, to promote the single. Later in 1981, the Belmonts and Cannon joined forces in New York with Bo Diddley on guitar. Together they recorded the track, “Shake It Sally,” later released in 1982 on the Rock ‘n Roll Traveling Show album (Downtown D-20001). They also had a musical role in H. B. Halicki’s 1982 movie The Junkman.
In the mid-1980s, DiMucci also recorded with a group of Belmonts, consisting of Mastrangelo, Louis Colletti, and Tommy Moran. Colletti and Moran were backing vocalists on DiMucci’s 1992 album entitled Dream On Fire. Meanwhile, D’Aleo temporarily left the group, leaving the trio of Milano, Gradus, and Elliott. D’Aleo said, “There was a time when I got mentally fatigued and tired. I actually left the group for four years. Maybe you want to call it ‘burnt out.’ Then Fred, my buddy, called me, and said, ‘Ang — what are you doing? Come on.’ I’ve been back ever since”. Art Loria also joined for singing duties in the mid- to late 1980s. Loria was later active in The Jive Five, Larry Chance and the Earls and Doo Wop All Stars; he died on October 23, 2010, In 1988, the Belmonts released a Christmas album titled, “The Belmonts Acappella Christmas”, with songs written by George David Weiss. They later appeared with Weiss on the The Joe Franklin Show to promote it.
In 1994, a lawsuit was filed by Fred Milano and Warren Gradus claiming trademark infringement against DiMucci, Mastrangelo, and D’Aleo. In May 1991, Milano and DiMucci entered into an agreement in which DiMucci agreed to appear with Milano and others, performing concerts under the name, Dion and the Belmonts, but only if certain conditions were met. Milano claimed he negotiated arrangements for as many as five concerts, but DiMucci refused to honor the agreement. The suit alleged that while DiMucci had agreed to reunite with Milano, he had also simultaneously agreed to take part in a reunion with Mastrangelo and D’Aleo. Milano won the lawsuit.
In December 2009, the Belmonts released the Christmas single, “The Bell That Couldn’t Jingle”. In 2009 The Belmonts also released the CD, “The Belmonts Anthology Vol.1 Featuring A Hundred Pounds of Clay”. “A Hundred Pounds of Clay” was released as a CD single in 2010.
The Belmonts, featuring Milano, D’Aleo, Gradus and Elliott, performed 50 to 100 shows each year until 2011. Milano, who had participated in every one of the Belmonts’ recording sessions dating back 54 years, died on January 1, 2012, at the age of 72. DiMucci said of his passing; “I was shocked, obviously, because it was so sudden. It hit hard because a relationship like we had, it’s ingrained in you. We knew each other from our teenage boyhoods; even though we weren’t close and didn’t talk in later years, what we went through together made us like family. He and the Belmonts—they were the very best. Freddie was almost like a genius with vocal harmony. I was humbled to sing with Freddie, Carlo and Angelo.”
In October 2012, the Belmonts (D’Aleo and Gradus) joined former New York City disc jockey, Don K. Reed, as featured guests on Vito Picone’s (The Elegants) long running, Staten Island based cable TV show, “Let The Good Times Roll”.
In 2000, Dion and the Belmonts were inducted in the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.
Edited by midlifefanclub on 3 Feb 2014, 10:01
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