DION RECORDED LIVE AT THE BITTER END AUGUST 1971.

DION RECORDED LIVE AT THE BITTER END AUGUST 1971.

After being one of the biggest selling artists of the late fifties and early sixties, the hits started to dry up for Dion. He had been one of the most successful artists of the rock ’n’ roll era. For the last six years, it seemed Dion could no wrong. This had been the case since Dion first entered a recording studio.

Having signed to Bob and Schwarz’s Laurie label, Dion first recording session was in 1957. Dion DeMucci was scheduled to record a single for Laurie’s Mohawk imprint. However, when he arrived at the studio, Dion wasn’t happy. The Schwarz brothers had arranged that The Timberlanes would accompany Dion. He wasn’t having that. So, Dion went out and recruited his friends Fred Milano, Angelo D’Aleo and Carlo Mastrangelo. They became The Belmonts. Soon, Dion and The Belmonts were enjoying commercial success.

Between 1957 and 1960, Dion and The Belmonts released nine singles and three albums. Their debut single We Went Away, was released in October 1956. When it failed to chart, this was an inauspicious start to their career. 

Dion and The Belmonts’ next eight singles charted. A Teenager In Love reached number five in the US Billboard 100 in March 1959. Eight months later, Where Or When became Dion and The Belmonts’ most successful single, when it reached number three  in the US Billboard 100 in November 1959. That was as good as it got for Dion and The Belmonts. 

They only released two more singles. When You Wish Upon A Star reached number thirty in the US Billboard 100, in April 1960. Two months later,  In The Still Of The Night reached reached number thirty-eight in the US Billboard 100. With Dion and The Belmonts’ popularity on the slide, Dion DeMucci decided it was time to embark upon a solo career.

Things started well for Dion. His debut single Lonely Teenager reached number twelve in the US Billboard 100, in 1960. However, the next year, Dion could do no wrong.

During 1961, Dion released five singles. Havin’ Fun and Kissin’ Game gave Dion minor hits. Then Somebody Nobody Wants failed to chart. For Dion, his solo career wasn’t going as planned.

Things changed when Dion released Runaround Sue. It gave Dion his only number one single. The followup to Runaround Sue, was The Wanderer, which reached number two in US Billboard 100. Given the success of his last two singles, Dion released his debut album, Runaround Sue, which reached number twelve in the US Billboard 200. This was the perfect way to close 1961, the most successful year of Dion’s career.

1962 saw Dion pickup where he left off in 1961. He released a quartet of singles that all reached the top ten. The year started well when Lovers That Wander reached number three in the US Billboard 100. The momentum continued when Little Diane reached number eight and Love Came To Me reached number ten. Then as 1962 drew to a close Ruby Ruby reached number two  in the US Billboard 100. That was as good as it got for Dion.

After two years where Dion could do no wrong, 1963 saw music change. During 1963, Dion released seven singles. Although Sandy and This Little Girl both reached number twenty-one in the US Billboard 100, Come Go With Me stalled at number forty-eight. Things seemed to be improving for Dion when Be Careful Of Stones That You Throw reached number thirty-one. It was a false dawn. Lonely World failed to chart. For Dion, who for two years was one of the biggest selling artist, it was indeed, a Lonely World.

Just when Dion must have been thinking his luck had run dry, his next two singles, Donna The Prima Donna and Drip Drop reached number six in the US Billboard 100. However, this proved another false dawn.

As 1964 dawned, The Beatles took America by storm. While America didn’t “get” The Beatles until 1964, their effect was soon, being felt. So was the rest of the “British Invasion” bands. They were the toast of American record buyers. Dion, once one of America’s biggest selling artists, felt this backlash.

During 1964, Dion released another five singles. Then I’ll Be Tired Of You failed to chart. It was seen as yesterday’s sound, and failed to chart. So did Dion’s covers of the blues classic Hoochie Coochie Man, and The Isley Brothers’ Shout. Dion just couldn’t buy a hit. For the latest generation of record buyers, Dion was fast becoming yesterday’s man. 

Desperately seeking a hit, Dion decided to cover Johnny B. Goode. Again, Dion was looking to the past to kickstart his career. This time, it nearly worked. Dion’s cover of Johnny B. Goode reached number seventy-one in the US Billboard 100. However, it was another false dawn.

By 1965, Dion had decided that now was the time to reinvent himself. He was Columbia Records’ most successful artist. However, Dion realised music had changed, and if didn’t change direction, he risked becoming irrelevant. So, Dion decided that his future lay singing folk and blues. This didn’t please everyone at Columbia Records.

For many at Columbia Records, Dion seemed to forget about the commercial viability of singles. Dion released four singles during 1965, Unloved, Unwanted Me, Kickin’ Child, Tomorrow Won’t Bring The Rain and I Got The Blues. None of the singles charted. Some of the executives at Columbia Records were far from pleased. Their most successful artist was releasing singles that weren’t commercial? For some onlookers, this was sure to end badly.

In 1966, Dion released two further singles. However, neither Time In My Heart For You nor Two Ton Feather charted. That meant two years had passed since Dion enjoyed a hit single. For executives at Columbia Records, their once prized asset seemed to be devaluing at a rate of noughts.

During 1967, Dion didn’t release a single. Dion’s career was at the crossroads. Many thought he had taken a wrong turning, when he decided to reinvent himself as a folk and blues singer. Dion however, who had been inspired by two generations of musicians, was playing the long game.

For many years, Dion had been inspired by blues legends like Robert Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt and Son House. He was also inspired and influenced by the new generation of folk singers, including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs and Tim Hardin. They inspired Dion musically and stylistically. Soon, he was finger picking. 

This was something Dion had never done before. However, in the mid-to-late sixties, a generation of folk singers were finger picking. So, was Dion. He gently caressed his guitar and sung softly. This was a revelation, and transformed his fortunes. What also helped, was Dion getting clean in 1968.

Like many within the music industry, Dion had a penchant for the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle. However, in 1968 Dion made the decision to get clean. He had tired of alcohol and drugs. So, Dion decided now was the time to change. This decision transformed him. Suddenly, he felt at peace with the world. A Zen like calm descended, and Dion’s comeback began. 

For his comeback, Dion covered a song recently written by Dick Holler, Abraham, Martin and John. It was his tribute to four Americans who affected social change. Dion recorded his understated, folk rock single at the Allegro Sound Studios, with Phil Gernhard producing Dion’s comeback single. It caught a nation’s imagination.

When Abraham, Martin and John was released in 1968, it reached number four in the US Billboard 100. However, the followup, a cover of Purple Haze stalled at just number sixty-three. Although this was a disappointment, Dion was back. He released his comeback album Dion later in 1968.

Over the next few years, Dion’s comeback continued. After two hit singles during 1968, a newly reinvigorated Dion released four singles, and the album, Wonder Where I’m Bound, during 1969. Things didn’t go to plan. I Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound failed to chart. Then From Both Sides Now stalled at number ninety-one. Dion’s luck didn’t change, when He Looks A Lot Like Me and If We Only Have Love both failed to chart. As a new decade dawned, Dion was looking increasingly like yesterday’s man.

1970 was a quiet year for Dion. He released just one single, Your Own Back Yard. It reached number seventy-five on the US Billboard 100. He also released another album, Sit Down Friend. Although it wasn’t a commercial success, Dion was by now a popular live act. So, it’s no surprise that Dion and his record company decided to record a live album, Dion Recorded Live At The Bitter End August 1971, which was recently released by Ace Records.

The decision to record a live album, couldn’t have been timed better. During 1971, singer-songwriters were among the biggest selling acts. Carole King and James Taylor had just made their commercial breakthroughs. Dion had released his latest album, Sanctuary. It wasn’t a huge commercial success. So, Dion needed an album that would kickstart his career. Maybe, just maybe, Live At The Bitter End 1971 would transform Dion’s fortunes?

For Dion Live At The Bitter End August 1971, Dion worked his way through seventeen tracks. They were a mixture of classics, cover versions and Dion’s own songs. 

Fittingly, Dion opened his set with a Bob Dylan song. Dion, like all folk singers, owed Bob Dy;an a debt of gratitude. He was partly responsible for the resurgence of interest in folk music. However, Dion had repaid the debt, playing on a couple of songs on The Freewheeling Bob Dylan. Here, however, he delivers a pensive, poignant reading of Mama, You’ve Been On My Mind. From there, Dion moves onto the first of his own songs.

Dion wrote four songs on Dion Recorded Live At The Bitter End August 1971. Brand New Morning, a heartfelt, hope filled ballad is the first. Then there’s Sunshine Lady, a paean with a feel good sound. Willigo and Harmony Sound, which closes Dion’s set, showcase Dion’s skills as a singer-songwriter. That’s also apparent on the two tracks Dion cowrote with Tony Fasce, Your Own Backyard and Sunniland. Both tracks leave you wondering why Dion never enjoyed more commercial success and critical acclaim, during this period of his career.

That’s the case throughout Recorded Live At The Bitter End August 1971. After all, there aren’t many singers who are versatile enough to switch between Chuck Berry’s Too Much Monkey Business, Bob Dylan’s One Too Many Mornings, Lennon and McCartney’s Blackbird and Leonard Cohen’s Sisters Of Mercy. Seamlessly, Dion adapts to the change of style, including the blues.

After covers of Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, Lennon and McCartney and Leonard Cohen, Dion returns to the blues. He covers Sam Hopkins’ You Better Watch Yourself and Sonny Williamson’s Don’t Start Me Talking. Dion it seems, is just as comfortable playing the blues. However, he’s not above throwing in a few of his “greatest hits.”

This includes the Dick Holler penned Abraham, Martin and John. Dick also cowrote Sanctuary, the title-track of Dion’s 1971 album, with Don Burnham. However, as the show drew to a close, Dion covered two of his best known songs, The Wanderer and Lieber and Stoller’s Ruby Baby. They proved popular choices. Closing the show, was one of Dion’s own songs, Harmony Sound. After seventeen songs in fifty-five minutes, Dion left the stage to rapturous applause.

Fourteen years after releasing his debut single with The Belmonts, Dion was still going strong. The last few years hadn’t been easy. The hits had dried up for Dion. No longer was he enjoying top ten singles. However, was still making a living out of music. To do that, he had to reinvent himself as a singer-songwriter. 

That proved a shrewd move. During the early seventies, singer-songwriters like Carole King and James Taylor were among the biggest selling artists. Sadly, Dion didn’t enjoy the same success. Although Dion didn’t sell millions of albums, he still had a loyal fan-base. They continued to buy his albums, and would continue to do so.

This would be the case through the seventies and eighties. Dion regularly released albums. In 1989, Dion was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. After four decades in music, Dion a true musical chameleon, got the recognition he deserved. This didn’t mean Dion’s career was at an end.  

Far from it. By the nineties, Dion was still going strong. He wasn’t releasing albums as regularly as he once had. However, he occasionally released a new album. That was the case as a new millennia dawned. Still, Dion was writing and recording. He never lost his enthusiasm for music. Now aged seventy-six, the Bronx-born musician is a musical veteran, whose recording career has lasted over fifty years. Part of the secret of Dion’s longevity, is his willingness to evolve musically. That’s apparent on Dion Recorded Live At The Bitter End August 1971, which was recently reissued by Ace Records, and shows the former wanderer and musical chameleon, reinvent himself as a singer-songwriter.

DION RECORDED LIVE AT THE BITTER END AUGUST 1971.

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1 Comment

  1. The photo of Dion performing on April 2, 1970 is mine. My partner and I opened for him that week.

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