One of the greatest singers in the history of rock & roll, Dion DiMucci has also lived one of the music’s most compelling stories. Dion and the Belmonts rocketed to fame in the late Fifties with hits like “I Wonder Why” and “A Teenager in Love.” Dion soon went solo and continued his dominance of the charts with “Runaround Sue” and, his best-known song, “The Wanderer.” Like all rock stars of that time, Dion was groomed to become a supper-club staple — doomed to purveying insipid versions of his songs alongside showbiz comedians and chorus girls. He rejected that path and instead embarked on a deeply personal musical journey — with ventures into folk, blues and gospel — that continues to this day.
Dion’s wanderings are perfectly captured on King of the New York Streets, a smartly assembled box set that, in the course of three CDs, gets to the heart of a complex, often misunderstood artist. The early songs are masterpieces of pop attitude; Dion’s falsetto soaring and his intensely rhythmic phrasing — now lingering behind the beat, now racing ahead of it — rival Sinatra’s. But his soulful readings of songs like Dylan’s “Spanish Harlem Incident” and Tom Waits’ “Lookin’ for the Heart of Saturday Night” will surprise anyone who has Dion pegged as a strutting teen idol. This set’s booklet includes tributes by Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon and Lou Reed — artists who have felt his powerful influence. “In his voice,” Dylan writes, “he tells the untold story in the seemingly secret language.” Neither the story nor the language is secret anymore: King of the New York Streets has revealed them in all their shimmering glory.