Dion Week No 4: Daddy Rollin' (in your Arms) - Dion
Unlike many sixties rock luminaries that came from New York, Dion DiMucci came from a poor home. Carole King, Neil Sedaka, Paul Simon, Neil Diamond and even Lou Reed, all came from middleclass backgrounds whereas Dion was born and raised in relative poverty on the tough side of the Bronx. As a teenager, he was a member of one of the most feared gangs in the area, not that too much should be attributed to this: membership of one gang or another was an aid to social and physical survival.
Another aid was partaking in alcohol and drugs, so that by the time of his first hit with the Belmonts he was eighteen years old and already taking heroine. His attempts to break free of his addiction could not have been helped by his being the only headline survivor of the 1959 Winter Dance Party tragedy in which the other stars, Buddy Holly, Ritchie ("La Bamba") Valens and the Big Bopper all died. At the age of nineteen, with no PTSD counselling available or even heard of, the burden on Dion must have been considerable, especially as he'd tossed a coin with Ritchie Valens for the final seat on the plane, won, and then, because of his qualms about spending so much money on a short flight (see last post) and because Valens, used to the heat of homestate California, was really suffering from the sub-zero temperatures in their tour bus, let him have the seat anyway.
So, by the time of his waning chart fortunes in 1968, he was struggling with major heroine addiction and Laurie, his record label, was considering dropping him as his contract was due to end. They relented and renewed it, on condition he recorded "Abraham, Martin and John" written by Richard Holler, a songwriter who'd been scribing other songs for Laurie performers. Dion obliged, the resultant release signalling a change in his musical direction: lush strings and a country pop treatment of the classic that Marvin Gaye later recorded and claimed as his own (see four five posts ago). The single was a hit, reaching No 4 in the US charts. Dion's part of the bargain was that he could choose the song for the B-Side of the single.
One of the great things about the vinyl era, and the age where the 45 rpm (revolutions per minute) 7 inch single ruled, was the joy of the B-side, often a small treasure hidden away behind a hit, and "Daddy Rollin' (in your Arms)" is a good example of this. Dion's showing us he can do rock too, but the real reason why he's using this genre is because it's the best musical backdrop against which to express the torment of his heroine addiction. The ominous guitar and subdued drum intro sounds like a subway train emerging from a tunnel, and the opening words, "Can't stand leaving you, babe" come whining out of the darkness like the mewing of a wounded cat. According to Dion, "I recorded it in the back of a bowling alley with a bunch of Jamaicans. We were banging on cardboard boxes. I had my Gibson Birdland guitar and we just let it roll.” Just the kind of place where you'd score your drugs from the man. Certainly the track has a raw "garage" feel, and the words are dark, evocative and mysterious, the meaning always just eluding the listener. What is this "one-hundred" that he's found? Who is Mr Barker?
"Can't stand leavin' you babe I'm in the cold and found one-hundred babe I'm awful down a mile ago. in the cold I found one-hundred babe, I'm awful down all the way.
Gonna have your sweet lovin', daddy rollin' in your arms. Gonna jump on Mr. Barker's ship, skip across the ocean like a stone. Gonna jump on Mr. Barker's ship, Skip 'cross the ocean like a stone.
Gonna have your sweet lovin', daddy rollin' in your arms. There's a caravan that's wingin' me babe, gonna fly me to your door. There's a caravan gettin' warm enough for me And I feel, baby, carry me to your door.
Gonna have your sweet lovin', daddy rollin' in your arms,
Listen, well the super Jesus bird, Carry daddy rollin' back home to you, You're the sweetest little angel baby, Can't stand to leave you alone, Oh, oh, yeah mama, oh You're gonna have your sweet lovin', daddy rollin' in your arms."
On one level it could be a love song, but it's Dion's agonised vocal that tells the truth, that the love that he keeps coming back to is heroine. When he recorded this, he had just kicked the habit, supposedly for the final time, so it's an extraordinary song from the blue-eyed Italian prince of rock 'n' roll, a coded confession and a piece of therapy. Rehab never sounded so dark, nor so good.