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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Don Ciccone and the Critters--An appreciation

("Mr. Dieingly Sad")

The Critters may be best known for one hit, the sophisticated ballad “Mr. Dieingly Sad,” which reached No. 17 in 1966—though earlier that year they had a lesser hit with a cover of Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Younger Girl.” Still, when lead singer Don Ciccone—who wrote “Mr. Dieingly Sad”--died Oct 8 at 70, he and the band received a lot of leftover love.

"He created a great hit song in ‘Mr. Dieingly Sad,’ which grabbed me in 1966 when I was a 'Mr. Dieingly Sad'-guy in music school,” recalled composer-arranger Murray Weinstock, who went on to play keyboards in New York pop-rock group Fifth Avenue Band and work with the varied likes of Dr. John, Manhattan Transfer, Phoebe Snow and the Spoonful’s John Sebastian.

"The good-time sounding ballad stayed with me through the years,” continued Weinstock, who was able to pinpoint the reason for the song’s lasting appeal. “I just listened to it recently and I now understand why it haunted me: It’s a groove ballad with a very jazzy progression complete with at least two mellow modulations. It’s harmonically infectious, with cleverly sequenced chords.”

“He’ll live on in my mind,” Weinstock added regarding Ciccone, “partly because of his mellow, cool vocal style, but also because of the brilliance of using the chord sequence--diminished chord included--under the lyric ‘You're so mystifyingly glad, I'm Mr. Dieingly Sad.’ This kind of hit, with its background vocals, is up there for me along with that of my old friend Tom Dawes' group The Cyrkle’s 'Red Rubber Ball'—which was co-wrtten by Paul Simon--and also the Hurricane Smith song, 'Oh Babe.' There is a reason why some songs are haunting, and to me it has to do with my ear being satisfied in the tension-release equation set in motion by these musical puzzles. “

Ciccone, who hailed from Jersey City, joined Frankie Valli’s Four Seasons in 1973. After leaving that group in 1981 he served as musical director and bassist for Tommy James and the Shondells.

"He was a great friend, my writing partner on many songs, and a member of The Shondells for about eight years in the 1980s,” said James via Facebook post. “We covered a lot of ground together, from his early days with The Critters to those with the Four Seasons. Another good guy gone too soon. I'll miss him very much.”

Another member of The Critters, bassist Kenny Gorka, died last year. Gorka was much-loved by New York musicians and fans for his long-time stewardship of the famed Greewich Village club the Bitter End.

("Younger Girl")



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