Thirty years ago, in 1988, the Sicilian Vespers released their self-titled debut LP. Comprised of Pittsburgh brothers David and Francis Rifugiato, the band delivered bouncily jagged punk pop music with notably off-kilter lead vocals. I take great delight in imagining the reactions at first listening of college radio programmers across the nation. The needle drops onto opening track “Baccala,” a thumping backbeat is quickly joined by a rusty razor guitar riff, all is good. Then, about ten seconds in, David’s vocals surge forward, all nasal and keening as he sings, “It’s a dumb baccala!/ Baccala!/ It’s a buncha dead fish!”
What little attention the Sicilian Vespers received at the time often centered on attempts to describe the mellifluous sound of David’s voice. Cash Box wrote he “sounds like gulps helium before stepping up to the microphone” and “sounds like a cartoon character,” eventually concluding he suggests “a completely tone-deaf Johnny Rotten with a cold.” The Chicago Tribune kept it a little simpler in a more appreciative review, invoking the babbling lunacy of vintage Jerry Lewis.
Many years later, when Francis (going by Fran) had moved on to other, less purposefully abrasive music pursuits, he acknowledged that the Sicilian Vespers were something of a gag, calling the band’s material “tongue-in-cheek experimental music.” Sicilian Vespers was right there in heavy rotation when I joined my college radio station. I don’t know how seriously I or my cohorts took their banging tracks, but many of us unabashedly adored the raucousness they delivered. For me, the duo’s album represented everything I hoped college radio would be. Simply put, I was getting a chance to discover music I was absolutely certain I wouldn’t find anywhere else.
Listen or download —> The Sicilian Vespers, “Baccala”
(Disclaimer: I feel quite confident Sicilian Vespers is no longer available for purchase in a physical format that would properly compensate both the original artist and the proprietor of your favorite local, independently owned record store. On the other hand, the full release does seem to be available at for digital acquisition at CD Baby, presumably putting money directly in the pockets of the Rifugiatos. I’m sharing this track as encouragement to go out and buy more of their music, not as a replacement for doing so. Although I feel this qualifies as fair use, I will gladly and promptly remove this file from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)