vespers

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.)

2 thoughts on “One for Friday — The Sicilian Vespers, “Baccala”

  1. This post brought a honking huge grin to my face–I thought my sister, cousin, and I were the only people alive who remembered this tune! Being of Portuguese descent, we grew up with many codfish dinners, though our people call it “bacalhau.” So when “Baccala” came out, it gladdened our hearts and made Friday nights during Lent more bearable (due to the inevitable boiled cod dinner) (ugh). Even now, when we’re at family gatherings where (a much more enjoyable roasted) cod is on the menu, one of us will sing the guitar riff and the others will chime in with, “Baccala!” Thanks for this–time to go dig up my Sicilan Vespers CD (featuring the also fun “Goodbye Renee.”)

    1. I’m always startled when anyone outside of a very narrow window at my college radio station knows this band. It was #1 at the station the week it went out, and the music director at the time always took it as a point of pride that our week with it at the top corresponded with the album’s very brief appearance on the CMJ Top 200 (at, I think 199). I’m glad I gave you an excuse to listen to it again!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s