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Pissing off the Taste Police with Neil Diamond

August 13th, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

Forget the smoothie housewives’ favourite with the lamé jacket, blow-dry and black-dye coiffure, hairy chest, cowboy boots and glittering name prone to singing lame songs about forever living in blue jeans and nauseating duets with Barbra Streisand. The pre-crooner Neil Diamond should be ranked as a pop legend. Alas, the Lamé & Steisand cheesiness robbed this great songwriter of credibility and respect.

It’s an injustice. Divorce Lamé Neil from his earlier incarnation as the writer and performer of songs that should be regarded as classics, and revisit his back catalogue. You will find works of near-genius there. Then, if you will, listen to his 2005 album 12 Songs, produced by Rick Rubin, to discover that the man has lost nothing, even in his 60s.

The fact that Diamond ranks third in the all-time bestselling Billboard Charts list “” after Elton John and Babs “” should neither impress (I mean, look who’s second) nor repel. With Neil Diamond there is no need to analyse socio-musical effect. With Neil Diamond, there is only the music. And among the seaweed, there are many oysters, most bearing pearls.

How many people thought that the most popular song from the very good Pulp Fiction soundtrack was an Urge Overkill original? I bear no ill will towards the cover version of Neil Diamond’s superior 1967 original; in fact, I rather like it. But the success of “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon” did not help rehabilitate Diamond reputation. It should have had people scurrying towards the far superior original.
Neil Diamond – Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon.mp3

Perhaps the best-known Neil Diamond songs is “Sweet Caroline” (1969). Even the branches of the Taste Police which despised the man would acknowledge that it is a cracking song, while possibly playing it for “ironic” effect. No need for irony, this is one of the great pop songs, with its memorable keyboard intro, the restrained verse, the soaring chorus, and especially the phrasing of the line that ends with the climactic “…touching me, touching you”, drenched with sexual desire.
Neil Diamond – Sweet Caroline.mp3

Imagine Leonard Cohen and Burt Bacharach — two of the finest songwriters in a decade chockful with genius songwriters — writing a song together: the result might be something as excellent like the autobiographical “Brooklyn Roads” (1968). And that places Neil Diamond right up there with the great songwriters of the 1960s.
Neil Diamond – Brooklyn Roads.mp3

Neil Diamond’s “I’m A Believer” is generally regarded as a Monkees song, and his country song “Red, Red Wine” (1967) is usually associated with reggae-karaoke combo UB40 (whose cover version was based on that by Tony Tribe released in 1969). It’s time to reclaim these songs for our man.
Neil Diamond – Red Red Wine (live).mp3

The great songwriter was keen to record cover versions himself. His 1971 album Stones, with its great title song, includes covers of songs by Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Roger Miller, Jacques Brel and Randy Newman. A couple of years earlier, while still in his Tin Pan Alley phase, Diamond recorded the standard “Mr Bojangles”, doing a very good job of it, though not eclipsing Sammy Davis Jr’s definitive interpretation.
Neil Diamond – Mr Bojangles.mp3

At what point did Neil Diamond jump the shark? It was more case of gently climbing on top of the shark, and sliding down on the other side. In his pomp, Diamond released semi-schlock like “Song Sung Blue”, which set the scene for the lamé period. The pretentious, but actually not altogether bad, Jonathan Seagull Livingstone came out at around the same time as the outstanding live set Hot August Night, in which Diamond rocked and sang songs blue in equal measures (the air-wanking-lion cover itself was remarkable). The difficulty with Lamé Neil is that even during that period, he wrote some very good songs. There is nothing wrong with a song such as “America” from the awful 1980 film version of The Jazz Singer, other than its revolting arrangement (and its association with Michael Dukakis’ disastrous 1988 presidential campaign). Even “Beautiful Noise”, a lamé song drenched liberally in lamé oil, is at its base a pretty good song. It just needs to be re-recorded (without some clown going crazy on his newfangled synthethizer).
Neil Diamond – Beautiful Noise.mp3

By 2005, few people really expected to hear from Neil Diamond again (nostalgia appearances and his obituary aside). Then Rick Rubin did for ND what he had previously done for Johnny Cash: give a supposedly superannuated singer another shot at delivering a credible work of art. Unlike Cash, Diamond came up with a set of original tracks to make up the stunning 12 Songs, an album of immediate intimacy and depth in beauty. I hope that ND will leave it at that, concluding his long career with a set of restrained songs that don’t hit you in the face, as the Sweet Carolines, but creep under your skin and touch your soul.
Neil Diamond – Save Me A Saturday Night.mp3

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  1. terryinwva
    August 13th, 2007 at 20:29 | #1

    i was a big fan of the early neil diamond and even saw him in concert in the 70’s. but after “i am, i said”, i kinda lost interest.

  2. Any major dude with half a heart
    August 13th, 2007 at 21:13 | #2

    Yeah, I can empathise. “I Am…I Said” was the beginning of the looong lamé phase. But seek out 12 Songs; it’s excellent.

  3. Paul
    August 14th, 2007 at 04:31 | #3

    I’d heard some good reviews of 12 Songs… I’ll have to check it out now. I was admittedly wary, because well… it’s Neil Diamond… now… but, I suppose Rick Rubin production makes it worth sussing out.

  4. Anonymous
    August 14th, 2007 at 05:18 | #4

    Heard Rick Rubin’s Diamond after Rolling Stone praised it so highly. Didn’t do much for me, but it did wash out some of the 80’s taste (or lack of it). What exactly makes Rosie “cracklin”? Never made sense even as one of his many throw-away pop hits you’re supposed to sing without really paying attention. Ah well. Obla di…

  5. A Dashing Blade
    August 14th, 2007 at 19:49 | #5

    Totally spot on with your assessment of him, posted am early 70’s greatest hits vinyl rip a couple of months ago.

  6. Steve
    August 15th, 2007 at 22:13 | #6

    Neil Diamond could sing the menu at a local restaurant and make it sound like he’s making a statement.The dude rocks.And, I’m not afraid to admit that I like “I am…I said”, EXCEPT for the chair part. It doesn’t even really rhyme that well with “there” anyway.I wish he’d re-record that and come up with a better lyric.

  7. Anonymous
    August 15th, 2007 at 23:56 | #7

    Not sure what is wrong with “I Am I Said”.It is an interesting song with its mataphors (the frog who became king),mislocation (New YorkCity artist “lost” in LA).And cries of loneliness.Yes,the “chair” line is weird.But I read that it was inspired by Neil Diamond’s shrink telling him to talk to the chair.So that line is probably not as weird to him. “Cracklin Rosie” is about a wine with the same name.and yeah,12 Songs is an amazing album.I especially love the two Leonard Cohen type songs-What’s It Gonna Be &I’m On To You.Save Me a Saturday Night is also very good-pure Brill Building era pop rock.

  8. Anonymous
    August 16th, 2007 at 02:15 | #8

    I think that neil diamond jumped the shark after 1976.Beautiful Noise (produced by Robbie Robertson of the Band) is a pretty good rock album.There is even touches of R&B,gospel and punky glam in some of the songs.

  9. Anonymous
    August 16th, 2007 at 18:46 | #9

    AHH. Thanks, other anonymous. “Cracklin Rosie” is actually “Crackling Rose,” a cheap wine. And Neil was singing about it as if it was his woman, ’cause he’s pulling a Randy Newman and writing as a character, not a rich rock star who can get any lady he wants. Oh, I love my Rosie childYou got the way to make me happyYou and me we go in styleCracklin’ Rose,You’re a store-bought womanBut you make me sing like a guitar hummin’So hang on to me, girl,Our song keeps runnin’ onPlay it now, play it nowPlay it now, my babyGLUG, GLUG, GLUG…See, Neil gets so little respect. I wasn’t treating him like the poet he is.

  10. Evan
    August 20th, 2007 at 23:40 | #10

    G, “Sweet Caroline” is played at Boston Red Sox games. If you saw the “Fever Pitch” remake, they included it in there–the fans have a big sing-a-long.

  11. ally.
    May 29th, 2008 at 09:05 | #11

    gawd bless – we love neil round here. shilo has me weeping into my beer every time…x

  12. Chuck’s Mass. Adventure
    July 26th, 2008 at 19:56 | #12

    Can anyone interpret “Stones” for me. I have rediscoved ND after years of not listening and the meaning of it is driving me craze

  13. Any major dude with half a heart
    July 26th, 2008 at 22:51 | #13

    I think it’s Neil pledging to be a better better romantic experience to the woman he’s addressing than her previous partners.The first verse tells of her past experiences:Stones would play inside her headAnd where she slept,They made her bedAnd she would acheFor love and get but stonesThe “la la la” part is Neil getting his thoughts together.The second verse he’s starting to make promises so grandiose that her past bad experiences will make being Mrs Diamond so much better:Lordy child [only ND can sing that]A good day’s comin’And I’ll be there to let the sun inAnd bein’ lostIs worth the comin’ homeThe next lot of la la las seems to be mocking the stones (i.e. her past loser boyfriends/husband)And in the third verse he’s making all her dreams come true. They’ll be having an active sex life which will produce a baby (cue end of active sex life), it’ll be everything she wanted. And in true Neil Diamond fashion, he imagines himself as a bit of a handsome weed, with her being one toe.You and me, a time for plantingYou and me, a harvest grantingThe every prayer ever prayedFor just two wild flowers that growOr at least that’s what I make of it. For all I know he’s on about the consumption of drugs.

  14. Chuck’s Mass. Adventure
    July 27th, 2008 at 21:28 | #14

    Thanks. Its better than anythingI could come up with. Best I could do with that first verse is that she fantasized about the Rolling Stones, and as a result, her she could only get love from them

  15. Anonymous
    October 4th, 2009 at 21:59 | #15

    lordy child… a good day’s coming

    a time for planting lol

    what a freak

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