Friday, June 24, 2011

Neil Diamond - The Bang Years 1966-1968

Looking back on my youth, I remember my father getting all worked up about Neil Diamond’s Hot August Night album, declaring it to be one of the best live albums ever. I’ve yet to obtain a copy to see if his assessment was right, but I’ll agree that he was pretty spot on with a similar critique of Live At Leeds.

All of his talk about Neil Diamond heightened during the time when he tapped Robbie Robertson to man the controls for Beautiful Noise. My dad was certain that the pairing would turn out as legendary as it must have looked on paper.

After he played it, I had a chance to sample it for myself. During this time, Aerosmith was the shit, as was Humble Pie, Peter Frampton, Alice Cooper, and those legendary artists that dad turned me on to when I was first transfixed with the shitty turntable in my bedroom.

For me, Beautiful Noise was so tepid that I began to understand Diamond’s appeal was isolated to generations that were older than me-like my father. I didn’t question my father’s authority about what was good in music, but I had begun to establish my own grounds as to what I felt was good.

For me, the quality of good depended on one thing: a talkbox. Aerosmith used one on “Toys In The Attic.” Joe Walsh whipped one out for “Rocky Mountain Way.” And Peter Frampton used one to ask us if we felt like he did.

I don’t remember Diamond bringing out a talkbox, so maybe that was the problem.

At the same time, I don’t think there’s a person on earth who can resist Neil Diamond’s early pop landmarks. It was after all of that Brill Building assembly line work, when Diamond began to enjoy the spoils of his art and write songs about seagulls, immigration and alien Muppet characters with healing powers.

Can you blame me for completely dismissing Diamonds talents? And with a recent comeback attempt-a “comeback” from what I don’t clearly understand as he’s logged well over three decades of immensely popular tours with that aforementioned fan base-stuck in the mud thanks to some shortsighted label product that acts like a flesh-eating virus on your computer, I still could safely keep Neil Diamond’s output in the North Miami Beach Retirement Village’s record collection and not have to deal with him.

But the fucker goes out and finally gets the issues with his old label resolved just as the world is preparing to kiss the cd format goodbye forever. So yeah, The Bang Years is a last effort cash-in before the whole shithouse goes up in flames, lending what young Neil Diamond fans there are left to scrounge around for free bits on the internet, lending Diamond to continue his Hot August Night revivals well into his 70’s and under the assistance of a Rascal scooter.

Don’t misconstrue my cynicism as attack on the material presented on The Bang Years. This is easily a five-star collection that deserves a place in everyone’s home, even those smartass critics who were happy when the family cocker spaniel puked on the cover of Beautiful Noise causing their father to pitch the record in disgust.

My resentment comes from the amount of time it took in releasing this gem and is yet another example of how the chickens have certainly come home to roost in terms of record label greed and their moronic leadership who couldn’t get their shit together enough to lend a hand in getting a comprehensive compilation together for younger generations to examine.

Regardless, it’s a blessing that they have, presenting Diamond’s whirlwind two year tenure with Bang! Records in full monophonic glory that the songs will fart from your earbuds in much the same way they must have from shitty car speakers during their first proclamation.

In other words, as good as this music is, it ain’t the type to split hairs over fidelity and separation. Save that shit for the Jonathan Living Seagull MOR schlock that came after Uni and Columbia records noticed Diamond’s money-making services with the shuffleboard set and Martini & Rossi housewives.

This is tight, concise pop music, composed with purpose and drive (Diamond had a newborn to support at the time) delivered with a sense of urgency that made it hard to resist. The added focus worked as Diamond finally began to chart some of his own success with these songs when other artists didn’t cover them to their own advantage.
One of the immediate things you’ll notice is Diamond’s impeccable use of rhythm, from the double-time acoustic rhythms that serve as high-hats to the rhythmic handclaps (like on “Cherry Cherry”) that immediately serve as hip-shaking stimuli. It’s a glorious urban day throughout this material, and the course of his two sole long-players for Bang Are over quickly, giving you the added pleasure of starting over to recapture the joy that was inexcusably gone for far too long

The Bang Years will change your mind about Neil Diamond, or at least tolerate the adult contemporary schmaltz that came after his brief tenure at the label. Will it make you sing along with drunk strangers during the eighth inning at Fenway, tolerate even the most gaudy of sequined jacket he dons, or find you agreeing to the declaration of “I Am…I Said?”

Maybe not. But you’ll understand every bit of adulation and find yourself on the right side of history when it comes time to chart this man’s impressive tenure.

Father does knows best as it turned out. He just didn’t have enough sense to start me out on the very same place that Diamond began with: the two-and-a-half minute pop song.

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