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Neil Diamond The Bang Years: 1966-1968 Review

Compilation. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

Diamond’s brilliant early solo recordings, freshly re-presented in warm mono.

Mike Diver 2011

Enjoying a new lease of creative life since hooking up with Rick Rubin for 12 Songs in 2005, Neil Diamond is a man with the world at his feet once more. Critically, he’s more feted than he’s been since The Jazz Singer, released in 1980 and to date his definitive recorded statement. Commercially, he’s doing pretty well, too, with big UK shows scheduled for this summer. Between now and those concerts, fans of the man whose Brill Building work helped shape the pop landscape of the mid-60s can enjoy this interesting collection: 23 mono tracks from the period where Diamond was only beginning to make his name as an artist in his own right.

Bang Records, founded in 1965, was an offshoot of Atlantic. The label enjoyed immediate success with a series of singles, and Diamond’s Solitary Man was one of them, cracking the US chart in the spring of 66 – and it’d return there again in 1970, charting higher still. The song opens this compilation, followed by Cherry Cherry, which would prove to be the singer’s solo breakthrough. Peaking at number six on the Billboard Hot 100, the little three-chord wonder, a masterwork of compositional economy, marked the moment where Diamond stepped out from the shadow of acts he’d written for – The Monkees, most famously – and into his own spotlight. One million sales later, it remains a remarkable number, the sort of strum-along instant-fix hit that no amount of overplaying can dull.

Much of Diamond’s Bang Records output was produced by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, whose professional partnership (and love affair) had blossomed at the Brill Building, leading to songs including Be My Baby, Da Doo Ron Ron and The Ronettes’ evergreen Baby, I Love You. Having such talent behind the scenes – and, occasionally, in the background on the recordings themselves – ensured that Diamond was unlikely to go too awry quality wise. So the hits keep coming: his own version of I’m a Believer, included on his 1967 LP Just for You, is a warming gumbo of bulging brass and twanging guitar; Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon (immeasurably better than the Urge Overkill/Pulp Fiction cover) was his second top 10 hit; and Red Red Wine resonates with heartache less apparent on UB40’s chart-topping take of 1983.

Diamond would soon grow uncomfortable at Bang, hence the short time period this release covers. Legal complications regarding his departure from the label would drag on into the 1970s: something of a sour aftertaste following the sweetness of the songs themselves. But Diamond was right to fight for control of these compositions: they’re his, and he’s always been the master when it comes to performing them.

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