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Hell Yeah: “The Very Best of Neil Diamond” Set For December

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Neil Diamond announced himself to the world in 1966 with the lyrics to his song “Solitary Man.”  He sang with both defiance and resignation, “I’ll be what I am, a solitary man…”  At no time, then, was that more evident than Diamond’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March 2010.  His old friend Paul Simon pointed out in his introduction that Diamond had first been eligible for the Rock Hall in 1991 and asked, “What took so long?” Simon then, a bit devilishly, answered his own question: “Six words: ’You Don’t Bring Me Flowers’.”  He continued of Diamond’s smash 1978 duet, “It’s Barbra Streisand,” he said. “It’s not rock ‘n’ roll. I don’t even think they let that DNA near the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”  But Diamond has always stood apart from the rest. He went on to steal the show that night with a speech that was more fiercely, raggedly rock ‘n’ roll than that of Alice Cooper, Tom Waits or Leon Russell, and then proceeded to top that.  Contrary to expectation, Diamond didn’t deliver a set composed solely of his early, tougher rockers.  Instead, he delivered a triumphant rendition of a genuine anthem but hardly one thought of as rock:  “I Am…I Said.”  Yes, Neil Diamond is a solitary man of many contradictions, but his star continues to burn brightly after nearly 50 years in music.

Diamond will receive the nation’s highest arts recognition, The Kennedy Center Honors, later this year, and to celebrate the artist’s longevity, Columbia Records and Legacy Recordings are releasing The Very Best of Neil Diamond on December 6.  Hard as it may be to believe, The Very Best will be the first-ever single-CD career-spanning anthology of Diamond’s work to include the original studio recordings for the Bang, Uni, Capitol and Columbia labels.  (Past compilations have either concentrated on one label or the other, or substituted live versions for songs not controlled by the issuing label.)  Though Diamond has recorded in a variety of settings over the year, the man’s heartfelt investment in his music has always remained the same.

The collection boasts a generous 23 tracks, but difficult choices must have been made in pruning the prolific artist’s catalogue of over 30 studio albums (16 of which went Top 10) and over 50 charting singles (37 of which went Top 10).  All of Diamond’s No. 1 singles are here: 1970’s “Cracklin’ Rosie,” 1972’s “Song Sung Blue” and 1978’s “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.”  There are eight more Top 10 singles on The Very Best of Neil Diamond, spanning the period between 1966’s “Cherry, Cherry” and 1980’s “Hello, Again,” “Love on the Rocks” and “America,” all from the soundtrack to The Jazz Singer.

Hit the jump for more details, including the full track listing and discography!

Diamond’s tenure at Bert Berns’ New York-based Bang Records is covered with seven songs produced by the legendary Brill Building team of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich; the music of this rich period (anthologized earlier this year by Legacy as The Bang Years: 1966-1968) remains the cornerstone of Diamond’s career, with such titles as “I’m a Believer” and “Red Red Wine” (both of which scored hit versions by other artists), “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” and “Kentucky Woman.”  From Bang, Diamond moved to even bigger successes the Uni label.  Good times never felt so good as songs like “Sweet Caroline” and “Cracklin’ Rosie,” though Diamond also mined more introspective, moody material like “Play Me” and imbued “Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show” and “Holly Holy” with spiritual fervor.

From Uni, it was onto Columbia Records, where Diamond remains to this day.  His initial Columbia release, 1973’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull, was the soundtrack to Hall Bartlett’s adaptation of Richard Bach’s novella of the same title.  Diamond’s Grammy- and Golden Globe-winning soundtrack hit No. 2 on the pop albums chart and reportedly earned more than the film itself!  Though no tracks from Seagull have made the cut for The Very Best, Diamond was off and running.  1976’s Beautiful Noise teamed him with The Band’s Robbie Robertson, and both “If You Know What I Mean” and the title song appear on the new compilation from this beloved album.  Shortly thereafter, Diamond began a collaboration with The Four Seasons’ producer Bob Gaudio, who guided Diamond through hits like “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” “September Morn” (alas, omitted from The Very Best) and the Jazz Singer score.

Though Diamond’s pace hardly slowed up, the 1980s aren’t represented on the new set beyond The Jazz Singer.  1982’s “Heartlight” (co-written with Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager, and also not heard here) was his final Top 5 pop hit, but Diamond remained a concert draw and a popular recording artist.  His “comeback” albums produced by Rick Rubin (Johnny Cash, Red Hot Chili Peppers), 2005’s 12 Songs and 2008’s Home Before Dark, scored him some of the biggest acclaim of his career, as he returned to writing solo and playing his guitar.  Home Before Dark must have been a particularly sweet victory for Diamond when he scored his first-ever No. 1 album!  The Very Best resumes with these albums, via the tracks “Hell Yeah” and “Pretty Amazing Grace,” respectively.  (The singer continued the stripped-down approach with last year’s self-produced Dreams, a collection of cover songs largely written by Diamond’ s contemporaries.)

What’s missing?  Fans might lament the absence of “September Morn,” “Longfellow Serenade,” “Heartlight,” “Be,” “Desiree” and “Brooklyn Roads,” to name just a few beloved songs.  But what’s here appears to be a choice cross-section.  New liner notes, entitled “Recollections,” have been penned by Diamond expressly for this collection.

The Very Best of Neil Diamond arrives in stores on December 6 from Columbia and Legacy.  Shortly before that, Diamond will appear in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade; is there any doubt of the man’s status as an institution?  It’s more than clear: Neil Diamond is still “shining like a national guitar,” as Paul Simon might have said himself.

Neil Diamond, The Very Best of Neil Diamond: The Original Studio Recordings (Columbia/Legacy, 2011)

  1. Forever In Blue Jeans
  2. Beautiful Noise
  3. Love On The Rocks
  4. Cherry Cherry
  5. I Am…I Said
  6. Sweet Caroline
  7. Cracklin’ Rosie
  8. Play Me
  9. I’m A Believer
  10. Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon
  11. Holly, Holy
  12. Solitary Man
  13. Song Sung Blue
  14. You Don’t Bring Me Flowers (Duet with Barbra Streisand)
  15. Hello Again
  16. Red, Red Wine
  17. If You Know What I Mean
  18. Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show
  19. Pretty Amazing Grace
  20. Kentucky Woman
  21. Shilo
  22. America
  23. Hell Yeah

Tracks 1 & 14 from You Don’t Bring Me Flowers, Columbia FC 35625, 1978
Tracks 2 & 17 from Beautiful Noise, Columbia PC 33965, 1976
Tracks 3, 15 & 22 from The Jazz Singer, Capitol SWAV-12120, 1980
Tracks 4 & 12 from The Feel of Neil Diamond, BLP-214, 1966
Track 5 from Stones, Uni  93106, 1971
Tracks 6 & 18 from Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show, Uni 73047, 1969
Track 7 from Tap Root Manuscript, Uni 73092, 1970
Tracks 8 & 13 from Moods, Uni 93136, 1972
Tracks 9-10, 16, 20 & 21 from Just for You, Bang BLP-217, 1967
Track 11 from Touching You…Touching Me, Uni 73071, 1969
Track 19 from Home Before Dark, Columbia 88697 15465-2, 2008
Track 23 from 12 Songs, Columbia 88697 03958-2, 2005

Written by Joe Marchese

November 8, 2011 at 10:21

4 Responses

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  1. I’m not sure if I ironically want “Heartlight” to be on this set or not. (Of course, I say this as a guy who has had a lot to say about the album:

    Mike Duquette

    November 8, 2011 at 15:54

  2. I would certainly fall in the pro-“Heartlight” camp. Owning the LP is one of my earliest Diamond memories. (Along with “The Jazz Singer,” of course.) And after all, sometimes the world ain’t kind…when people get lost, like you…and me…

    Joe Marchese

    November 8, 2011 at 16:08

  3. “It’s more than clear: Neil Diamond is still “shining like a national guitar,” as Paul Simon might have said himself.”

    Fitting, since Paul inducted Neil into the Rock Hall this year… Also fitting since it’s a toss up as to which guy has more “best of” collections in his catalogue. As with the recent Simon collections, does the world really need yet another Neil greatest hits collection?

    But it does the excellent “Pretty Amazing Grace” and the not bad “Hell Yeah” (from the recent Rubin-produced albums) on it. Other than “Heartlight” (sorry, Joe) and “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” it’s a pretty decent set for the more casual fan.


    November 8, 2011 at 19:20

  4. No “Done Too Soon”. Man that’s my favorite Neil Diamond song. 😦


    November 10, 2011 at 21:09

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