Two-Bit Manchild 45 by Neil Diamond

April 27, 2013

two bit manchild

Neil Diamond had become a star with the Bang Label, 1966-1968. During 1968 he signed with the Uni Label. His second release for his new home was “Two-Bit Manchild.”

It remains one of my favorite Neil Diamond songs. It had introspective lyrics combined with up-tempo and catchy music. It just continued to build as the song progressed and included one of the better vocal performnces of his career.

How it did not become a hit I will never know. Taken from the album, VELVET GLOVES AND Spit, it was released as a single during the summer of 1968, it stalled at number 66 on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Hot 100.

Girl You’ll Be A Woman Soon 45 by Neil Diamond

March 16, 2013

girl you'll be a woman soon

After five years of struggle, Neil Diamond finally hit the big time when he signed with the Bang label in early 1966. His first four singles all reached the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Hot 100 with three reaching the top 20. All were up-tempo pop/rock songs with catchy hooks.

He went in a different direction with his fifth single for the label. “Girl You’ll Be A Woman Soon” was his first true ballad to become a hit. Released during early January of 1967, it reached number ten on the Hot 100. It was the first of dozens of ballads that would define his career.

Cherry Cherry 45 by Neil Diamond

March 13, 2013

Cherry Cherry

Neil Diamond first recorded in 1960 and spent a number of years without any commercial success. That all changed when he signed with the Bang label in 1966. His first chart single, “Solitary Man,” was a minor hit reaching number 55 on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Hot 100.

His second release for the label was the first big hit of his career and set him on the path of becoming one of the most successful male artists in music history.

“Cherry Cherry” was an up-tempo rock/pop tune released during the summer of 1966. It peaked at number six during its 12 weeks on the chart. During March of 1973, the song reappeared as a live track pulled from his HOT AUGUST NIGHT album. It reached number 31. It remains a part of his stage act.

Solitary Man 45 by Neil Diamond

February 20, 2013

solitary man

All careers have to start somewhere. Neil Diamond began writing songs during the early 1960s but “Solitary Man” was the first chart single of his career under his own name.

Diamond was signed to the Bang label and released “Solitary Man” during early May of 1967. It peaked at number 55 on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Hot 100.

It may not have been a big hit but 55 more chart singles would follow making him one of the most successful male solo artists of the rock and roll era.

Kentucky Woman 45 by Neil Diamond

February 9, 2013

kentucky woman

Today Neil Diamond is mainly remembered for his pop and easy listening hits but during his early career he could actually rock a bit now and then.

During the summer of 1967 he rocked with the top 20 hit, “Thank The Lord For The Night Time.” He followed that hit with “Kentucky Woman,” which first reached the BILLBOARD Hot 100, October 14, 1967. It peaked at number 22 during its eight weeks on the chart. The song returned to the top 40 a year later courtesy of Deep Purple.

Neil Diamond placed 56 songs on the BILLBOARD Pop Singles Chart, 1966-1988, but none so enjoyable as his early rock hits.

Cracklin’ Rosie 45 by Neil Diamond

February 6, 2013

cracklin' rosie

Neil Diamond had sold tens-of-millions of albums and charted 19 singles before he released “Cracklin’ Rosie” during the summer of 1970. It would become the first number one song of his career as it topped the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Hot 100 Singles Chart for one week. During its 15 years on the chart it sold over one-million copies.

It was a smooth up-tempo pop song that was typical of many of his hit singles. It remains one of his signature songs.

Hanky Panky 45 by Neil Diamond

July 22, 2011

Neil Diamond was not a huge star in 1968 but he had gained some attention with a series of hit singles for the Bang Label. During late 1967, he informed the label that he would be leaving and they responded by releasing just about any material they had in the vault as singles.

“New Orleans/Hanky Panky” was released January 6, 1968. While “New Orleans” was considered the A side, but many radio stations flipped it over and played “Hanky Panky.” It may have been due to the familiarity of Tommy James’ number one version.

“Hanky Panky” reached number 51 on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart during its six week stay. While it may not have been one of his better efforts, it was a bridge to his time with the Uni Label, where he would become a superstar.

Shilo 45 by Neil Diamond

May 19, 2011

“Shilo” was an afterthought in the career of Neil Diamond. He produced nine chart hits, 1966-1968, while signed to the Bang Label. He issued “Shilo during 1968 but it did not chart. He left the label for MCA later in the year and would go on to become a superstar.

As the hits began to come on MCA, his old label decided to reissue “Shilo” during early 1970. This time it became a hit reaching number 24 on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Single Chart.

It was a mid-tempo pop/rock song that contained a typical gravel type vocal by Diamond. It is a lost gem from the early part of his career.

The Bang Years: 1966-1968 by Neil Diamond

April 19, 2011

Neil Diamond’s career has passed the 50-year mark and a recent highlight was his induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame on March 14, 2011. His albums and singles have sold over 115 million copies worldwide and he remains a leading concert attraction.

Diamond has embraced many types and styles of music during the course of his long career. During the last decade he produced several stripped-down albums, which were well received. He released a number of easy listening albums during the 1990’s. The most notable period of his career, 1968-1990, found him as one of the best and most popular pop artists in the world. Yet he began his recording career as a gritty rock/pop artist with the Bang label, 1966-1968.

After serving as a songwriter at the Brill Building — which hired people to write material for other artists — and releasing several unsuccessful singles under his own name, Diamond signed with Bert Berns’ independent Bang label in early 1966. It was a match made in heaven as 13 of his recordings for the label would reach the American singles chart.

Columbia Records has just released The Bang Years 1966-1968, which has gathered 23 of his Bang recordings onto one CD, just about covering his entire output for the label. All of his hits of the time are present, plus some B-sides and a few cover songs. They have also released everything in their original mono format.

The material is a welcome addition for any fan of Neil Diamond. While much of it has been reissued in the past, it is now easily available and all in one place. My only complaint is the mix is a little off — and I am being kind. They were working with the original masters and thus should have been able to produce a cleaner sound.

On the very positive side, the packaging is excellent. The liner notes by Diamond himself shed new light onto the songs. There are a few rare pictures which should please anyone even remotely interested in his career. The CD itself is a recreation of the old Bang label.

This early material, mostly released as singles, was the first time he came to the attention of the music-buying public and would set the stage for his becoming a superstar later with the MCA and Columbia labels. His time with Bang may have been short, but he managed to produce a number of memorable songs.

His rockers — “Cherry Cherry,” “Kentucky Woman,” “You Got To Me,” and “I Thank The Lord For The Night Time” — are some of the best of their type that the sixties would produce. His ballads, both slow and mid-tempo, are likewise excellent. “Girl, You”ll Be A Woman Soon” remains a well-constructed and moving song over forty years after its original release. I rank it and “I Thank The Lord For The Night Time” as two of my Top 10 Neil Diamond songs; and that covers a lot of material.

The cover songs, however, are somewhat hit or miss. He manages to pull off “Red Rubber Ball” and “La Bamba.” He gives a tongue-in-cheek performance of “Hanky Panky,” which makes it palatable. The only real misses are his interpretations of “Monday Monday” and “New Orleans.” A nice inclusion is his take on his own “I’m A Believer,” which was a big hit for The Monkees.

There are also a number of lesser known tracks — “The Boat That I Row,” “The Long Way Home,” “I’ll Come Running,” “Someday Baby,” and “I’ve Got The Feeling” — that are welcome additions and make the album overall very worthwhile.

The Bang Years 1966-1968 is a welcome addition to the Neil Diamond catalogue as the collection resurrects an often overlooked period of his career. The music is five stars all the way. It’s just too bad the same cannot be said for the production.

Article first published as Music Review: Neil Diamond – The Bang Years 1966-1968 on Blogcritics.

Hot August Night/NYC (DVD) by Neil Diamond

September 29, 2009

I have been a Neil Diamond fan since his early days recording for the old Bang Label and 45’s of such hits as “Solitary Man,” “Cherry Cherry,” “Girl You’ll Be A Woman Soon,” “Thank The Lord For The Night Time,” and “Kentucky Woman” still reside in my record collection.

In 1972 I bought the original Hot August Night, followed by Hot August Night II in 1987. Now I have Hot August Night/NYC.

This DVD has a lot to recommend. It was filmed during his four sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden during August of 2008. The sound and the visual quality are both excellent. He surrounds himself with a band complete with brass which fills in the sound and makes many of the performances very dynamic. He also uses background singers who provide great help to his vocals.

I have seen Neil Diamond in concert several times plus have a number of his live recordings and this may be his most consistent vocally. His voice may not be as strong as it was forty years ago but he controls it well and does not overreach. I have heard him when it was scratchy and sounding tired but that is not the case here.

The two-hour, twenty-six-song concert is a combination of the new and old with a few surprises. There is also a DVD bonus feature titled “Welcome Home Neil” where he returns to his old Brooklyn neighborhood.

“Holly Holy” gets the concert off to a good start with the use of the aforementioned brass. “Cherry Cherry,” “Thank The Lord For The Night Time,” “Cracklin’ Rosie,” “Sweet Caroline,” and “I Am…I Said” all are performed to a warm audience reaction. I’ve personally seen him at times totally ignores his band but here he allows them to shine a little on their own.

The inclusion of “Street Life” is an unusual but wise decision as it is one of the strongest tracks. “I’m A Believer,” which became a hit for The Monkees, is also resurrected. Throw in “Brooklyn Roads” and “Done Too Soon” and you have a nice selection of lesser-known tunes.

Appearing for the first time live are such songs as “Home Before Dark,” “Don’t Go There,” and “Man Of God,” all of which fit in nicely.

Rousing versions of “America” and “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show” bring the concert to a satisfying conclusion.

One more bonus is included—a CD entitled Neil Diamond 10 Favorites—which supposedly consists of some of Neil’s favorite tunes. While there is nothing really new it is perfect for the car CD player.

As he nears the fifty-year mark in his career, Neil Diamond is who he is and Hot August Night/NYC presents him at his best, making for a nice retrospective of his long and illustrious career. It is a must for his fans.