Neil Diamond Album OverviewPart 1: 1966-1967 The Rock n' Rollin' Bang Years
Neil Diamond's active period with Bang Records from 1966-1967 was characterized by relatively simple lyrics and chord structures, but the songs themselves are (still) so ebullient and fun to listen to that even today's critics find it hard to find fault with them. But, even good things had to come to an end. By the time he'd reached his mid-20's, Neil wanted to write about more personal and more serious subject matter, and break out of the bright, bubblegum mold that he was in. He did not get the artistic freedom he wanted from Bang, so he had to move to Uni Records in 1968.
At the time of this writing, over 50% of the Bang catalog is not available on CD. The only way to obtain the remainder of the music is to spend some time hunting for the old albums at collectable record stores. And the only way to play them is to (of course) own a turntable and keep it in prime working condition. The Feel of Neil was Neil's first album, and had developed the status of "Collector's Item" recently. It did not sell very well initially, plus it had not gone through as many re-releases as his other Bang titles. Back in 1966, Neil was definitely rock n' roll. Although he had gained a reputation as a songwriter even at that early stage in his career, about half of the songs on The Feel of Neil are cover versions of (then) contemporary hits. Songs like "Red Rubber Ball" and "New Orleans" are excellent- so "Neil" that they sound just like the material that he had written himself. Other covers, "La Bamba" and "Hanky Panky" sound as if they were recorded with tongue firmly in cheek. Neil's own compositions range from the introspective "Solitary Man" to the exuberant "Cherry Cherry". Even with the slower numbers ("Oh No No", "I'll Come Running", "Do It"), Neil had not lost sight of the importance of the beat, and this album just throbs with youthful energy and excitement. It's a great "party album". But, then again, you wouldn't just slap on a rare expensive collector's item on the turntable at your next dance party... it's too bad that it's not available on CD.
Neil's second Bang album, Just For You, continues in the footsteps of his first- primarily uptempo, acoustic rhythm guitar driven rock n' roll, with a lot of hand-clapping, and easily digestible catchy choruses. The production values had improved a bit, with strings added to several of the songs ("Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" and "Shilo") and some slightly more sophisticated mixing (instead of the 3-point wide stereo of FON). 2 songs, "The Long Way Home" and "You'll Forget" are possibly not as enjoyable as they could be, since they were never properly mixed to stereo, and had been converted to an awful fake stereo for the LP. Just for You contains, unfortunately, 2 duplicates from from the previous album, "Solitary Man" and "Cherry Cherry" when it should have had the then-current hit, "Kentucky Woman" and its flip-side "The Time is Now" (the other hit 45's had preceded the album release by as much as 9 months). But, Bang had making money on its mind (as we shall soon see...) Despite these annoyances, Just For You is still a good "party" album.
It's rather impressive to know that Neil had racked-up 9 Top 40 hits on Bang, after releasing only 2 albums and one non-LP single. 8 of these are on Bang's first "hits" package, Neil Diamond's Greatest Hits. The remainder of the album is filled-out with a few album tracks, of which "Hanky Panky" is the only one that doesn't sound like a potential hit. Most copies of this album are stereo, and certain songs like "Solitary Man", "Do It" and "Kentucky Woman" are in fake stereo, which makes them a little difficult to listen to here. Like most 60's hit packages, this album was eventually superceded by more comprehensive collections, in Neil's case, like Double Gold.
This article is Copyright 1999, K.F. Louie. May not be reproduced without the written permission of the author.
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