FROM THE DESK OF DAVE RADSTOCK
GREATEST HITS ALBUMS
Is there another artist who has more greatest hits compilations than Neil Diamond? Every so often a new release is issued containing Neil’s greatest songs, some are repackaged copies of older issues, where others are wholly new releases, claiming to contain those songs which are regarded as
Neil Diamond’s finest, and yet there are startling omissions in some of them. It is hard to say which one is the definitive greatest hits package of Neil Diamond. This series is going to showcase those albums which lay claim to be the greatest, Greatest Hits album.
For over fifty years, Neil Diamond has been the people’s singer. From his early days as a Brill Building songwriter for hire, to his presence in arenas all over the world, Diamond has shared his catchy, hard to classify songs with the masses. It wasn’t unusual to see two or more generations of family attending his shows together. Neil Diamond was the consummate performer, giving his all, night after night. His fans are unashamedly devoted to the man, and grew up with his songs as the background music to their lives. For his younger fans, he’s a kind of a guilty secret.
Long before the Jazz Singer, and before those late 70s smashes, ‘Forever In Blue Jeans’, ‘September Morn’, and ‘Beautiful Noise’, this was the holy grail of Neil Diamond’s output, a time when Diamond was the king of romance, of wistful love songs, and undeniably the finest songwriter of the era, that each of the tracks on this collection is regarded as an all time standard is a measure of, and testimony to the brilliance of the work.
All those mega hits are here, ‘Sweet Caroline’, ‘Cracklin Rosie’, ‘Holly Holy’, ‘Cherry Cherry’, ‘Play Me’, ‘Song Sung Blue’. These are complimented further by many more classic standards, ‘Shilo’,’ Kentucky Woman’, ‘Solitary Man’, every song hits the mark and is a veritable ride of nostalgia.
NEIL DIAMOND 20 GOLDEN GREATS - (1978)
This was the first greatest hits collection of Neil Diamond I bought. I purchased the tape cassette version, and to this day I still believe it is the definitive Greatest Hits Collection of Neil Diamond.
The album cover instantly grabs your attention, a jet black cover with Neil Diamond’s name spelled out in encrusted diamonds, glittering beneath the gold album title. There is a monochrome image of Neil in trademark pose, arm outstretched in that iconic, emotive stance, a perfect example of less is more.
The title is just as emotive as the image, “20 Golden Greats”, it conjures up majesty, greatness, and the ultimate work of the artist, articulating that there is something uniquely special contained within, and so there is...
During the time these songs were written, Neil Diamond sat atop the music landscape as the number one artist, both recording, and performance. This album showcases the innate ability to write heartfelt songs, of life and love.
The album was released in 1978 and is a ride through a young troubadour's musical journey. The songs are presented in their purest form, as they were originally intended, free from any bombast they may have acquired over the years, and showcase Neil Diamond as a stylist, romanticist and poetic wordsmith. It is a musical nirvana, where every song sparkles as brightly as those Diamonds glittering on the album cover.
Gorgeous True Believer, Anneke van Aalderen was fortunate to catch up with King Errisson in Amsterdam in 2017. King was there for Neil Diamond's 50th Anniversary World Tour (2017).
Photo by kind permission and courtesy of Anneke van Aalderen
Many people criticised the album stating that it included too many “Live Cuts” but they missed the point entirely, this was an opportunity for Neil Diamond to showcase his current tour, and himself in a “Live” setting at that time, and of the 37 songs on the album, there are fourteen “Live” versions of popular classics, two of the Live cuts really standout for me, ‘Brooklyn Roads’, and ‘Morningside’ where Neil delivers them both with great poignancy, the build up of instrumentation on ‘Brooklyn Roads’ lifts the song to a whole new level, a fabulous rendition. ‘Morningside’ is presented superbly, where Neil introduces the song as a story of an old man, and of a gift, and it is a dream, and it is a fantasy, Neils vocals are fabulous on this, where we feel the sadness within the song, and the heartbreak of the old man’s plight.
THE GREATEST HITS: 1966-1992 (1992)
This album was released to coincide with Neil’s “Love In the Round” World Tour of 1991/1992. It contains 37 of Neil Diamond’s greatest songs, or to be more precise, his most popular songs, as I believe many of his greatest songs are not included, but to make such a point seems somewhat churlish.
What is unique about this particular greatest hits collection, is for the first time it includes “Live” cuts from an actual tour, performed at arenas before release of the collection, and for me, that makes it quite special, as we get a taste of the tour prior to attending one of Neil’s shows.
As with Neil Diamond releases of the past, the presentation of the package was impressive. It included a booklet with a foreword from the artist, and then each page with the lyrics of the song as it appeared on the album, with images of Neil from the period each song was recorded; it was a great touch. Towards the back of the booklet the titles were listed as they appear on the album, with the year they were recorded, and then followed the acknowledgements.
Once again, Neil Diamond shows that he can tailor his fabulous songs to fit the era he is performing in.
There is a surprise inclusion on the collection, where Neil covers an Elvis Presley classic, ‘Heartbreak Hotel where it is performed as a duet with smoky voiced Kim Carnes, it is a fine cover, where one senses Neil was having a bit of fun with it, but nothing Elvis himself would have got worked up about.
All in all this is a fine collection, where the listener can immerse themselves in some of the finest songs from a master songsmith.
The album was released as part of Neil’s 'Three Chord Opera' tour, and features six live performances from that tour. It proved to be a very clever ploy, not only to generate sales of the album, but also garner interest in the tour, not that Neil Diamond needed much help in that direction.
There are some stand out “Live” renditions, the beautiful segued medley of
‘Yes I Will’, and ‘Lady Magdalene'. For those not familiar with this performance, this album presents it in all its audial glory, it is stunning in its presentation, the equally beautiful and seldom heard ‘Captain Sunshine’ where the “Live” performance was a tribute to the then recently deceased Vince Charles, a percussionist in Neil’s band.
The other “Live Cuts” from the tour include, ‘He Ain’t Heavy... He’s My Brother’, ‘Shilo’, ‘Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show’, all performed with immense integrity, and passion.
THE ESSENTIAL NEIL DIAMOND - (2001)
The thing with greatest hits compilations is one can never select an outstanding one with any real discernment. Most people merely want all the hits from their favourite artist, where many are just thrown together with no thought to production value, Thank goodness this album,
'The Essential NEIL DIAMOND' doesn’t fall into that category.
What we have here is 38 carefully chosen tracks, selected by Neil Diamond himself, and his collaborator Al Quaglieri. Each track is from a specific period of Neil’s career, right up to the year this album was compiled, 2001. The album comprises of studio versions, and “Live” cuts which make for a fabulous listening experience.
NEIL DIAMOND: 'Yes I Will/Lady Magdalene' Medley... 2001
Listening to this album it is interesting to hear the maturity and change in his delivery. One of the most noteworthy things about Diamond’s music is the lush orchestration and musicality of many of his introspective songs.
The sleeve notes written by confessed “Diamondhead” David Wild offer good reason why this compilation would enhance any record collection.
As Greatest Hits albums go, this can sit easily among any that have been put out by Diamond himself, or by record companies cashing in on his immense popularity. That is the only “Essential” fact one needs to know.
The styles in the collection vary from Flamenco influenced torch songs, to straight pop, to country, and gospel. It becomes clear to the listener why the songs that became hits did so, while much of the rest were left to obscurity, which isn’t to undermine the quality of those songs, many of the non-hits have a particular charm, but few of them could have cracked the charts. There are a few curiosities, even for a musical chameleon like Diamond, made more curious when placed in the context of the time period.
Neil Diamond started out as a singles writer, and I believe that is what he will always be known for. For every inspired album track, there was a lesser uneven one. For an insight into Diamond’s early days, this is a valuable musical document of that time; this is a very comprehensive collection. The debate about whether Neil Diamond is hip or not is irrelevant, I find him to be rather hip actually, he has never gone out of style.
PLAY ME: The Complete UNI Studio Recordings...Plus! - (2002)
This is a collection of 74 songs from that prolific 1968-73 era, where he was regarded as the finest songwriter around. These songs showcase Diamond’s vast eclectic style, with songs from various genres and also highlight Diamond’s ability as an interpreter of other songwriters' songs. All the massive hits from that era are included, 'Sweet Caroline’, ‘Cracklin’ Rosie’, ‘Holly Holy’, ‘Play Me’ etc... but more than that, there are a lot of absolute gems which mark Diamond out as a unique stylist.
Many of the songs are typical of that natural ability. The opening track
'Two Bit Manchild', is a wonderfully bluesy number, sung with that unmistakable rock orientated style that was Diamond’s trademark back then. This is followed by the gorgeous ‘A Modern Day Version Of Love’. If ever a song should have been a hit, this was it, one of those deep love ballads that Neil was a master of; its clever lyrics speaking of love from afar, and the longing for an intimate encounter.
There are many songs on this collection that showed why Neil Diamond was as hot as a pistol, and in much demand.
‘Juliet’, ‘Long Gone’, ‘Ain’t No Way’, ‘Merry Go Round’, ‘Smokey Lady’,
‘If I Never Knew Your Name’, and why ‘Glory Road’ was never a hit, is hard to fathom.
Neil Diamond never tried to be Elvis, or John Lennon, he played it as straight as any artist ever has, and done it with great style.
Neil Diamond lived to entertain. These days he is so far removed from his biggest hits, and the songs on this collection, that he could easily have been dismissed as an oldies act, still cashing in on past glories, but Diamond always transcended that in every aspect of his career, as a performer, singer, and songwriter. For the hip and non-hip alike, Diamond always let the music do the talking, and everyone was welcome.