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Music Review: Neil Diamond – The Bang Sessions 1966-1968

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Having paid his dues in and around New York City’s fabled Brill Building — where collaborators like Leiber and Stoller as well as Goffin and King composed hit after hit for a multitude of artists — Neil Diamond recognized early on that he’d have to work a lot harder than most to excel on his own.

The Bang Sessions 1966-1968 (Sony Legacy), which covers the just-inducted Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s formative cuts on the Bang Records label, demonstrates just how well he succeeded in his efforts. A veritable master class in pop songcraft, this 23-track set reveals Diamond at his hungriest, a young artist whose dogged ambition was only surpassed by the consistency with which he created these instant and enduring classics.

Beginning with “Solitary Man,” still one of his most brooding meditations, Diamond conveys a distinctly adult disposition that gives even his most-joyous moments some sense of pragmatic despair or urgency. Indeed, songs like “Cherry, Cherry” or “Thank the Lord for the Night Time” come not from the perspective of some Lothario without a care in the world, but instead of an everyday guy with just about every care in the world who looks to love as refuge.

Heck, listeners only familiar with UB40’s reggae-light cover of “Red, Red Wine” may have missed its basic premise altogether. On the slower-paced original, Diamond is damn-near distraught, turning to the bottle not just for companionship in his loneliest hour but rather to get plastered as a means to cope.

More-obscure cuts like “I’ll Come Running” and “You’ll Forget” — the trippy organ refrain on the latter recalling Ray Manzarek’s spindly flourishes — reflect the experimental influence of their era. While the thick, unctuous blues of “The Time Is Now” brims with the sort of swagger that would underscore Diamond’s powerhouse performances on the concert stage in the years and decades to follow. For whatever reasons Diamond didn’t make it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame until now, consider The Bang Sessions Exhibit One as to why he’s long since belonged there.

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About Donald Gibson

Donald Gibson is the publisher of www.writeonmusic.com and a freelance music journalist whose byline has appeared in such publications as No Depression, Spinner, The Seattle Post Intelligencer, Cinema Sentries, Blinded by Sound, and Blogcritics, where he was the Senior Music Editor (2011-2012) and Assistant Music Editor (2008-2011). He has interviewed and profiled such artists as Tony Bennett, Lucinda Williams, Jakob Dylan, Allen Toussaint, Boz Scaggs, Johnny Marr, Charli XCX, Justin Hayward (The Moody Blues), Susanna Hoffs, Bruce Hornsby, Delbert McClinton, Jonny Lang, Alan Parsons, Bill Frisell, Rickie Lee Jones, Christina Perri, Don Felder (The Eagles), Jimmy Webb, Katie Melua, and Buddy Guy, among many others.
  • I can sort of see the reluctance to induct Diamond into the Rock Hall — his duets with Streisand in the seventies alone render him at least a little suspect.

    But as a master songwriter and craftsman, he really has few equals. And those early tunes like “Cherry, Cherry,” “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon” and “Holly Holy” really are classic songs. The Bang years in particular were great ones.

    If Abba and Carole King belong in the Rock Hall (and they do), then surely Neil Diamond does as well. Great review, Donald.


  • haig

    neil diamond wrote im a believer and look out here comes tomorrow

  • haig

    for the monkees i think monkees version of believer was played during 6 or 7 shows