The Very Best of Neil Diamond – The Original Studio Recordings is the widest-ranging single disc compilation available of Diamond’s biggest hits. From his first charting single, “Solitary Man” (which hit the charts in May of 1966), to “Pretty Amazing Grace” from 2008’s Home Before Dark, this collection covers a lot of ground. But with 37 Top 40 singles to his name, a single disc is simply unable to hold all his hits. All things considered, The Very Best of… does a pretty good job of covering the bases.
The trouble with an artist like Neil Diamond, at least in terms of compiling a satisfactory ‘best of,’ is that his style has changed considerably over the years. Though never really considered a rock and roller, Diamond’s ‘60s output was often right up there with much of the better pop music of the era. His early hits are memorable additions to classic pop in general, such as “Cherry Cherry,” “Holly Holy,” and “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon.” Those are all here, but unfortunately missing is another great early hit, “Thank the Lord for the Night Time.” Personally I would have traded one of the later hits for that one. That’s what I mean – everyone wants something different and this kind of compilation simply can’t please everyone.
As the years progressed, many of Diamond’s hits bore very little relation, stylistically to his ‘60s work. I happen to dislike some of his biggest late-‘70s and early-‘80s smashes like “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” “Hello Again,” and the bombastic “America,” all of which are included here as well. Not that they shouldn’t be – after all, they were huge hits. If you’re a fan of all phases of Diamond’s career, it won’t bother you. But if you’re already that big of a fan, a collection like this might be a bit redundant anyway. For me, I’ll transfer the early stuff to my iPod and probably never listen to the later stuff again. That is, with the exception of the Rick Rubin produced “Hell Yeah” from 2005’s artistic comeback 12 Songs. But you could easily argue that those non-charting songs should have been replaced with genuine hits. “Heartlight” is conspicuously absent, for instance, which hit the top five in 1982.
But all bitching about song selection aside, this is a budget-priced collection that rounds up most of Diamond’s biggest hits in one convenient place. The booklet is nothing special, but it does contain brief track-by-track notes penned by the man himself. Sony Legacy has issued this without any real collector’s bait, such as a previously unreleased alternate take or live version. While there isn’t anything new here for the completists, casual Diamond fans will have little to complain about.