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.