To be fair, Columbia/Legacy may have chosen one of the most confusing album titles ever for this latest “Very Best Of” collection of Neil Diamond tunes. While this disc may be, as its publicity announces, the first assembly of Diamond’s top sellers from his Bang, Uni, Capitol, and Columbia eras, it’s not the first release to call itself Diamond’s “Very Best.” As a result, search engines are already mistaking this set with earlier packages with similar track listings. True, depending on which Diamond classics you want, it’s possible any of the other collections will suit you just as well as this one. But what the latest edition offers, along with a more complete career overview than previous packages, is an interesting program with an element of confusion of its own. In particular, this retrospective isn’t presented in a chronological flow.
It makes perfect sense for the 2005 Rick Rubin produced “Hell Yeah” to be the grand finale of the 23 songs. Lyrically, it’s a statement from Diamond looking back over his five decades in the business. Before that, if there’s rhyme or reason for the song order, these reasons are not self-evident. The first song, “Forever in Blue Jeans,” came out in 1978 and, I suppose, can be interpreted as a summation of Diamond’s musical hopes. If so, Diamond’s own liner notes don’t make that point. Track two, “Beautiful Noise,” from 1975, would seem a more appropriate opener despite its year due to its triumphant organ (played by the Band’s Garth Hudson) and lyrics describing the music and sounds Diamond loves. Then, it’s on to 1980 with “Love on the Rocks” from the film, The Jazz Singer. There are two other songs from the same film represented as well, but not until much later and not grouped together. Not until the fourth song, “Cherry, Cherry,” do we go back to the beginning, with Diamond’s first single produced by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich.
The longest and more or less most consistent streak of related songs kicks off with “I Am . . .I Said,” “Sweet Caroline,” “Cracklin’ Rosie,” and “Play Me,” all from the Uni years. Then we hear more Bang singles (I’m a Believer,” “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon”), another Uni hit (“Holly Holy”), back to Bang . . . Well, they’re all here, for the most part, along with “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” (1978), “Kentucky Woman” (1967), and more recent tunes like “Pretty Amazing Grace” (2008).
However haphazard the organization, every song deserves a place in this package, with one notable exception. The one offering that apparently never hit the charts and didn’t please Diamond himself, “Red, Red Wine” is included. This is most surprising considering the many songs that aficionados are likely to complain didn’t make the cut. “Brooklyn Roads” springs to mind. Maybe “Be?”
So to the press releases proclaiming this is the “definitive” collection, it ain’t so. I suppose I can understand not putting all these songs in the order they were released in; who wants to have to sit back and hear an artist’s development from their start to their current work to see how they progressed? Judging from the breezy brevity of the notes Diamond provided for each song, he realized this collection has a place for those who don’t have all the hits they’ve enjoyed over the years—with likely new ones they might have missed—but it’s not the final word. Until a more complete release is put together with more logical organization, this is about as good as it gets.