Thanks to a pair of albums produced by Rick Rubin (2005's "12 Songs" and the 2008 chart-topper "Home Before Dark") the credibility of Neil Diamond stands at its highest ever - a great achievement, especially when one considers that his first recordings were made some 48 years ago.
Neil Diamond is the latest great American songsmith of the 1960s to be featured in Ace Records' fast-expanding series of writer-based compilations, where he joins Goffin & King, Leiber & Stoller, Jackie DeShannon, Pomus & Shuman, Chip Taylor and other legendary songwriters.
Prior to Diamond's breakthrough as a recording artist he spent several years paying his dues by writing songs for other performers, honing his talent in the process.
Pride of place on "A Solitary Man" goes to the Monkees, Cliff Richard, Sadina, Jan Tanzy, the Solitaires, Jay & the Americans, Jimmy Clanton, Billy Fury, Marcie Blane, Ronnie Dove and the Rocky Fellers, all of whom were the recipients of early Diamond numbers he himself never recorded.
The rest of the songs date from the latter half of the 60s, most of which are from his spectacular two-year spell at Bang Records. Few artists ever recorded better versions of Neil Diamond's compositions than Arthur Alexander, Lulu, BJ Thomas, the Wanderer's Rest or Bobby Womack.
The whole package is enhanced by yet another stylish and informative booklet from compilers Mick Patrick and Tony Rounce.
Neil Diamond is living, breathing hope to anyone that just by sticking around long enough you can become a living legend, a national treasure. Although he was briefly hip just as the 60s turned into the 70s – before denim shirts gave way to scarlet jumpsuits – it was a brave soul who dared express their love of Captain Sunshine beyond throwing a few ironic hands in the air as Sweet Caroline blasted away at their local version of Guilty Pleasures.
Diamond’s problem was that for every I’m A Believer or Holly Holy came the likes of self pity-fest I Am, I Said, anti-drug hokum The Pot Smoker’s Song or the simply dreadful Forever in Blue Jeans. Now, suddenly, it’s okay to like ‘the Jewish Elvis’, his rehabilitation into impolite society cemented by one immaculate Glastonbury Festival performance last summer.
But before the sequins and Song Sung Blue, Diamond made his living writing songs for others while struggling to make a name as a performer in his own right. From the opening Monkees track, the original TV mix version of Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow), which leaps out of the speakers, through Lulu, Deep Purple, Muscle Shoals pioneer Arthur Alexander, original Brit rocker Billy Fury, Jamaican rocksteady singer Tony Tribe and Motown legends The Four Tops (a version of Diamond’s other Monkees tune, I’m A Believer), it paints a clear picture that the Hebrew Hunk’s tunes could be sung by anyone, in any style, and still smell of Cracklin’ Rosies.
It wasn’t all great, as Sadina’s It Comes and Goes or Filipino brothers The Rocky Fellers’ We Got Love demonstrates, but the sheer breadth is astonishing. Deep Purple, for instance, turn Kentucky Woman into an early approximation of the charging rock they later perfected on Highway Star, complete with matching solos for Ritchie Blackmore and Jon Lord, while Northern Soul stalwart Jackie Edwards’ Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon may lack Urge Overkill’s debauched menace but is still uncomfortably predatory.
Sadly the version of the album’s title song is by BJ Cole rather than either Johnny Cash or Arthur Alexander, but the great soul man’s Glory Road is one of the album’s standout tracks. Alexander, the only man to be covered by both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones in their formative recording years, called Diamond his favourite songwriter, and that is high enough praise to turn on anyone’s heartlight. --Andy Fyfe
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