Friday, October 7, 2011

Bang! Neil Diamond shoots a bull's-eye

I've been a fan of the early Neil Diamond for a long time. Note that I say "early." After he went to Columbia in the early '70s and began cranking out soft-rockin' smoothies for the Jonathan Livingston Seagull self-help crowd - not a fan so much! But his early work for Bang Records was pretty awesome.

A little history: Bang was a New York label whose name was actually an anagram of the first names of its owners, who were Bert Berns, a talented producer for Atlantic Records, Atlantic co-founder Ahmet Ertegun, his brother Nesuhi Ertegun, and Atlantic's top gun producer Jerry (Gerald) Wexler. They'd had a lot of early hits with The Strangeloves, The McCoys (with a young Rick Derringer) and had re-invented Johnny Cymbal (remember "Mr. Bass Man"?) as Derek and had a hit with a song called "Cinnamon". Van Morrison's first U.S. solo release after disbanding Them was on Bang, and it was a killer - "Brown-Eyed Girl".

Diamond was just a songwriter at the time, and not a particularly good one, but he was friends with Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, two of the hottest songwriters of the '60s, and they convinced the Bang boys to record Neil. It seems that when Neil wrote songs for other people, they were just mediocre, but when he wrote songs for himself - they were spectacular. "Cherry, Cherry" was a huge radio hit, and his career took off from there.

Diamond cut a total of 23 tracks for Bang from 1966 - 1968, when he departed for MCA's new Uni. label. Of those 23 cuts, about half were original songs, and they were amazing: "Solitary Man", "Cherry, Cherry", "Kentucky Woman", "Shilo", "Thank The Lord For The Night Time"... great stuff.

"Neil Diamond: The Bang Years" is the first-ever collection on CD of Neil's Bang masters in their original mono versions, cut for 45-RPM release and unsullied by overdubs and other strings-n-things that got added to some of the stereo album versions. It's a really great collection with a lengthy booklet written by Neil telling his own story of what it was like to be a hitless songwriter living on a shoestring in 1960s New York, and I was pleased as punch to find it at my local Fry's. A truly great collection of music, and one I will be playing in the Studebaker quite a lot while I drive around :)

For further research:
The Bang Records Story
Neil performing "Cherry, Cherry" on "Where The Action Is", 1966
   (the lip-synching is awful, but it's cool to see Neil doing his stand-up on location)
Promo video for "The Bang Years" collection

No comments:

Post a Comment