The Bang Years, 1966–1968
First Appeared in The Music Box, April 2011, Volume 18, #4
Written by John Metzger
Tue April 26, 2011, 06:30 AM CDT
For a long time, Neil Diamond’s campy performances and increasingly blasé recordings have served as an impenetrable barrier that has kept younger generations from appreciating his work. With his recent efforts 12 Songs and Home Before Dark, however, he managed to regain the respect of rock critics that he had lost long ago. Nevertheless, anyone still searching for a reason why Diamond was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March has to look no further than The Bang Years, 1966–1968 for an explanation.
In the mid-1960s, under the sponsorship of Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, Diamond was hired to write songs for the company owned by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. His tenure with the Brill Building-based syndicate was terribly unproductive. When his contract wasn’t renewed, he took a gamble and asked Greenwich and Barry to help him become a recording artist. It was within these desperate times — which Diamond outlines with self-deprecating humor and obvious gratefulness in the liner notes to The Bang Years, 1966–1968 — that he composed many of his most durable recordings.
Even today, there is a tendency within the pop universe to glean a formula from anything that is successful. Once a hit single is established, the objective of future projects is to manufacture a series of replicas, making only minor modifications to their framework, milking the results until they no longer are lucrative. Melodies are inherently connected; the arrangements are viewed as transferable. This practice originated within the publishing houses that once dominated the landscape of the music business.
Although Diamond wasn’t terribly successful while he was writing for Leiber and Stoller’s company, he certainly learned a lot about the process of composing hit songs. With their masterful arrangements, Greenwich and Barry filled the gaps in his knowledge, twisting Diamond’s material just enough to make each recording distinct. Not surprisingly, the problem that plagues The Bang Years, 1966–1968 is that by compiling all of Diamond’s songs from this era into one package, the approach that he, Greenwich, and Barry followed becomes discernable. It doesn’t take much to identify the common thread that runs through Solitary Man and Love to Love, Kentucky Woman and Shilo, or You Got to Me and The Boat that I Row.
Throughout The Bang Years, 1966–1968, Diamond’s influences, too, are readily apparent. His renditions of John Phillips’ Monday, Monday, Paul Simon’s Red Rubber Ball, and Ritchie Valens’ La Bamba simply hammer them home. Although he often is compared to Elvis Presley, his output was largely framed by the sorts of arrangements that typically were applied to the works of Simon & Garfunkel and The Mamas & The Papas. Meanwhile, a ’50s rock beat churned beneath the surface of Diamond’s harder hitting material. Regardless, between his infectious melodies and the way his voice plays off Greenwich’s joyously punchy backing vocals, the material easily rises above its familiar surroundings.
Presented in mono, The Bang Years, 1966–1968 is not only perfect for the iPod era, but it also showcases the songs as they were meant to be heard. Although the set touches upon the early stages of Diamond’s career, it highlights all of the facets of his personality and talent that inevitably turned him into a superstar.
Of Further Interest...
The Bang Years, 1966–1968 is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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