Though vintage ’60s material often gets repackaged in insufferably needless and redundant ways, there’s much to be said for Columbia/Legacy’s handsome new outing of Neil Diamond The Bang Years 1966-1968.
Beyond the handsome packaging, new liners (by Diamond himself) and photos, the music captures 23 monoraul sides Diamond recorded for the Bang label when he was a burgeoning new singles-driven artist emerging from the relative anonymity of being a Brill Building songwriter.
All of his great mid-’60s hits are here, from Solitary Man and Cherry, Cherry to Kentucky Woman and one of my (and Quentin Tarantino’s) personal favorites, Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon.
But there’s also a Diamond spin for the Monkees hit I’m a Believer, which Diamond wrote, and which was the biggest single of 1967. Instead of Monkees-style backing vocals, Diamond has a girl-group sound at his disposal, as on several of his other hits. (Diamond also wrote the spirited Monkees-recorded songs Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow) and A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You.)
The new disc also has rare, fun covers of hit songs of the day written by others, including John Phillips’ Monday, Monday, popularized by the Mamas and the Papas, as well as Paul Simon’s Red Rubber Ball, which Simon & Garfunkel didn’t record in the studio but became a big hit for the Cyrkle. Such covers appeared on Diamond’s debut album, The Feel of Neil Diamond, an obscurity which didn’t sell well.
For Boomers, this is a rich nostalgic romp for which we also owes thanks to producers Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, among many others. Neil, you were the real deal starting with your first big recorded output. Thanks for not remaining a solitary man.
Also new from Sony/Legacy is The Essential Paul Revere & the Raiders, a two-disc, 36-song collection which grabs all of the group’s many ’60s and even ’70s singles (when they were known as simply the Raiders).
For new fans, it’s a treasure trove. For older fans with extensive Raiders collections, there won’t be many previously unheard tracks to treasure. But it’s good to see such a lavish edition for a good-time rock ‘n’ roll group that deserves more due than it’s gotten.
For me, a fitting companion to this collection would be what I consider the Raiders’ best album ever: 1966’s Midnight Ride. Two songs from it are on The Essential: the unusual anti-drug song Kicks — which truly kicks ass — and Louie, Go Home, a rousing little rocker with an extensive instrumental midsegment.
Midnight Ride also offered the potent balladry of Mark Lindsay’s Little Girl in the 4th Row and the dramatically plaintive All I Really Need is You, as well as such tuneful, infectious rockers as Take a Look at Yourself, There’s Always Tomorrow and the band’s I’m Not Your Stepping Stone, reportedly recorded before the Monkees did it.
Paul Revere once told me in an interview in the ’80s, “I love that ’60s shit.” But I don’t think he meant this in a bad way at all. He and his group embodied melodic and exuberant mid-’60s rock-pop as well as anyone. What’s not to love?