Come this March, Neil Diamond won't be such a solitary man. Diamond will find plenty of stellar company when he’s inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 14. While Diamond has maintained his superstar status in both the recording studio and the concert stage for 45 years, chances are that the recordings he made for Bang Records between 1966 and 1968 were foremost on voters’ minds when choosing to induct the singer into the venerable hall. It’s during this period that Diamond "graduated" from the Brill Building ranks and established himself as a formidable rock and roll force with the albums The Feel of Neil Diamond and Just for You for Bert Berns’ vibrant New York label.
Yet the 27 unique recordings released by Diamond on Bang (consisting of 25 individual songs, with “Shilo” and “Solitary Man” released in two distinct versions each) have for the most part been unavailable in the CD era. A 1983 compilation, Classics: The Early Years (Columbia 38792), was duly issued on compact disc in 1986, but only collected twelve of Diamond’s hits. Other Bang rarities have since trickled out on various box sets and anthologies, but the Bang era has never been collected comprehensively, nor have the original albums seen reissue. This is particularly ironic because Diamond’s status as a hitmaker was in high gear, aided by the production of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich: “Cherry, Cherry,” “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon,” “Solitary Man,” and “Shilo” all originated during the Bang years.
This finally changes with the March release, timed to coincide with the Rock Hall induction, of The Bang Years 1966-1968. So what’s included, and what hasn’t made the cut? Hit the jump to find out, including full track listing and discographical details!
Here's the rub, Diamondheads: your reaction will largely depend on whether you choose to see the glass half-full or half-empty. The Bang Years will include 23 of Neil's 27 recordings for the label. Omitted entirely are “Crooked Street” and “Shot Down,” two tracks which remained unreleased until after the artist's departure from Bang. Also excluded from the lineup are the alternate versions of “Shilo” and “Solitary Man,” each of which will only make one appearance on this set. Despite these frustrating omissions, this release is largely good news. So much of this material has been unavailable for so long, and it's especially nice that Diamond didn’t nix the inclusion of the rarely-heard covers including “Monday, Monday,” “Hanky Panky,” “Red Rubber Ball,” “New Orleans” and “La Bamba.” On the other hand, all 27 songs could have easily been included on one CD, so it’s disappointing that the set remains so-close-yet-so-far in terms of completeness.
The big news, too, is that all 23 tracks will be presented in mono. Classics: The Early Years was all-stereo, but derived from a variety of sources. Diamond's The Greatest Hits 1966-1992 (Columbia C2K 52703/CK 52762, 1992) debuted eight Bang tracks in mono, and In My Lifetime (Columbia C3K 65013, 1996) gave us 11 in mono. The Essential Neil Diamond and its 3.0 edition (Columbia 88697 34044-2) also presented its Bang material in mono. Clearly Diamond has favored the mono sound in recent years, which is befitting as so many of these classics were first heard through AM radio speakers. It hasn’t yet been revealed whether The Bang Years' mixes will be album versions or singles, or a combination thereof; almost all of the Bang tracks exist in multiple variations. In fact, the number of those variations is often mind-blowing. For those interested in exploring them, you might like to start with our Reissue Theory post dedicated to Neil’s Bang tenure and then continue onto the definitive reference site Neil Diamond on Bang Records.
One could speculate that “Crooked Street” and “Shot Down” were eliminated from The Bang Years because Diamond didn’t authorize their original release in 1971, seeing as they were pulled from the Bang archives to compete with his then-current music. It's long been thought that "Crooked Street" was a demo never intended for release, as its sole accompaniment is Diamond's acoustic guitar. Also, neither of the songs has ever been released in true mono. “Crooked Street” appeared on the Do It LP (itself a post-1968 compilation) in rechanneled stereo, and on Bang single 586 in the same rechanneled version. “Shot Down” also was presented on Do It in rechanneled stereo.
As for the non-appearance of the alternate “Shilo” and “Solitary Man,” it may simply have been felt that these variations were unnecessary (though this writer begs to differ). With only one version of each included, it’s my hope that the original Just for You LP version of “Shilo” is the one present (identifiable by its second verse beginning “Young girl with fire…”). However, the second "Shilo" was, like "Crooked Street" and "Shot Down," issued post-Diamond's departure from Bang and was nonetheless selected for Classics: The Early Years, so anything is possible. “Solitary Man” is near-certain to appear in its original LP version, from The Feel of Neil Diamond, as the second version featured stereo overdubs and was never issued in mono. The Feel cut is the original recording of Diamond's early signature song, with a single acoustic guitar, no female backing vocalists (they were added later) and the horn parts subtly and tastefully mixed.
Some details about The Bang Years are still forthcoming, but rest assured that we will update this page as soon as they are made clear. Release dates have been given as March 1 and March 8,
and Amazon is oddly showing “7-N Music” as the label, rather than the expected Legacy imprint. (UPDATE: the label is now listed firmly as Sony/Legacy.) In the meantime, The Bang Years can currently be pre-ordered here at Amazon:
Neil Diamond, The Bang Years 1966-1968 (Sony/Legacy 88697 85331-2, 2011)
- Solitary Man
- Cherry, Cherry
- Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon
- Kentucky Woman
- Thank the Lord for the Night Time
- You Got to Me
- I’m a Believer
- Red, Red Wine
- The Boat That I Row
- Do It
- New Orleans
- Monday, Monday
- Red Rubber Ball
- I’ll Come Running
- La Bamba
- The Long Way Home
- I’ve Got the Feeling (Oh No No)
- You’ll Forget
- Love to Love
- Someday Baby
- Hanky Panky
- The Time is Now
Tracks 1, 2, 10-15, 17, 19, 20-21 from The Feel of Neil Diamond (Bang LP 214, 1966)
Tracks 3, 5-9, 16, 18, 23 from Just for You (Bang LP 217, 1967)
Tracks 4 & 22 from non-LP single Bang 551, 1967
Wish they would release a Legacy Edition with all of the above in Stereo on a second disc...but not holding my breath.
Then again, I also wish they'd do a "Back To Stereo" Spector set too...so as you can see I am a dreamer!
I'll be buying this the day it comes out. I'm actually breathless in anticipation 😀
Aren't there two versions of "Cherry Cherry" too? One has the "Wee-haw!" loud and clear (the one that's on Classics: The Early Years, in stereo) while the one on The Essential Neil Diamond (mono) has the "Wee-haw!" muffled to the point where it's almost inaudible. There might be other signficant differences too, but that's the one I noticed.
Joe Marchese says
Unbelievably, there are at least five distinct versions of "Cherry, Cherry" out there: the CLASSICS mix (which originated on that 1970s Frog King LP), the original FEEL OF NEIL version in both mono and stereo (the version on ESSENTIAL was derived from this recording, as was the original single, Bang 528), a mono alternate take on the IN MY LIFETIME box and a stereo version with channels reversed.
My head hurts, Shaun! 🙂
And RS, I too wish this had been afforded the Legacy Edition treatment. The 23-track version could have been promoted for the casual fan, and a 2-disc set with mono & stereo versions could have been made available for the completist/collector. But I have a feeling that Neil called the shots and was/is uncomfortable with some of the tracks being out there again, like "Crooked Street" and "Shot Down."
Weird thing is that on the IN MY LIFETIME box they claim the alternative take is actually the master and the released version is a demo that Neil, Ellie and Jeff preferred. If it's really a demo it's hard to believe there's FOUR distinct versions of it out there.
There are also two distinct Bang versions of "Red, Red Wine". (Neither is reggae, of course.) One of them is the one that debuted on the "Just For You" album in 1967 and is also the one that has appeared on all long-player (vinyl, 8-track, cassette, CD) releases that contain a Bang studio "Red, Red Wine". It features a twangy country guitar. The other version was released as a single by Bang in early 1968, just after Neil left the label. It features a backing chorus instead of the twangy guitar (although that guitar may still be in the background). Just as with "Crooked Street", "Shot Down", and the second "Shilo" (with a verse that begins, "Counting the years"), this one was released after Neil left the label, so I'm not counting on getting this one on this release.
There are also two Bang versions of "You Got To Me". The better-known one was the hit single and has appeared on most of the CD releases. The lesser-known one was released as part of the short-lived Hip Pocket records line in the late 1960s (along with a few other Neil Diamond Bang singles). It is also the version that is on "The Greatest Hits: 1966-1992". I consider the better-known Bang version to be the far better recording, too. So I hope that is what we get on the new release.
This upcoming release also marks the very first ever official release of "The Time Is Now", originally the B-side of "Kentucky Woman", in long-player form. The 2002 "Play Me" 3-CD set from MCA (corporate successor of his next label, Uni) marked the first ever North American official release of "Broad Old Woman", originally the B-side of "Two-Bit Manchild", in long-player form. (Earlier, it did appear on some overseas releases of his first Uni album, "Velvet Gloves and Spit".)
Will we ever see the non-LP B-side of "Heartlight", "You Don't Know Me", on an album? Personally, I don't like that song at all, so I don't really care. (This is not the same "You Don't Know Me" that was done by Della Reese and others, although Della herself had a B-side that was written by Neil - a version of "Solitary Man" called "Solitary Woman".)
I am anticipating the release of this upcoming compilation a lot more than I looked forward to his most recent release of newly-recorded material, "Dreams". For one thing, I know that it will contain a more enjoyable "I'm A Believer"!
Joe Marchese says
Thanks for your insights, rslitman! When it comes to Neil's catalogue, there's such an amazing amount of material out there due for reissue. I'd be up for an expanded "Heartlight," including that B-side, Bacharach and Sager's "You Don't Know Me." Any collaboration between Burt Bacharach and Neil Diamond is worthy of attention, even if it's not the strongest track they recorded together.
Mike Duquette says
I will approve of the idea of a "Heartlight" expansion, if only because it is the only album I own on LP, CD and cassette. I was that much of an E.T. fan as a kid.
Joe Marchese says
Thanks, Mike. Now I've got "I'm Alive" stuck in my head...it will probably stay there all day! 🙂
"Heartlight," "Primitive" and "Headed for the Future" were all big favorites of mine, and I first saw Diamond in concert when he toured "Future" at Madison Square Garden. That album - or at least, the title track - sounds incredibly of its time now, but I've still got a soft spot for it. "Heartlight" remains top-notch AC pop, though!
Mike Duquette says
Haha I rarely got past "I'm Alive" as a kid - blame a sort of short attention span - but I did enjoy that one. "I'm Guilty" was a good one from that LP too.
And of course an audio/visual gem from the vaults would be Neil's live-in-studio video for "Heartlight," with a different vocal track. Not sure who to blame for the hair and wardrobe, other than the '80s. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMJXDlfrvHs
Joe Marchese says
The value of a new HEARTLIGHT CD? $7.85 on Amazon. The value of that promo video? PRICELESS. 🙂
I would purchase an expanded edition of THE JAZZ SINGER soundtrack with the original songs as they were heard in the movie. The three versions of HELLO AGAIN, the shorter version of LOVE ON THE ROCKS and the opening and closing AMERICA. Even YOU BABY with Franklin Ajaye and the other cast members would be a keeper. The soft guitar intro leading into SONGS OF LIFE missing from the original soundtrack would be nice to own. Neil singing YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE would be great to have, too. On a second disc, the Leonard Rosenman score...every single note of it. This is MY life-chaning-moment album/movie. This is the movie, the soundtrack that made me a fan. We need this.
Joe Marchese says
Thanks, Tom. With three Top Ten singles and over 5 million copies sold, THE JAZZ SINGER is certainly one of Neil's highest-profile LPs, and it's in great need of a remastering. With any luck, some of our film score specialist friends are reading this...a full-score restoration and expansion would be quite an exciting project!
Phil Healy says
You might be interested to know that we here in Australia got THE BANG YEARS three weeks early, on 21st February. I bought my copy yesterday, and have posted details and scans to discogs.com, see link. "Shilo" is the "young girl with fire" version. A great collection, but a pity that more care wasn't taken with the spelling of some of the musicians names!
John judge says
If a recording can be released in stereo please don't waste time in mono . The sound of mono is no longer worth recording . Diamonds music deserves stereo at it's highest quality . I have see neil diamond28 times and wil see him two times in 2015 .stereo is the way to go