My appreciation for Neil Diamond has always been a mixed bag. The sequin jump suited performer of the 70s always struck me as tacky and cornball. His invitation by The Band’s Robbie Robertson to perform at The Last Waltz seemed out of place. (Robertson was his neighbor in Malibu and produced his 1976 album, Beautiful Noise.) He was the one guy that didn’t seem hip enough to fit in with the rest of the musicians on the bill. That Neil Diamond – to me – is just karaoke kitsch.
On the other hand, he wrote some songs that I really like and respect; especially some of his mid-sixties songs recorded for the Bang label. Today’s write up features two of them as covered by other artists.
The first is “Solitary Man” by Chris Isaak from his album San Francisco Days (1993).
The original by Diamond was released in 1966 but didn’t make the Top 40 until it was re-released in 1970, when it reached #21.
In an interview in the July 2008 (#176) issue of Mojo, Diamond discussed how producers Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry prodded him to write songs with more depth:
“Solitary Man was my first song where I tried to really raise the level of my songwriting. It was inspired by the Beatles’ song Michelle, which was also written in a minor key. I don’t think I’d ever written a song in a minor key before, it was the first and it kind of broke the dam for me.”
The next SotW is Urge Overkill’s version of “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” that was featured in the film Pulp Fiction.
Diamond’s original hit #10 in 1967. The Urge Overkill version and its association with Quentin Tarantino and Pulp Fiction gave Diamond some badly needed hip credibility.
In the late 2000s, Diamond dialed up his cool factor even further by working with producer Rick Rubin to record a couple of critically acclaimed albums – 12 Songs and Home Before Dark. You probably recall how much Rubin’s golden touch helped Johnny Cash reach a larger, younger, hipper audience in the latter years of his career.
Enjoy… until next week.