Come to Neil Diamond and Stay Forever
By Bob Talbert
Detroit Free Press
June 30, 1976
I KNOW EXACTLY when I came to Neil Diamond. You probably know when you did, too. If you haven’t, you will. We will all come for sure, in the coming decade, to this man who has already given us a decade of memories that stir and settle the still and moist places in our souls.
You might have connected with him right off the start when he was with Bang Records or you may have discovered him for the first time this summer at Pine Knob. You could be discovering him right now if the radio is playing a cut from his new “Beautiful Noise” album.
Or it could have been the first time you got hooked on the extraordinary lyrics of “Morningside,” and have since thought about that old man Diamond created every time you see such an old man. Maybe it was the first time you found yourself clapping and singing along with “Song Sung Blue,” and you couldn’t believe you knew all the lyrics, but you did.
I’M DISCOVERING him all over again this very moment. “If You Know What I Mean” has just concluded. It’s from his new album. It’s one of the most powerful torch songs I’ve ever heard, recalling that moment when you almost reached another’s soul.
That’s one of Diamond’s many facets, this capturing of those special moments and scenes you thought were only yours. “He sees it, too,” you think as you melt into his subtle symbols or you become energized by his familiar crescendo rock that lifts you right out of your seat. Or he can stretch you out and everything is chamois-soft “lay back.”
Or he can drive right through you with an overpowering force in songs like “Soolaimon” from his MCA days or the possible new Columbia singles like “Beautiful Noise,” “Street Life” and “Jungletime” from his new album. “Beautiful Noise” is a contagious, happy high.
If you dream and hope—believe!—sink yourself for a few moments into the lyrics of another new Diamond jewel from “Beautiful Noise,” called “Signs,” or join the anthem-like march called “Dry Your Eyes,” a collaboration between Diamond and this album’s producer, Robbie Robertson, leader of the Band.
I have a feeling if it weren’t for Robertson and others close to it, we’d never even have this album to listen to. As part of being the particular genius he is, Diamond is the ultimate perfectionist who never, ever wants to give up trying one more thing to make the final product just a little bit better.
You finally have to literally rip the final tape from his hands and lock him in a room somewhere so he can’t get to it.” A friend sighed, looking at the new album. “He’d still be working on this one if we hadn’t take it away from him.”
This aim for perfection, perhaps, is one of the reasons that Neil Diamond has remained an enigma to the rock press and pundits. This knowledge was reinforced as I consulted a glut of rock literature and found Diamond’s contributions and references to Diamond to be strangely absent from books that claim to tell the story of ‘60s rock.
DIAMOND WAS THERE, right along with Bob Dylan, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. “Beautiful Noise” is, as Neil says, “a series of recollections” of a young songwriter-singer on the Tin Pan Alley streets of New York in the early ‘60s.
But Diamond wasn’t singing about revolution or wearing long hair, nor was he injecting the rough edge of black blues into the white mainstream of music. Dylan stirred up the young, the Beatles stirred up the parents, and the Stones stirred up everyone. That made them different. That made them stand out. That made them revered.
Diamond didn’t have an image which cult-America could cling to. All he had was a large slice of middle-America young who were still turned on by songs of love and courage and a poetry of mysticism and a certain universal holiness. American young were turned on by the happy, for-fun ditties Diamond could entertain them with, too.
But Diamond never compromises his talent just for the sake of a hit single when record companies constantly scream for a Top 40 product. His “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” album became the largest selling original soundtrack album in history, even though the film flopped at the box office.
Diamond, without compromising, became money-in-the-bank and this is another thing for which the rock press can sometimes be unforgiving. If you are too successful with middle America, then something must be wrong with you, they seem to think.
People in their 50s humming along with their Diamond favorites, sitting beside young eager faces who are just discovering Neil Diamond’s magic for the first time is a memory I’ll always carry away from Diamond’s concert. He covers them all.
At 33, Neil Diamond, his creativity honed to perfection and his antenna alert to 1976’s vibrations, stands poised to become the single biggest force in contemporary music for the coming decade.
Everyone else will eventually catch up with Neil Diamond, because, as I said, everyone eventually comes to Neil Diamond and stays forever.