The Bang Years 1966-1968
For about—oh, let’s say three-quarters of his career—Neil Diamond could/can be easily defined for his MOR ballads with Barbra Streisand and Vegas-style schmaltz. He was dubbed “the Jewish Elvis,” for chrissakes. You have to rewind a little further to get to the good stuff. The essential stuff. Starting his career in New York City’s fabled Brill Building in the early ’60s, Diamond was writing songs in order to feed himself. He signed to Bert Berns’ Bang Records in 1966 and began cranking out an impressive string of well-crafted pop tunes, a few of which (“Red, Red Wine,” “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon”) later found second lives in the hands of other artists. There’s a certain swagger and musicality to this 23-song collection. Hand claps and tambourines pop and shake throughout, while well-placed horns and piano add to the percussive guitar strums. Pop music doesn’t get much better than this. Everything on The Bang Years appears in its original mono mixes, and there are a few tracks (“I’ll Come Running,” “The Time Is Now” and “The Long Way Home”) that haven’t seen the light of day since their original release. All I have to say is, it’s about time.