Monday, 24 September 2018
Neil Diamond - Stones (1971)
Released November 1971
An excellent album from 1971 from Neil Diamond. This was the period when he started making serious impact on the charts. It is was to dismiss Diamond as a "housewives favourite" easy-listening artists, but a few listens to his material, particularly from this period should help to change those opinions. He is one of the great singer-songwriters, composing catchy pop tunes, with killer hooks, but also deep, meaningful romantic and moving songs too. He also had a great taste in choosing which songs from others to cover.
The sound quality on this digital downloaded version is excellent - clearly, warm and bassy, as I like it.
As for the songs, the elegiac and autobiographical "I Am...I Said" is simply one of Diamond's finest ever songs, packed full of emotion, a great vocal and couplets like "did you ever read about a frog who dreamed of being a king - and then became one. Well, except for the names and a few other changes, if you talk about me - the story's the same one...". Lyrics like this should not be underestimated. As I mentioned earlier, Diamond covers other artists' songs too - Tom Paxton's beautifully-orchestrated "The Last Thing On My Mind" is melodic and romantic and Roger Miller's cynical, marriage break-up number, "Husbands and Wives" is delivered superbly. So much so that you imagine the songs to be Diamond's own, so much of his own stamp does he put on them. Anyone with half an ear has to admit that they guy has a simply superb voice.
In fact apart from "I Am...I Said", the beautiful title track and the punchy, rhythmic, inventive "Crunchy Granola Suite" all the other songs are covers, which was unusual as most of his albums contained more Diamond originals than this one did. He had no need to worry, he had been penning decent songs for years, often for others. His lively cover of Joni Mitchell's atmospheric "Chelsea Morning" is captivating. He does it really well, again, as if it were made for him. He is a great interpreter of songs.
Jacques Brel/Rod McKuen's "If You Go Away" is another perfect fit for Diamond's dramatic voice. Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" is inextricably linked with him that is pretty difficult for anybody to do it, but Diamond handles it convincingly. Randy Newman's "I Think It's Going To Rain Today" sounds like something from a stage musical, Diamond giving it such expression. The reprise of "I Am..I Said" that starts halfway through the song was probably not a great idea. I get the "bookending" of the album with it, but another song would have been a better choice.