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Neil Diamond

Uni 93106
Released: October 1971
Chart Peak: #11
Weeks Charted: 25
Certified Gold: 1/17/72

Neil DiamondRemember how embarrassed you felt on first listening to Neil Diamond destroy "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" only to decide on the tenth hearing that his version wasn't that horrible after all? Those feelings are multiplied sixfold on Stones. Diamond has bucked his habit of recording mostly his own material and has selected six famous ballads by other writers. On first hearing the album sounds like it deserves to be thrown out the window, but after a time one gets friendlier towards Diamond's interpretations.

Two questions are obvious. Why did Diamond change his custom of recording his own songbook and, secondly, why did he select years-old numbers identified with other singers? To the first it can be said that Neil has proved himself as a performer and that after six years of writing his own hit singles has earned himself the option to record an album of somebody else's material. The more interesting of the questions is why he selected songs from the last decade which have already been over-recorded.

The pertinence of this question becomes more obvious when Diamond's style of singing is considered. That style is perfect for his own compositions: spoken, barked, semi-recited passages fit in where intended. But there are things Neil's voice gets away with in his own songs that it cannot in other composers' pieces. For example, Diamond punches out the "lonely!" that Judy Collins assuaged on her version of "I Think It's Gonna Rain Today." He matter-of-factly drops the line "And Jesus was a sailor" into Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne." He recites "If you go away" in the song of the same name and tremors like a Bee Gee on the first "If." He attacks "Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning" and whines "can" in the line "some can" from Roger Miller's "Husbands and Wives."

At first these variations seem like insults to the contemporary standards but after several listens one gets over the heresies. Neil's versions begin to stand on their own and can be evaluated for what they are, not what they are not. In short, these performances are at first tolerable at best and later on disquieting at worst. There are some things that are not permissible. It is not all right to make "Chelsea Morning" a Latin-flavored number, nor is it OK to make "Suzanne" upbeat or to talk about "your perfect bod-dy."

The highlights of the album remain the two singles, "Stones" and "I Am... I Said." "Stones," with its cryptic lyrics and lush orchestration, merits one appearance on this LP, but "I Am... I Said" rates both the opening and closing slots. The first appearance is the single version with its excellent lyrics: "I'm New York City born and raised/ But nowadays I'm lost between two shores/ L.A.'s fine but it ain't home/ New York's home but it ain't mine/ No more." The reprise at the end starts in mid-single: "Did you ever hear about a frog who dreamed of being a king/ And then became one?/ Well except for the names and a few of the changes/ When you talk about me/ The story's the same one." The song goes beyond where the single faded out and leaves Neil shrieking "I am!" juxtaposed against a flourishing string section. It is as touching as the single itself.

Hopefully this effort of Neil's represents a mere sabbatical from recording albums of his own material. It's not that his effort on Stones is reprehensible in any way, it's just unnecessary. The record world already has enough "Suzanne's" and more than enough "If You Go Away's."

- Paul Gambaccini, Rolling Stone, 1/20/72.

Bonus Reviews!

Diamond has a beautiful LP here, his first release since Tap Root Manuscript. Each cut is super; the Tom Catalans production, Lee Holdridge arrangements and Diamond's performance create an LP that will be one of the best-selling of the year. "I Am... I Said," "Chelsea Morning," and "The Last Thing On My Mind" are super. "Crunchy Granola Suite" is a dynamite rock and roll number.

- Billboard, 1972.

Neil only sings three of his own songs, along with a reprise of "I Am, I Said," and I was disappointed until I got into the record. Then he blew my mind with other people's songs. If you have just lost your guy or gal and you get it on with this record, you're going to do a lot of crying. Neil takes you in sadness through "If You Go Away," "Husbands and Wives" and "The Last Thing On My Mind." He does though bring you joy with the best rendition of Joni Mitchell's "Chelsea Morning" I've ever heard.

- Elizabeth McDaniel, Hit Parader, 5/72.

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