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Neil Diamond’s Five Worst Songs

Adult contemporary superstar and Hebrew Hunk Neil Diamond is a fascinating figure to me. His music is an uncomfortable blend of Brill Building pop, gospel, and confessional writing, like he can’t make up his mind whether he wants to be Elvis Presley or James Taylor. As an adolescent, I was improbably a Neil Diamond fan – probably at least partly due to my father’s influence. Once in a record store he steered me away from potentially evil music like “that Genesis outfit”, while Neil Diamond was one of the few pop artists in his collection. Recently I’ve revisited Diamond’s albums – it was an opportunity to examine a catalogue that’s high-selling but doesn’t receive much critical attention.

While I enjoyed the exercise of listening to seventeen of Neil Diamond’s studio albums, his catalogue has issues. His music is often coated in a thick layer of schmaltz, while in the period I listened to (from 1966’s debut The Feel of Neil Diamond to 1980’s The Jazz Singer) he released twice as many albums than he had good material for. This meant that Diamond’s good songs share album space with covers and weak material that should have been left in the archives.

Here are five of Neil Diamond’s most embarrassing songs:

Pot Smoker’s Song

from Velvet Gloves and Spit (1968)
Diamond left Bang records after two albums of rock and roll, wanting to record more ambitious and introspective music. But the artistic freedom was used to infamous effect on his third album, Velvet Gloves and Spit, on ‘Pot Smoker’s Song’, which uncomfortably juxtaposed a cheery rock and roll chorus with testimonies of former drug users. Diamond later became a marijuana user, including a famous 1976 drug bust where police raided his mansion and found an ounce of pot. Diamond later said that the song was “essentially misdirected” and that the real issue was heroin.

I Am The Lion

from Tap Root Manuscript (1970)
Tap Root Manuscript is one of Diamond’s better albums; the stellar first side features songs like ‘Cracklin’ Rosie’, ‘Done Too Soon’, and ‘Cold Water Morning’. The second side is more experimental, Diamond years ahead of the game employing African rhythms on a western pop record. It all comes together on ‘Soolaimon’, but there are rough moments like the children’s choir on ‘Childsong’ and the odd ‘I Am The Lion’. It starts with an unnervingly deep vocal, joined by a children’s choir, then the Jewish Elvis intones Biblical wisdom over an African beat, intermittently bellowing “I am the lion.”

Reggae Strut

from Serenade (1974)
Many pop artists dabbled in reggae in the 1970s, with varying degrees of success. Paul Simon travelled to Jamaica to capture an authentic reggae sound, Diamond recorded with the Neil Diamond Band in an American studio. ‘Reggae Strut’ is a serviceable tune, but Diamond’s cod-reggae accent and stiff “Oh Yes!” kill it stone dead.

You Don’t Bring Me Flowers (with Barbra Streisand)

from You Don’t Bring Me Flowers (1978)
This song started as an innocuous ballad on Diamond’s 1977 album I’m Glad You’re Here With Me Tonight. But after Streisand recorded her own version, an enterprising radio DJ mixed the two songs together, leading the two singers to record an official duet, and creating an adult contemporary behemoth. Streisand and Diamond were both of Jewish heritage and grew up in Brooklyn; rough contemporaries from Diamond’s time in Queens College (on a fencing scholarship) included Paul Simon, Carole King, Gerry Goffin, and Neil Sedaka, all of Jewish heritage.

Dancing In The Street

from September Morn (1979)
Plenty of ageing rock acts dipped their toes into disco. Diamond was spectacularly unsuccessful with his disco remake of 1960s staple ‘Dancing in the Street’. It’s a hot mess of overbearing disco guitar and backing vocals that vacillate gears between gospel and atmospheric.

I haven’t been brave enough to listen to Diamond’s 1980s and 1990s albums, but I hope you enjoyed these standouts (for the wrong reasons) from his catalogue. How do you feel about Neil Diamond?

35 thoughts on “Neil Diamond’s Five Worst Songs Leave a comment

  1. Those are all horrible! Neil is an interesting artist- capable of brilliance and well- as you point out here some real embarrassing songs too. All good choices of bad Neil.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. There’s some serious Reefer Madness WTF-ery going on in “Pot Smoker’s Song.” But I think there may be some truth to Neil being misdirected here. Most people I knew just stuck with the weed and didn’t get whacked out like the guy who says he was shooting LSD into his back (???).

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know a guy who got long term damage from just weed. But i don’t think it’s any worse than alcohol, which is fully legal and which Diamond’s extolled in Song several times – Red Red Wine, Cracklin’ Rosie.

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  3. These are bad…I’ve always liked the Brill Building Neil… not the polyester Neil.
    “then the Jewish Elvis intones Biblical wisdom over an African beat” that is classic.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My wife is a big Neil fan and I think his early stuff is great but with the exception of You don’t bring me flowers never heard these songs – omg what drek. All unlistenable. Embarrassing even. Re the Jewish Elvis taking about the Bible reminds me of how he did all those Christmas albums and not just the commercial stuff (jingle bells) but also the Christian stuff (Silent Night). Always chuckled at that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I guess it’s technically possible to be a Messianic Jew. But feels like he’s pretty focused on maxing out album sales sometimes. His early stuff on Bang is his most universally loved I think – a few superfluous covers but nothing embarrassing.

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  5. On other hand I read where on his 2005 album 12 Songs that he did with Rick Rubin Rubin insisted that Neil play his guitar – Neil assumed at first that session guys would do that as usual. Rubin was like ah no let’s go back to beginning. Was a much better album than a lot of that period.

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    • Yeah I listened to 12 Songs and Home After Dark. They were good solid late period efforts with the best production in his catalogue, but straight afterward he reverted to Christmas albums, covers, and Hot August Night 3.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. He’s a curious chap. Like you say, there’s some great songs there, but even some of those are hidden under layers of schmaltz. He’s obviously very capable of crafting a great tune, but perhaps he’s not the right person to perform them? I’ve never felt moved… too much performance and not enough heart.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I have always struggled with this guy. Undeniably talented as a songwriter (I’m a Believer and A Little Bit Me A Little Bit You gave The Monkees a hell of a start) but he makes me cringe as a solo artist. His voice just isn’t “cool”: like Tom Jones, he was born too late and would have fitted better in the 50s.

    As side note, one of the great misheard lyrics is The Reverend Blue Jeans.

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      • I remember sitting in the theater watching ‘The Last Waltz’ and ND came on. A surprise considering the line up. I kept my mind open and the song worked for me. It didn’t convert me but I thought it was kind of cool. He certainly was a different choice.

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        • Yes, he made friends with Robertson when they lived near each other in Malibu. The song ‘Dry Your Eyes’ was written by both of them. I think Levon Helm was disgusted that Diamond was involved.

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