George Marich, who plays drums with Neil Dynamite and the Heartlights, says there are only two kinds of people in the world: People who love Neil Diamond and people who won’t admit they love Neil Diamond. Count us at Hymie’s in that first group because we’ve set aside Sunday August 19th as a day to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Neil Diamond’s classic live recording, Hot August Night, with contests, live music, and a movie. We posted some details about our celebration yesterday and we’ve also added an “event” to the Hymie’s Facebook page here.
One of the reasons Hot August Night remains such a popular album is that when he recorded it on August 24, 1972, Neil Diamond was really at the peak of his career. The double LP live album followed his two best records – Tap Root Manuscript and Moods – and also introduced a wider audience to several of his classic 60s hits, including a couple you heard in yesterday’s post.
Pretty much everything he’s done since the early 70s has followed the successful format of Moods, the hit album which preceded Hot August Night, and lent five tracks to the night’s set list (six on the new reissue). Moods is probably an album you have flipped past hundreds of times without a second thought, and there’s probably a copy in the 50¢ rack at Hymie’s at this very moment, but it’s also a pretty great pop album.
(“Song Sung Blue”)
Surprisingly, Diamond’s first #1 single didn’t come until 1970 with “Cracklin’ Rosie” from Tap Root Manuscript. “Song Sung Blue” was his second #1 hit and a pretty solid blueprint for his following six chart toppers. It opens the otherwise uptempo Moods with a melancholy tone.
Diamond’s 60s singles were characterized by an outsider perspective (As in, say, “Girl, You’ll be a Woman Soon” or “The Boat that I Row”) but were always distinctly defiant (“Solitary Man”). Tap Root Manuscript and Moods begin to show a maturity and seriousness that puts that defiance to the test. Diamond was, after all, just over thirty years old and recently remarried when he wrote and recorded Moods, and there’s a young man’s sense of optimism and vigor throughout, not to mention recurring themes of childhood and family.
The African melodies and rhythms that he incorporated in Tap Root Manuscript (ten years before “world beat” became a fad for artists like David Byrne and Paul Simon) are subdued but still present, especially in “Walk on Water”. Moods is far less experimental, instead leaning heavily on the subtle keyboard and guitar work framed by lush string arrangements, a format that would become standard Neil Diamond fare for decades.
(“Walk on Water”)
Diamond’s music drifted after Hot August Night, sometimes hitting the mark and sometimes missing by miles. His next project was an original score for the 1973 film Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a two hour movie about a bored seagull.
The movie was so bad Roger Ebert walked out of a screening, and while Diamond’s soundtrack was well-received (and made more money than the movie) it was a long way from the awesome-ness of Hot August Night. Here and there he’d capture a little of the magic, but it really wasn’t until his 2005 album 12 Songs that Diamond was as mysteriously dark and interesting as he had been on Tap Root Manuscript and Moods. Here’s my favorite track from that disc:
(“I’m on to You”)
Tomorrow we’ll listen to some tracks from Hot August Night, which will be FORTY YEARS OLD later this month! The songs from Moods sound pretty great at the Greek Theater, and Diamond’s grittiest 60s classic, “Solitary Man” stands out. He was a performer at his very best that night, enjoying a string of successes and capturing the energy of a devoted and enraptured crowd. It’s like Jonathan Livingston Seagull says in the movie: “There’s no limit to how high we can fly!”