I remember the first time I ever heard Neil Diamond. Actually, wait, no I don’t. For as long as I can comprehend there was Neil Diamond. He was not one of those artists that captivated me when I was young, yet I always knew he was somebody important. I was certain he was of legendary status, but I just never explored his music.
Neil Diamond is much like the “American Popular Song,” the first track off of his album You Don’t Bring Me Flowers. Diamond’s catalog and musical genius goes on and on. This album encompasses Diamond’s raw talent in the middle of his biggest days.
This vinyl also contains the Diamond classic “Forever in Blue Jeans.” This is a song for summer. With its light guitar and uptempo beat, it reminds me of a warm summer afternoon with that special someone. It strips love of all its complexities into a simple afternoon in blue jeans.
This albums next milestone comes with Diamond’s version of “You’ve Got Troubles.” His rendition of this song comes with all the Diamond charm, including those scruffy vocals, and a riveting piano line, yet it is mixed with a slight disco/ folk feel. I could easily roller skate or protest to this song.
After these light-hearted songs of love and troubles comes the pinnacle of this album and one of the finest songs that Neil Diamond had a hand in composing. “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” a duet with Barbra Streisand, has been a long time favorite of mine. I find it to be the companion piece to Lionel Richie and Diana Ross’s “Endless Love.” These songs together show both extremes of romance, yet they can flow in and out of each other. Streisand’s vocals flow effortlessly over the piano and strings, but Diamond’s vocals provide the foundation of the song.
One can feel the angst in his voice as he contemplates the idea of separation, and he is placing himself in a vulnerable position. It’s clear the downfall of this relationship lies with both sides, yet it is sprung by the simplest situation. They simply no longer bring flowers to each other anymore, a metaphor that can mean many things. This song is about the spark in a relationship that is essential through little actions and what it means when they go undone.
As one flips this album they are immediately met with a pure dance anthem, “The Dancing Bumble Bee/Bumble Boogie.” This song is composed of pure funk arrangements with a spinning disco ball in mind. This tune insists dancing.
The listener is then confronted with an eerie and light guitar rift that turns into a dramatic menagerie with “Mothers and Daughters, Fathers and Sons.” This song makes me picture the pilgrims landing on Plymouth in bell bottoms and crop tops coming down the Mayflower with a little boogie. Not a bad idea.
The last three songs on this album are solely written by Diamond. The biggest gem from this trilogy is “Diamond Girls.” It’s a Diamond power ballad with a major disco bass line that tells the story of a girl giving her all for the sake of her dreams and a better life. This is Diamond’s version of Gentry’s (or McEntire’s) “Fancy.”
Diamond is in all his legendary glory with this album. He encompasses many emotions from the air of an uptempo disco party to the trampling of flowers. What I find most intriguing about this album though is his vocal performance. You Don’t Bring Me Flowers really brings Diamond’s voice to fruition. I’ve listened to him many times, but I have now finally pinpointed exactly what his voice mirrors.
Diamond’s vocals are essentially the scruff you get hours after a good shave. His voice is crisp and clean yet it possess a grit. A man can never fully rid himself of this issue, just like Diamond has been in music forever. One cannot quite get a hold of those tiny 5 o’clock shadow hairs either, just like one cannot pinpoint Diamond’s voice, writings, and longevity.
Diamond’s music is timeless. His writings are authentic. He is a pillar in the evolution of music.
He is the scruff after the shave where it gets real.