Posts Tagged ‘Bang’

Paul Davis: The Very Best Of

Sunday, December 27th, 2015

PaulDavis_TheVeryBestOfComprehensive collection of soft-rock singer’s hits

Mississippian Paul Davis is best remembered for his breakthrough 1977 hit “I Go Crazy,” but the light-soul soft-rock singer-songwriter broke into the industry seven years earlier, and continued to chart regularly until 1982. Varese’s seventeen-track collection reaches back to his first single, “Revolution in My Soul” b/w “Constantly” (issued as The Reivers), and rolls all the way through a pair of chart-topping duets in the mid-80s with Marie Osmond (“You’re Still New to Me”) and Tanya Tucker (the terrific “I Won’t Take Less Than Your Love”). Along the way the disc collects all of Davis’ charting singles except the minor chart entries “Can’t You Find Another Way (Of Doing It),” “Keep Our Love Alive” and “Cry a Little.”

The two earliest sides, issued on the Los Angeles-based White Whale label, are great period pop, with the Muscle Shoals-produced A-side evincing gospel soul and the B-side tuneful bubblegum. The single gained enough notice to get Davis signed with the Bang label, where his first release was a sweet soul cover of the Jarmels’ “A Little Bit of Soap.” The single’s success led to an album, A Little Bit of Paul Davis, and an opportunity for Davis to spread his songwriting wings with “I Just Wanna Keep it Together.” You can hear a touch of labelmate Neil Diamond in the single’s near-spoken passages, though the production is more in line with the pop hits of Tony Orlando and UK acts Edison Lighthouse and the Flying Machine.

Davis continued to write imaginative hits for himself throughout the ‘70s, often producing or co-producing his own records. He added country rock flavor to “Boogie Woogie Man,” folk country to “Ride ‘Em Cowboy,” and turning more towards the pop mainstream with electronic keyboards on 1976’s “Thinking of You” and double-tracked vocals on the name-checking “Superstar.” The updated sound set the stage for Davis’ breakthrough with the following year’s “I Go Crazy,” a single that stayed on the Hot 100 for a then record-setting forty weeks. A follow-up duet (with Susan Collins) covering the Beach Boys’ “Darlin’” charted outside the Top 40, but the smooth “Sweet Life” brought him back to the Top 20 and crossed to the country chart.

Davis moved to Arista and notched a trio of hits in the early ‘80s, including his biggest chart success, “‘65 Love Affair.” His final hit for Arista, a cover of the Friends of Distinction’s “Love or Let Me Be Lonely” is included here in its original single version, featuring a third verse that was not on the album track. Davis largely retired from recording after 1982, guesting on a pair of country chart-topping duets in 1986 and 1988, and focusing on background singing and songwriting, including penning “Meet Me in Montana” for Dan Seals. This disc provides a good introduction to Davis’ music, from earlier, earthier sides through the slicker pop-soul sound of his solo hits, to the country duets with which he bowed out. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Neil Diamond: The Very Best Of Neil Diamond – The Original Studio Recordings

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

An oddly sequenced collection of Diamond’s diamonds

As anyone familiar with Neil Diamond’s career knows, he’s had more hits that could possibly fit onto a single CD. But drawing across his stints on Bang, Uni, Capitol (for which he recorded the soundtrack to The Jazz Singer) and Columbia, this twenty-three track set shows Diamond’s maturation from Brill Building songwriter to hit-making singer to worldwide superstar to reinvented elder statesman. Of course, given the set’s non-chronological programming, you’ll only hear the actual arc of his artistic development if you reprogram the tracks as 12, 4, 9, 10, 16, 21, 20, 18, 6, 11, 21, 7, 5, 13, 8, 17, 2, 14, 1, 3, 15, 22, 23, 19. If you play the set as-is, you’ll start near the end of Diamond’s hit-making career with 1978’s “Forever in Blue Jeans” and spin through a few other 1970s releases before jumping back to 1966’s “Cherry, Cherry.”

Given the focus on hits, it’s easy to excuse the great album tracks left behind, but the inclusion of lesser sides in place of the hits “Thank the Lord for the Night Time,” “Longfellow Serenade” and “Heartlight” is surprising. The mix of Top 10s, Adult Contemporary hits (“Beautiful Noise”), low-charting singles that were hits for other artists (“I’m a Believer” and “Red Red Wine”) and latter-day sides with Rick Rubin (“Pretty Amazing Grace” and “Hell Yeah”) covers the breadth and depth of his career, but the muddled timeline and interweaving of mono Bang-era tracks with modern stereo productions is without obvious purpose. Segueing from the 1980’s “Love on the Rocks” to hard-rocking guitars of “Cherry, Cherry” is awkward, as is the mood shift from 1972’s “Play Me” to 1967’s bubblegum-soul “I’m a Believer.”

Despite the set’s odd characteristics, Diamond shines as a talented songwriter who learned early on how to write a hook, and a dramatic vocalist with a memorable voice. He’s been well-served by arrangers and producers who fit his voice into a variety of contexts – guitar-charged rock, organ-backed soul, contemporary pop and huge productions that echo the operatic grandeur of Roy Orbison. Diamond’s song-by-song notes are peppered with interesting recollections and generous sharing of credit with his many exceptional co-workers. It may surprise casual fans to find that he co-wrote with Marilyn and Alan Bergman, was produced by Robbie Robertson, and recorded several of his biggest hits in Memphis at Chips Moman’s American Sound Studio.

Noting the missing chart entries, as well as the terrific list price, this is a good single-disc sketch of Diamond’s career as a hit maker, but it’s only a sketch, and only a sketch of his hits. It balances his years at Bang (seven tracks), Uni (seven), Columbia (six) and Capitol (three), and plays well for those wishing to relive the artist’s most familiar songs. The two Rick Rubin-produced cuts, “Pretty Amazing Grace” and “Hell Yeah,” show Diamond still vital and growing in his fifth decade of recording. Still, a career as rich as Diamond’s can’t really be condensed onto one disc; even the three-disc In My Lifetime left fans arguing about what was missing. A more complete picture of Diamond’s early years can be heard by picking up The Bang Years: 1966-1968 and Play Me: The Complete Uni Studio Recordings… Plus!, and his Columbia years are well represented on original album reissues and several anthologies. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

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Neil Diamond: The Bang Years 1966-1968

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

The young Neil Diamond graduates from songwriter to performer

Before Neil Diamond became a singing superstar he was a songwriter, but even as a songwriter he wasn’t an instant success. He spent his teen years tramping from one publishing house to another, occasionally selling a song against royalties for hits that never came. It wasn’t until an unsuccessful year on the staff of Leiber & Stoller’s Trio Music and, ironically, a transition to recording, that Diamond found his voice as a songwriter. He first charted with Jay and the Americans’ “Sunday and Me,” and hit his commercial stride with the Monkees chart-toppers “I’m a Believer” and “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You.” Other songs in his catalog found favor among British Invasion acts that included Cliff Richard and Lulu.

Diamond’s earlier attempts at a performing career (with Dual in 1959 and Columbia in 1963) had gone nowhere, but his signing to Bang in 1966 unlocked his songwriting talent and paired him with producers Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich. It was during this initial run at Bang that Diamond proved himself a talented songwriter, unique vocalist and commanding hit maker. His first seven singles reached the chart, six making the top 20; for good measure he extended the chart run with “Red, Red Wine” and a soul-power cover of Gary U.S. Bonds’ “New Orleans.” Several of his B-sides, including “The Boat That I Row” and “Do It” were as good as the A’s, and cover versions of “Red Rubber Ball,” “Monday, Monday” and “La Bamba” were blessed by the Diamond touch.

Barry and Greenwich (who can be heard singing backing vocals) hired the cream of New York’s session players, and together with arranger Artie Butler and engineers Brooks Arthur, Tom Dowd and Phil Ramone, cranked out these brilliant capsules of AM radio pop. Diamond would go on to even greater chart and performance glory, but the seeds of his success can be heard in the craft of these twenty-three sides, particularly his eighteen original compositions. The mono masters are housed in a tri-fold digipack with a 20-page booklet that features pictures and revealing liner notes by Diamond himself. For the next phase in Diamond’s career, check his mid-period work on Play Me: The Complete Uni Studio Recordings… Plus! [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

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