This post may not be completely safe for work. Now it may seem pretty uncool in some circles to be a fan of Neil Diamond. Let me take you back 40 years ago. I picked up the album at a friend’s house as he put the record on the turntable. Here’s the image from the cover:
Now, if you were a teenage boy like I was, one thing comes to mind – he’s miming having a wank or as we say here “jerking off.” Inside the double album there was a photo spread with him on the stage and under it says…
Talk about sex as a metaphor! Right away you feel this is contraband and you really are curious as to what the music will be life. Nearly two hours later you felt like you had a religious experience. The whole concert was amazing and the memory of that first listen is burned into my mind. Nothing captures the spirit of that time and the album’s influence then one of the most infamous reviews of all time:
Rolling Stone Review
He sure is hip, ain’t he? Neil Diamond’s metamorphosis from a simple short-haired rock pop hitmaker into one of the heaviest dudes on the planet, a force of international magnitude, has been accomplished with all the grace to which true superstars are heir. Come what may, Neil did it his way. Just look at this album: A zero cool deluxe two-record set with pages inside and everything, the true document of Neil’s historic concert last summer under the stars of the best city in America, Los Angeles, which is a real stronghold of Diamond fandom. They’re hooked, they can’t help it, and no wonder when you look at the way the man carries himself and the trappings he swaddles his soul and product in.
Attending the release of this sluice of ultimorgasmic sounds from Meister D. is some of the grooviest garnish this side of a Melanie press kit. Here on the very front cover is Neil in full flight, working it on out, and what is he doing? Pretending to jerk off, that’s what. He’s pantomiming whanging his clanger, and from the look on his face I’d say he’s about to shoot off, and the only bogus part is that he’d like everybody out there to think it’s 13 inches long. It’s truly a pic to post in your den or rec room for years to come, no matter what some o’ them psychedelic shmucks with their Hawkwind nightshade garlands might think; you don’t even need a black light, and it’s great to spill beer on or throw your girlfriend up against in the party’s latter leagues.
The music on Hot August Night is a fine presentation of the entire spectrum of the Diamond oeuvre, from “Solitary Man” to “Song Sung Blue.” It’s great, pretentious, goofy pop. Neil has always had a marvelously evocative, hymn-like quality, but it’s pure Hollywood reverence, and he really should get a gig writing soundtracks. Which is no putdown. There’s always a place for good corn and good pomp too. This set opens with a mighty orchestral flourish fit to put both Elvis and David Bowie to shame. And when it comes to hamming it up, Neil’s one of the few who can actually outdo Elvis, as in the introduction to “Morningside”: “This is a dream … a dream about an old man who dies alone … and leaves a gift behind….”
The hymn-like feeling reaches a peak on sides three and four, what with such celebrations of the common man’s innate nobility as “Canta Libre” and “I Am … I Said,” and by the time you reach “Brother Love”‘s grand finale, you’re a goner: He sounds just like Eric Burdon playing Elmer Gantry, the melodrama is irresistible, and the only thing he could do to top this would be to collaborate with James Michener and Frank Capra on a Cinerama rock opera about the second coming of Thomas Jefferson as a wandering Jesus Freak minstrel who sews this wicked land up at the seams and brings the children home and their parents into the street to dance. Starring none other. (RS 129)
Have a listen and then go out and buy the album: