Neil Diamond videos reviewed here.
"Love at the Greek (1976)"- The setlist overlaps somewhat with the LP, but they were recorded on different nights, as-well as having some different songs. Sound quality okay, in VHS Hi-Fi stereo, but a notch below the LP/CD, with crowd noise mixed too high. Most of the songs had been edited- very painful for the Neil purist. Whole verses were dropped (sometimes the BEST verses!). It's a real shame that the string section was replaced by synthesizers- synths were CHEESY in 1976. Just listen to mid-70's Styx albums and you'll know what I mean... Hot August Night fans had gotten spoiled with full orchestras, which are sorely missed here. In all honesty, there are a few low points on this vid- a padded "Song Sung Blue" where Neil browbeats a very shy Henry Winkler into singing a verse as the Fonz, and "Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show", with not-very-good camera angles. Too many crowd shots, and Neil is shown in long-shots. This particular songs NEEDS to be filmed close-up, else much of Brother Love's oratory power is lost. But when this video is good, it's very good. "Holly Holy" (edited- dammit!) and "I've Been This Way Before" are better than the LATG album versions- in the case of "Holly Holy", superior pacing and more dramatic phrasing. In the case of "I've Been This Way Before"- it's simply smashing- sung much better and without that crack in his voice at the end. And the Beautiful Noise segment is a standout. Instead of using just straight concert footage, this segment combines still photos, Neil voice-overs and [intelligently] edited Beautiful Noise songs into a seamless, conceptually united whole. If "Lady Oh" doesn't move you, I don't know what will! Overall, the video's not perfect, but worthwhile way to spend $14.95. It can use some improvement- like an expanded version with all songs complete and the Jonathan Livingston Seagull medley.
DVD Notes: LATG has been released as a DVD in Brazil (of all places). The company is "CineArt", and I suspect that it's a pirated DVD. First off, CBS/Sony does have a presence in Brazil, and would have no reason to hand over release rights to a third party. When you play it, the "SMV" logo (Sony Music Video) shows onscreen, just like the VHS tape, yet there is no mention on the box that it had been licensed from Sony! Second, the cover art is grainy and a bit crude, and has photos from the WRONG time period (1986). Third, It sounds good, but it is not a true Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. Sure, the right number of speakers fire up, and the receiver detects it as Dolby Digital 5.1, but the sound is, in actuality, doubled-stereo, with the bass nicely sent to the proper subwoofer. Fourth, the picture quality is not superior to the VHS video. in fact, the colors are more muted. It's kind of nice to have this, so you won't wear out your LATG VHS tape, but don't be fooled into thinking that you are getting superior picture or sound, just because it's physically on a DVD.
Songs: Cherry Cherry/ Sweet Caroline/
Play Me/ Medley:[Beautiful Noise/Street Life/Lady Oh/If You Know What I
Mean]/ Song Sung Blue/ Cracklin' Rosie/ Holly Holy/ I Am...I Said/ Brother
Love's Travelling Salvation Show/ I've Been This Way Before
Neil's best video, in my opinion, is the currently out-of-print "I'm Glad You're Here With Me Tonight (1977)". This was the thing that made me a believer- prior to buying this, I wasn't even a fan of his. And of course, I'd never heard of the album or any of the songs on it. The IGYHWMT performances are all superb, though opinions of the quality of the songs themselves may vary. These are not the same as the LP or CD- most of these were done live on a soundstage in crisp, beautiful VHS-Hi Fi stereo WITH (this is important) an orchestra, Alan Lindgren conducting. "Free Man in Paris" appears here in superior form, "Desiree" (with an alternate lyric) rocks, and it has some intriguing studio footage of "You Don't Bring Me Flowers", where Neil debates with the Bergmans over the use of "and" or "baby" or "nothing" on the last verse. When he finally sings it (isolated in a studio booth), it's quite tolerable, benefiting from the lack of Streisand. It also has some montage videos of "Lonely Looking Sky/Skybird" (medley) and "Morningside". Best was saved for last- the "hits-medley" that contains Neil's best on-camera singing, topping Hot August Night at times - if that can be believed. The arrangement of "I Am... I Said" was particularly striking - it cleverly integrates themes from "Soolaimon", "Holly Holy" and "Cracklin' Rosie" into the closer. This video does not duplicate any music that was previously-released- all of it was newly recorded (or re-recorded- take yer pick). Plus, Neil, in his mid 30's, was a real looker and that is MUCH in evidence here. Well worth the time and effort to hunt this down.
Songs: Free Man in Paris/ Morningside/
Desiree/ Let Me Take You In My Arms Again/ I'm Glad You're Here With Me
Tonight/ You Don't Bring Me Flowers/ Medley:[Lonely Looking Sky/Skybird]/
Hits Medley:[Song Sung Blue/Sweet Caroline/Cherry Cherry/Holly Holy/Brother
Love's Travelling Salvation Show/I Am...I Said]/ Kentucky Woman Jam
"Greatest Hits Live (1986)"- It has quite a bit of similarity to Hot August Night II with its setlist, but everything that made HAN2 such a stinkeroo (THE SINGING, or more accurately, the SHOUTING) apparently was not a problem at all on "Greatest Hits Live", which, by the way, has much better singing and shouting was kept to a minimum. Neil appears here in the relatively intimate setting of the Aquarius Theater, and obviously had a ball recording this. This video has a little something for everyone- huge hits ("Sweet Caroline", "America"), rockers n' stompers ("Cherry Cherry", "Jungletime") and of course, Neil's (in)famous turgid ballads ("September Morn", "You Don't Bring Me Flowers"). Neil had reduced his musical role by this time, and only strapped on the guitar sporadically, and let Richard Bennett and Doug Rhone handle the guitar chores. This gave Neil more freedom to concentrate on his stage moves, which are very entertaining. This contains the most fun-to-watch "Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show" available in his commercial vid catalog. You have to see this one, for his expressions, and the way that he waves his hands around and pumps the crowd. Neil had backed-off on the solemn, brooding intensity of his mid-70's persona, and cranked up the charm and charisma and smiled a lot on this one. Again, Neil gives us our money's worth by supplying us with a performance that is NOT a duplicate of anything available on LP or CD. At the end of the tape is the underwhelming video of "This Time" (*groan*), where Neil shows little of the magnetism of his onstage persona. I'd suggest pressing the STOP button when the concert portion is through and skipping "This Time" entirely. If it's 80's Neil you want to hear, buy this instead of HAN2, your ears will thank you for it.
DVD Notes: It defaults to PCM stereo, but if you go to the menu (not displayed by default), you can set it manually to 5.1 Dolby Digital. I've gotta say that Neil's "Greatest Hits Live" has the STRANGEST 5.1 DD mix I've ever heard! It doesn't really sound like a concert hall, or anything I'd ever heard in a "natural environment"! The division of the sound can be described like this: Front left- Isolated instrumental track (mixed low) Front Center- Isolated Neil lead vocal track (mixed high) Front Right-Isolated instrumental track (mixed low) Rear left- very strange mix- with audience noise, echoey, suppressed instrumental track, but Neil's lead vocal VERY LOUD Rear right- very strange mix- with audience noise, echoey, suppressed instrumental track, but Neil's lead vocal VERY LOUD.
So, as a result, Neil's lead vocal (coming out full volume out of 3 of the 5 speakers) completely dominates the sound. You can barely hear the band, and King Errisson's drums sound so small that it sounds like he's hitting on a matchbox with a little stick. Ron Tutt's drums don't LEAD the band, like a proper rock n' roll recording should. There should be some "crunch" to the guitars on "Jungletime", but they're small and tinny, while Neil completely overwhelms the entire sound. [Speaking of "Jungletime", I've noticed a different mix on it. There's a part right before, "yeah, I'm checking out" where Neil is flailing around. In stereo (VHS), he sings along with "baby, baby, baby, baby" even when the video does not show his mouth moving. In the 5.1 mix, Neil does not sing the "baby, baby, baby, baby" part- only the backing singers do. I suspect that Sony removed an overdub here.]
GHLive might be one of those recordings that sounds better in standard 2-channel stereo. In 5.1. DD, the stuff that comes out of the rear channels is so weird that I found it constantly distracting.
Songs: America/ September Morn/
I'm Alive/Cherry Cherry/ Sweet Caroline/ I Am...I Said/ Headed For the
Future/ Hello Again/ Heartlight/ Jungletime/ You Don't Bring Me Flowers/
Forever in Blue Jeans/ Teach me Tonight/ Medley:[Golden Slumbers/Carry
That Weight/The End]/ Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show/ This Time
"The Roof Party- Songs from the Brill Building (1993)"- I saw the Brill video a few years ago. It was available at my local library, so I borrowed it. The first thing I noticed was that Neil looked awful during the interview sequences, like "death warmed over". I should have guessed- it didn't get any better during the concert sequences- at that time in his career, his voice was at its nadir, and sure enough, he rasped his way through the songs. I disliked the video intensely- for Neil's unhealthy appearance (he looked REALLY bad on that video- pale, pitted complexion, gaunt plus BAD HAIR) and because of his poor voice AND the way that the material (originally penned in the 60's for young artists) didn't fit with Neil's aged and creaky voice at the time (he has improved quite a bit since then). "Party" indeed! It's more like a depression-fest!
The only parts I enjoyed were Neil Sedaka's parts. At least THAT Neil looked fit and perky and sang with an energy that "our" Neil lacked.
Personally, I could not recommend this video to ANYONE. Seeing Neil like that made me sad, and sucked all the joy out of being a "Neil fan", seeing and hearing him like that. It's akin to having seen and remembered Johnny Cash from "The Johnny Cash Show" in the early 70's, and then not seeing him for a long time, and then flipping on VH-1 to see Cash's last video, "Hurt".
There is a theory that "Neil is a perfectionist", but watching the video, I could not believe that this passed any sort of scrutiny for "perfection" before being released to the general public commercially. It really smells of "quickie video to promote his latest album". I was HAPPY to give the "The Roof Party" video back to the library. I don't think I'd even been possessed with a desire to borrow it again.
Songs: Up on the Roof/ River
Deep, Mountain High/ You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling/ Happy Birthday Sweet
Sixteen/ Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow/ Cherry Cherry
"The Christmas Special (1993)"
Songs: Silent Night/ O Come O
Come Emmanuel/ Santa Claus is Coming to Town/ Little Drummer Boy/ Christmas
Song/ Morning Has Broken/ White Christmas/ God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen/
Jingle Bell Rock/ Hark the Herald Angels Sing/ You Make It Feel Like Christmas/
Oh Holy Night/ Silent Night Finale
"Under a Tennessee Moon (1996)"
Songs: Tennessee Moon/ Can Anybody Hear
Me/ One Good Love/ A Matter of Love/ Marry Me/ Blue Highway/ Talking Optimist
Blues/ Everybody/ No Limit/ Deep Inside of You/ Gold Don't Rust/ Kentucky
Woman/ One Good Love/ Marry Me
"Stages (2002)" - Stages write-ups coming soon!
Songs:America/ Hello Again/ Solitary Man/
I'm A Believer/ September Morn/ Beautiful Noise/ Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon/ Sweet Caroline/ Sweet Caroline reprise/ Cracklin' Rosie/I Am...I Said/ Brother
Love's Travelling Salvation Show
"Grammy's Greatest Moments (1980)"- Only one song by Neil, actually, half a song, because Barbara Streisand sings the other half of it. Your enjoyment of this video is directly tied to whether or not you like this song. I never did like it at the time it came out (1978), and I still can't stand it. In fact, to this day, I can't listen to it all the way through and have been diligently avoiding it like poison. On "Grammy's Greatest Moments", Babs and Neil start off on opposite sides of the stage, and line by line, they get closer until they're practically in each other's faces. This performance had gotten praise for being "electrifying" and the rapport between Babs and Neil has been described as "intense and dramatic and show-stealing". Oh, and there's a lot of screams when Babs strokes Neil's face on one of the last lines.
Songs: You Don't Bring Me Flowers
"Music Scene Vol. 1 (1970)"- Now THIS is more like it! Neil does 2 songs, "Both Sides Now" and "Holly Holy". Both seem to be using a pre-recorded backing track, with Neil singing live (Neil's value-for-the-money again... excellent!). "Both Sides Now" has him sitting on some lighted stairs, looking handsome and brooding. "Holly Holy" is a little creepy- dark-lit stage, with Neil surrounded by people sitting on pedestals. They don't seem to play any musical role, they're part of the set. The camera moves around in a circular pattern, mingling long shots and close-ups of Neil, with one fading into the other. His vocal sounds tentative- not quite with the confident power and strong delivery that we're used to. Maybe the set was giving him the creeps.
Songs: Both Sides Now/ Holly Holy
"Live from Greenwich Village (1967)"- Neil Diamond is on Tape #2 (not available separately) of a 7 tape set, "Live in Greenwich Village". Unlike "The Ed Sullivan Show", this set contains quite a few now-obscure artists (Jake Holmes?, Candy Men?), or obscure songs from hit artists ("Neon Rainbow" by The Box Tops?) which makes the set somewhat questionable in overall entertainment value for the general rock/pop audience. "Who the heck are these people? Never heard of them" and "What kind of songs are these?" would be common questions. Rather than sit through this set in its entirety, I think it's feasible, and a good idea to compile a single "highlights" tape that contains only the most desirable performances from the most desirable artists from this set.
Neil performs two songs (real hits), "Solitary Man" and "Kentucky Woman". You'd think that one of Neil's 60's appearances would be packed with screaming teenyboppers. But no, this audience (composed of young people) is surprisingly subdued. Neil sings at the folkie club, The Bitter End, dressed in a brown leather jacket, hair still greaser-styled. He sits alone onstage and sings "Solitary Man" live with a pre-recorded backing track. Although his vocal performance is good, the complete lack of rapport between Neil and the audience is puzzling. Did they pay to see him or what?
Songs: Solitary Man/ Kentucky
"Rock and Roll Call (1967)"- This title is both extremely entertaining and very frustrating at the same time. It's packaged in a hysterically garish outer-sleeve, and has 21 songs jammed into approximately 50 minutes. This was made possible at the rather high cost of the tape's entertainment value- the majority of the songs are edited, most containing about 2/3 of the song. Neil's "Cherry Cherry" is this way. It's in black and white, with Neil carrying a guitar, standing against a grid background. Neil's lip-synced performance is not the best- he misses his cues a few times. But, hey, it's not that easy to locate much Neil footage from this period (since this is not a duplicate of his American Bandstand appearance), so you'd better get this whenever it makes itself available on the used market. Previously released and originally titled as "Mellow Memories" on USA Home Video.
Songs: Cherry Cherry
"The Last Waltz (1976)"- Actually a film of the last concert by the critically-respected group The Band, top-notch players who made their reputation backing Dylan in the 60's. However, I've never been a connoisseur of The Band's recordings- what critics seem to consider "incredible vocalizing" I consider to be "off-key". Neil performs one song, the stunning, Phil Spector-ish "Dry Your Eyes" with his regular drummer, Dennis St. John and members of The Band. Neil shows up with a red shirt and blue jacket, wearing sunglasses and playing acoustic guitar. The performance is passionate, albeit a bit more raspy than most of his released live work up until that point. Since the members of The Band do NOT sing here, this shows them in their best light. Conclusion: Not particularly recommended, unless you like The Band. 3 minutes of Neil is not enough to make this a good investment. Wait for the VH-1 rebroadcast or rent this instead.
Songs: Dry Your Eyes
"The Jazz Singer (1980)"- Hmmm, buy it for the music but don't stay for the plot- you and the fast-forward button will become good friends. Neil does it again- all of the music in the movie consists of alternative performances not found on the LP/CD. Apparently, Neil insisted on singing live to lend the live segments an air of authenticity. The best parts are the ones that can be separated from the context of the movie- "Hava Nagilah", an exhilarating version of "On the Robert E. Lee"- before all of the lyrics were completed, "America"- which amply demonstrates Neil's showmanship skills, the unavailable-anywhere-else "You are My Sunshine" and a montage-version of "Songs of Life". But, for every good moment, there's at least one bad one- what's really annoying is when the dialogue cuts INTO some of the songs like "Hey Louise" and "Summerlove". I can do without the Molly and Rivka interruptions- I prefer to hear Neil sing! Particularly awful is the "blackface" scene early in the film- steer clear of this at all costs... I felt embarrassed for Neil while watching it! The remainder of the movie is a little drab and depressing and somewhat of a snoozer. Compared to the classic 1927 Al Jolson film, the timing and the sequencing of several key scenes are way off. That leaves characters behaving in implausible and mind-numbingly illogical ways. For example, "Songs of Life" works well as a standalone "music video" but the scene, and the reasoning behind it were never made very clear. In order to update the movie for the 80's, some major revisions needed to be done, and the script needed a drastic rewrite, but those clearly were not a high priority, so we ended up with a rather disjointed and unconvincing movie. What we really need is "The Jazz Singer Video Album"- something that would restore some of the cuts ("Hey Louise" et. al.) and get rid of the acting, plot and dialogue, and tighten this all up into a tidy 40 minute package.
Songs: America (opening)/ Adon
Olom/ You Baby/ Hava Nagilah/ Love On the Rocks/ On the Robert E. Lee/
Hello Again (demo)/ You Baby/ Amazed and Confused/ Summerlove/ Hey Louise/
Hello Again/ Jerusalem/ Songs of Life/ You Are My Sunshine/Kol Nidre/ America
"Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1973)" - Boy, is this boring! It's been said that you have to be in the right state of mind to watch this- I suppose that this means that you have to be loaded with coffee. A quick summary: A seagull's life is primarily concerned with eating garbage and fighting amongst themselves for scraps of food. One gull, Jonathan, has a little more ambition- he wants to fly higher and faster than any seagull has ever done. A frightening flight demonstration gets Jonathan expelled from the flock. He goes off alone and after a seagull's lifetime of wandering, he finds a flock of enlightened seagulls that teach him about the nature of being. At their urging, Jonathan goes back to his flock and teaches what he'd learned to other seagulls about breaking free from one’s limits. This (rather thin) plot wouldn't be such a problem if it weren't for the delivery. James Franciscus (the voice of Jonathan) doesn't sound very compelling using a hoarse whisper throughout the film- plus it sounds like he's reading off of cue cards. Then we have several shots done in the dark, making it hard to tell what's going on. And it's difficult for us to tell the birds apart, so we never really identify with the "characters". The movie definitely runs too long and has some serious pacing problems- it's unable to maintain a viewer’s interest, and I'd found it necessary to break the viewing in two so I wouldn't fall asleep. The film was originally released for video in 1982, before VHS Hi-Fi, so early copies have the soundtrack in hiss-monster lo-fi mono when played on modern VCRs. Lee Holdridge's lush score and Neil Diamond's soothing and mellifluous voice, appearing at various intervals, are undoubtedly the high points of the movie.
Songs: Prologue/ Be/ Flight of
the Gull/ Dear Father/ Skybird/ Lonely Looking Sky/ The Odyssey/ Anthem/
Be/ Skybird/ Dear Father/ Be
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