Retrospective, Neil Diamond’s Hot August Night (1972)

The first Neil Diamond song I ever heard was “Sweet Caroline” from 1969, so I can say that I was literally listening to that man before my wife was born.

Hot August Night should be on one of those lists people are fond of on the Internet, in the Top 5 of the Best Live Albums Ever Made for instance. I have good memories of this LP, it was in my Dad’s record collection when we were living by ourselves in the 1970s. there’s four of those records now, but I’m only going to be looking at the first.

My wife and I saw Neil Diamond in Seattle, around 1996. It was paid for by our mother-in-law, which was one of the few good things she ever did for us. There was a good vibe running throughout that concert. “America” is a song that’s best appreciated live; everyone was holding hands, including us, during “Sweet Caroline”.

Neil Diamond is a consummate performer, and on this double LP he’s at the height of his powers. It’s hard to believe that man was shy in high school, although that seems to seep out in the times he shares dialogue with the audience. It’s an astounding performance captured  at one of his favorite venues, the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. It was the first record released on the brand new label MCA, which came about from a merging of the Uni, Kapp and Decca labels.

Apparently it was a quick turnaround from performance to release, as the concert was recorded, naturally enough, on August 24, 1972, one of ten sold-out concerts at the Greek that month. It was in record stores by December 9.

It has its share of deep cuts, lesser known songs like “Porcupine Pie”, “Soggy Pretzels” and “Canta Libre”. We agree, my wife and I, that this slowed down version of “Red Red Wine” may be one his best renditions of that song. And there are the hits–“Solitary Man”, “Sweet Caroline”, “Shilo”, “Play Me” and live cuts from what was then his most recent LP, Tap Root Manuscript. My wife always cries when he does “I Am… I Said”, and I’m pretty sure Neil was deeply affected, too. The show closed with the inevitable “Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show”.

The album sleeve is one that has to be seen. One wonders if Neil ever looks back at that cover and asks, ‘Wow, did I ever have THAT much hair?’ Here’s to you, Neil Diamond, and may you have many happy years to come.

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