A guy who wrote great songs in the early days, started getting watered down for a few decades, and then found Rick Ruben.
Diamond's Official Website
Suggested first purchase/best of: The Ultimate Collection
Suggested first album: 12 Songs
His 12 Greatest Hits (1974) -- This only covers one period of Neil Diamond, but it doesn't throw in live versions and other crap like some of the other compilations. No one true (readily-available) Neil Diamond collection seems to exist, so it's best at the moment to combine some of these smaller ones from various eras.
The Greatest Hits (1966-1992) (1992) -- This two disc set would be a nice collection if it weren't for the fact that Columbia didn't have the rights to the MCA recordings and had to settle for stupid live versions of his great songs like "Cracklin' Rosie" and "Song Sung Blue." Oh, and that Neil just starting sucking later in his career, making disc two almost useless.
The Very Best of Neil Diamond (1997) -- I believe this was a TV-only special markets greatest hits album--and it really is the best one. There isn't a good collection to be found in stores, but this two disc set covers all his hits, without any annoying live tracks or other "tricks" to get around rights issues. Good luck tracking it down, however.
12 Songs (2005) -- Now that Johnny Cash is gone, it seems that Neil Diamond has taken over the job as being the legend who makes stark, beautiful albums with producer Rick Ruben. But while the strength of Cash's American Recordings were his dark interpretations of contemporary songs (such as Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt"), Neil Diamond has written a batch of songs himself. Neil Diamond has been a great songwriter since the beginning over at Brill Street, but over the years he got lazy and sloppy and sappy and sometimes downright tedious. Rick Ruben here seems to remind Neil Diamond of who Neil Diamond once was, forcing him to create the good songs that exist within him. So take the opening track, "Oh Mary." It's probably the best song of 2005. Eleven songs almost as good follow, and many of them reach high heights emotionally, including "Hell Yeah" and "Evermore." Some more carefree numbers exist too, since we like when Neil does that too. Those include "Delirious Love" and "We." Every song has something going for it, and that always includes careful (but simple) instrumentation, perfect melodies, and Diamond's unique voice. (Note: In 2006, a reissue of this album was put out that included a bonus disc that included an alternate-take version of the album. It works really well as alternate listening. The collection also adds a bonus song on both discs and a Brian Wilson mix of "Delirious Love.")
Home Before Dark (2008)
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