Sunday, April 8, 2012

April 8: Neil Diamond, "Crackin' Rosie"

Artist: Neil Diamond
Song: "Cracklin' Rosie"
Album: Tap Root Manuscript
Year: 1970

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When one looks at the entire history of recorded music, there can be seen a wide array of reason that an artist might stand aside or above the rest.  Sometimes due to a voice, other times due to bringing a certain musical approach at an early point in music history, their efforts are simply seen as greater in value when compared to others.  In almost every case, one can see the music in question as jarring or unique to some extent, and yet one can also make the argument that there are a number of artists who were able to perfect a certain sound, giving them their own place among the finest performers of all time.  Strangely, it is often within the music of those in this latter group that the "why" in terms of their vaulted status is perhaps a bit difficult to understand, as it is more in the overall quality of their sound as opposed to the "revolutionary" factor that makes them so important.  Standing today as one of the most highly revered members of this group, there is not another performer in history with a sound or a catalog quite like that of Neil Diamond.  For more than five decades, Diamond has been writing and playing some of the most memorable songs ever recorded, and yet the fact remains that there is no single way to define his style of music.  Also due to his unique sound and long career, there are a number of legendary songs that he has written, yet few can compare to the overall sound and lasting impression of Neil Diamond's classic 1970 single, "Cracklin' Rosie."

Truth be told, one would be hard pressed to find a more instantly recognizable opening refrain than the downward progressing notes that kick off "Crackin' Rosie," and over the decades, it has attained a level that is nothing short of anthemic.  Yet it is this combination of horns and guitars that instantly define just how difficult it is to categorize the music of Neil Diamond.  The sound is not quite rock, not really folk, and does not fit into any idea of jazz or other genres.  In many ways, one can argue that the music of Neil Diamond is a sound onto itself, as the pop sensibilities that he injects into every song are unlike those of any other musician in history.  All across "Crackin' Rosie," there is an energy and mood that is completely absorbing, as the rhythm second brings just enough groove and sway to give it a "dance feel," and yet one can easily see just how far it was from anything else being released around 1970.  At the same time, there is a bit of an edge to the overall sound, and it is this spirit that keeps it so far from any strand of folk music.  The fact of the matter is, though one may not be able to accurately describe exactly what the sound is that Neil Diamond creates, it is impossible to deny that it is anything short of catchy, and its persistence in popular culture over the decades has proven its worthiness of being called timeless as well.

Much in the same way that one can most accurately describe the music of Neil Diamond by using his name, the voice he brings to each song is equally distinctive.  Again finding a unique balance between the worlds of rock and folk, few singers in all of history have come off as outright authentic as one finds in his voice, an it is often the passion with which he sings that makes the songs so intriguing.  There is an energy and a joy to his singing on "Crackin' Rosie" that is unlike any other song in history, and it is this vitality within his voice that has made it a crowd favorite in stadiums, bars, and cars all across the planet.  Yet underneath this reality, there is the fact that at his core, Neil Diamond has a clear understanding of his singing range, and he works almost the entire song in a very narrow register.  This is in no way a negative aspect, as it shows his knowledge on how to best craft the song, and in an era when so many singers were attempting to push far beyond their proper range, Diamond showed that for true quality, this was unnecessary.  However, it is within the lyrics of "Crackin' Rosie" where most people are led somewhat astray, as many believe that the song is about a woman and a sense of devotion to this character.  The reality is that the song is actually about a style of wine drunk by a Native Canadian tribe that Diamond had visited.

Regardless of the "true" inspiration behind the song, over the past four decades, "Crackin' Rosie" has become one of the most widely known songs in history, and to this day, it can still light up a room with only the unforgettable opening notes.  The song has also found its way into countless areas of popular culture, as well as a number of bands recording their own renditions.  In fact, the jam band Phish has played it during some of their live shows since the early 1990's, and this reality shows just how far and wide the songs' impact has spread.  Yet this impact was almost instantaneous, as "Crackin' Rosie" quickly shot to the top of the charts, becoming Neil Diamond's first number one single in the United States, as well as finding massive success in both England and Australia.  One can see this as the song that "broke" him as an artist, and his next few releases saw similar success.  However, there are also two versions of the song that one can find, as the single release was a mono take, while the version found on Tap Root Manuscript is in stereo.  But it matters little which version one hears, as the energy and intent of the song is just as strong in both cases, and it is this infectious and completely unique sound that makes Neil Diamond's 1970 single, "Crackin' Rosie," one of the most important and outright enjoyable songs ever recorded.

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