It’s no secret that Neil Diamond started his career as a professional songwriter, but his enduring success as a performer tends to overshadow those early years. A Solitary Man: The Early Songs of Neil Diamond, part of Ace’s ongoing songwriter series, collects 24 of these early Diamond compositions, all performed by other artists between the years of 1963 and 1972. Those 1963 and 1972 singles -- the Rocky Fellers’ “We Got Love” and Bobby Womack’s “Sweet Caroline,” respectively -- are ringers, as the rest of the record firmly focuses on the latter half of the ‘60s, which is when Diamond started having hits and some of those songs are here as performed by others: B.J. Thomas’ re-creation of “Solitary Man,” Deep Purple’s fuzz-rocking “Kentucky Woman,” Jackie Edwards’ “Girl You’ll Be a Woman Soon,” the Music Machine turning “Cherry Cherry” into a sickly sweet parfait, Junior Walker & the All-Stars doing a nice slow burn on “Holly Holy.” There are a handful of other songs that Diamond recorded on his own -- notably “Glory Road” and “The Boat That I Row,” both given great treatments by Arthur Alexander and Lulu, respectively; “Red Red Wine,” here in Tony Tribe’s hit ska reworking; “I’m a Believer,” here performed by the Four Tops (and grandfathered into the category due to its familiarity) -- but the chief attraction of A Solitary Man lies in the songs that Diamond never cut. There’s only one hit among these tracks -- the Monkees’ “Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)” -- and some of the songs are so successful in chasing commercial trends they sound too tied to their time, but a good chunk of this remains thoroughly appealing professional pop, particularly Sadina’s stately “It Comes and Goes,” the Solitaires’ “Fool That I Am,” the Wanderer’s Rest's folk-rocking “You’ll Forget,” the Box Tops’ soulful pop nugget “Ain’t No Way,” Billie Davis’ bright girl group confection “Love to Love,” and Billy Fury’s “Where Do You Run.” Taken together, these eclectic excursions, covers, and handful of hits do paint a portrait of a savvy commercial songwriter, and while it’s always been acknowledged that Diamond is exactly that, A Solitary Man does provide the revelation that he had an easy touch in a number of different styles.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine