Few musicians polarize critics like Neil Diamond, but, love him or hate him, you can’t deny his ability to write unforgettable pop numbers. Just consider how many of Diamond’s songs have become standards and then, as covers, became standards again. While trying to catalogue such a list, we discovered a number of forgotten covers you, like us, probably haven’t heard. Check ’em out.
Daddy Yankee, "America"
We’re still hoping this one hits the airwaves soon. Reggaeton artist Raymond “Daddy Yankee” Ayala became an international star with “Gasolina,” but he’s still trying to establish himself as a true crossover success. This bombastic cover of Diamond’s beloved ode to the immigrant seems like a surefire way to do just that, especially given the fact that Senator John McCain is a fan…right?
After all, they appeared on stage together…right? To be honest, we kind of expected Daddy Yankee’s “America” to become McCain’s theme song. Would’ve been a real maverick move…right?
Elliot Smith, "Captain Sunshine"
Most Elliot Smith fans are aware of how his vision for his final recording From a Basement on the Hill was supplanted by his family and former producer/engineer Rob Schnapf after his suicide. Less known is the fact that a Converse box full of four-track acoustic recordings was found in his car’s trunk – the most curious (and ironic) amongst them a raggedy, morose, and yet strangely optimistic cover of Diamond’s “Captain Sunshine.”
Though not widely disseminated, combing music-sharing sites can sometimes reveal this affecting cover listed as a track by Diamond himself even though Smith’s warm, melancholic voice can hardly be mistaken for the Jewish Elvis.
White Stripes, "Kentucky Woman"
Long before Jack White revealed he had a thing for a real Kentucky woman, Miss Loretta Lynn, he and Meg covered Diamond’s “Kentucky Woman.” And why not? The Stripes have covered everyone from Robert Johnson and Bob Dylan to Burt Bachrach and Dolly Parton. One small hitch: their Diamond cover was a comical 1990s Halloween-night show in Detroit with Jack in full spandex-and-sequin regalia. Look for the video on YouTube.
Clay Aiken, "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon"
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Seeking to build a fanbase for Aiken not primarily composed of overweight pre-teen girls, RCA hatched a plan in 2003: inject some manhood into the then sexually ambiguous American Idol runner-up. A cover of Diamond’s “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” was recorded and a video shot, but the dark sexuality Diamond had infused into the song wound up neutered by Aiken’s soaring voice and inability to glower.
In fact, the video features Aiken crawling into bed with a young “virgin” who, even as he awkwardly prepares to make her a woman, can’t help but squirm next to his effulgent smile. “This Is the Night” was quickly recorded instead and debuted as No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.
Note: Don’t try looking for these covers too hard. We’re obviously just having a good time, which is all Diamond’s music is really about. - Cole Haddon
Neil Diamond performs 7 p.m. tonight at Toyota Center, 1510 Polk, 866-446-8849.