In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing.
Neil Diamond’s real name is Neil Diamond. People tend to forget that. Many would-be pop icons have wracked their brains trying to cook up stage names that ridiculously glitzy, and they rarely succeed. But in 1966—just as he was about to embark on a solo career that would make him one of the most beloved yet unfairly mocked entertainers of all time—Diamond had qualms about using his already perfect moniker. In fact, he seriously considered going under a pseudonym. One of the frontrunners: Noah Kaminsky. Truly a tag to set the world on fire.
At the last minute, though, he balked. His breakthrough solo single, 1966’s “Solitary Man,” wound up being billed under Neil Diamond. It’s a good thing that it was. When someone named Neil Diamond releases a song called “Solitary Man,” it immediately evokes an image of a brooding, romanticized loner (like, say, Johnny Cash, who covered the song to great effect in 2000). But Noah Kaminsky’s “Solitary Man”? Sounds like the theme song of some schlub living in his mother’s basement. Although to be fair, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet: Diamond’s original version of “Solitary Man” remains hauntingly catchy, an almost Leonard Cohen-esque ode to spurned love and wounded pride.