In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we’re talking about some of our favorite songs about drinking.
Neil Diamond really only has himself to blame for his somewhat lame rep: Songs like ”Sweet Caroline” and “Song Sung Blue” hover right around The Carpenters’ level on the cool scale. But scratch the surface of this Brooklyn bard just a little deeper, and there’s a darker side of Diamond that I’ve always enjoyed: “Solitary Man,” the creepy “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon,” even “I Am, I Said.” For Neil’s definitive drinking song, I can see where some might want to go with “Red Red Wine,” but the UB40 cover has pretty much usurped the original version in the public imagination. Let’s go with a song so morose, Frank Sinatra could have sung it after his Ava Gardner breakup: “Love On The Rocks.”
“Love On The Rocks” was a later addition to the Diamond canon, appearing on The Jazz Singer soundtrack in 1980, after most of his greatest hits like “Cracklin’ Rosie” and “Holly Holy” had already been written. Diamond’s screen debut was unfortunately fraught with problems, a remake from completely out-of-date source material. The Jazz Singer still stands as his only acting role to this day (although he shows up occasionally in movies like Saving Silverman, he’s always playing himself). Diamond got nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor In A Musical Or Comedy, but he won the Razzie for Worst Actor. This is one of those instances where the soundtrack was far superlative to the film itself: It even made more money. Diamond’s soundtrack contributions resulted in at least two classic songs (three if you count “Hello Again,” which I don’t), including the blockbuster he still closes his shows with (“America”) and this one.
You can just picture the formerly sunny Diamond sitting at a bar somewhere, muttering, “Love on the rocks / Ain’t no surprise / Pour me a drink / And I’ll tell you some lies.” But then the song takes a surprising turn, going off on the perils of fame and fortune, really, more than romance itself. When Diamond says, “Gave you my heart / Gave you my soul” he could also be talking about the crowds of adoring fans that had followed him around since the late ’60s. Diamond then rages in the chorus: “First they say they want you / Plead how they really need you / Suddenly you find you’re out there / Walking in a storm.” Look at the pronoun: By using “they,” Diamond could be referring to his relationship with his public, the fickle population of fanhood as he wove in and out of favor, possibly even predicting how critics were about to turn on him when The Jazz Singer was released. The “love” on the rocks here resembles the love he receives from performing: He’s “out there,” exposed, as his musical creations are judged.
Diamond being Diamond, he survived The Jazz Singer, but wisely never acted again. Decades and dozens of albums later (including last year’s Melody Road), the seventysomething still tours. And when he slows down the show for “Love On The Rocks,” he goes back to a time when his career was possibly in flux, when he lyrically ranted against both his admirers and non-admirers (“When they really have you… You’ve got to leave / Just get away”), when having someone pour him a drink so that he could spout off some lies sounded like a really appealing offer.