When I was very young my favourite song was ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ (of course), but this was nudged off my own personal charts by ‘Crunchy Granola Suite’ as it looped round and round on the cartridge in our Leyland P-76. On Hot August Night this song marks the explosive entrance of Neil Diamond, who evidently (by the wild cheering) makes his appearance with the guitar riff. Not one but two climaxes preceded this: first, the strings and organ had reached their apotheosis; and second, the full band had climbed the steps all the way to the top. And why not? It’s all about making the audience go wild.
"Whatever you could do to make them crazy you’d do. You’d dance around, you’d take your shoes off," says Neil on the ‘Musicians Intro’ track on the 40th Anniversary release.
Mr Diamond had a very different approach to engendering the wildness when I saw him in concert in 1992. He simply appeared under a spotlight, wandering around in the audience singing, “Hello, my friend, hello …” That’s all he needed to do. The crowd went psycho.
(How powerful that manufactured wildness can be. My first rock show was Queen in 1985. They had the smoke, the lights, the explosions when they came on stage, and I froze like a kangaroo in headlights).
And so he’s on stage, strumming his guitar loosely. And his first words, what are they?
"Dow - da da dee dow. Dee dee da dow dow. Dee dee da dowwww …"
In this song, the first song, Neil uses that deep growly proto-death metal voice that we hardly ever hear on his studio recordings. It will reach unimaginable heights on the second disc, but right now we get a taste of it. We also get plenty of Neil’s percussive vocal asides - the “HUH!” and “HEH!” and the iconic signature utterance that seems to sum up the unrelenting audacity of the entire enterprise - "GOOD LAAAAWWWD!"
"This is a fantasy - pure fantasy."
I wasn’t there, of course, being an eight month old Australian baby when this concert took place, but I can imagine a sunset and mosquitos as a lone cello sounds amongst the chatting and laughing of those assembled. A woman can be heard cackling with laughter before the music begins. Did she ever know she was being recorded? Did she ever buy the album and notice herself?
More strings join in and dance around each other before the full string orchestra lights up. I always imagined a rising Sun when I heard this. I also thought, when I was a young boy, that this was the boring bit and that it went on for too long, as if it was the musical equivalent of the black and white bit in The Wizard of Oz, or the whole movie sequence before Charlie finally meets Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. But I kept listening, right through, because I knew that it was going to reach a splendid peak, and it does, when the strings ring out accompanied by the organ.
I first heard Hot August Night, it must be told, in my dad’s orange Leyland P-76, on four track cartridge. Sometimes I used to sit in the car on my own as it was parked in our carport, listening to the album from start to finish.
The guitar starts strumming and the drums and percussion kick in before the string orchestra plays a happy jumping tune. Everything builds to a climax. Neil Diamond is about to hit the stage.