Neil Diamond's debut LP was issued in October 1966 just as "Cherry Cherry" -- Diamond's first Top Ten hit -- was peaking at number six on the singles chart. It's a fascinating document, and not just in hindsight: it has virtues of its own, separate from being an early chapter in a long career to follow. As a showcase for Diamond as both singer and songwriter, he fares well in both capacities, though his songwriting is more interesting here than his singing, but that's no surprise, as according to his own account, he'd just achieved a new level of seriousness and depth as a composer and was reveling in the best that he could do at that moment. As a singer, he needed more time to develop, though he obviously had a good deal of depth and expressiveness at his command, even in 1966. He does have some wonderfully transcendent moments here, and not just on the hits -- "Solitary Man," "Cherry Cherry," and "Oh No No (I've Got The Feeling)" are familiar to most fans -- but "Love to Love," "Someday Baby," etc. also show some of the power and range that Diamond would be able to muster more effectively in his singing as he moved toward his prime years, and show the new, very personal songwriting he was pursuing. He's at his best on the original songs, the most personal of which (apart from "Solitary Man") are confined to the second side of the album: producers Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich (who are all over this record with handclaps, backing vocals etc.) wanted to introduce his talent to the would-be purchasers gradually, book-ending the contents between the two hits ("Oh No No" didn't chart until a month after the LP's release) and offering Diamond doing a handful of covers of familiar hits. Given that he was still making the transition from songwriter to performer, he does very well by all of the latter, which include Paul Simon‘s "Red Rubber Ball" (done in the same arrangement used by the Cyrkle, but with Diamond's raw, personal singing a very different experience from that group's harmonies) and John Phillips‘ "Monday Monday" (with Ellie Greenwich very prominent on the vocals), as well as the Barry-Greenwich "Hanky Panky." As a debut effort, it has some flaws that one would expect; not all ofDiamond's originals were jewels, and he would find some finer nuances to his singing in short order. But when his songwriting and singing were on target, which was well over half the album, this was one of the better pop/rock releases of 1966, as well as a kind of transitional work in a singer/songwriter mold. It sounds (and even often, on the covers, feels) like Brill Building pop, but the words and the singing are already evolving out of those origins and into something new.