“Suzanne” – Randy Newman

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Forget the Police’s “Every Breath You Take.” As creepy as that song is, Randy Newman’s “Suzanne” is even more disturbing. If Sting sounded coldly calculating in his stalker anthem, Newman adds a quiet confidence that is terrifying. The song is arranged like a nightmare: lazy piano rhythms lull you into a sense of relaxation while an organ nervously tries to tell you something’s wrong. Except the organ isn’t quite loud or powerful enough to warn you in time.

Though, leave it to Newman to have the last laconic, dry-as the-Sahara observation about his protagonist: “This guy is not really much of a threat.”

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“Oh Mary” – Neil Diamond

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Here’s one that may come as a shock to most of you.  A simple, beautiful, soulful ballad by one of the most popular … and underrated … singer / songwriters of all time.   Neil Diamond is a great singer / songwriter undone many times over the years by his bad taste in arrangements and Vegas-y style.  If you want to hear the most comically awful cover of all time, check out Diamond’s Vegas-y cover of “I Dreamed a Dream” from “Les Miserables” … a song that should not only never be sung by a man, let alone in studly Sinatra-style fashion, but when you change the devastating last line of the song into something more “positive,” you’ve completely destroyed it.

Yes, I do enjoy Diamond’s bad taste stuff on one level (as do millions of others, ironically and non-ironically, who are devout fans).  But Diamond’s album “12 Songs,” that he recorded with legendary producer Rick Rubin in 2005, makes me hate the fact that he ever put a sequined shirt.  The arrangements are subtle and dignified.This is a beautiful, heartfelt, moving album of songs that highlights Diamond’s amazing voice,   Just as he did with Johnny Cash, the Dixie Chicks, and many others too numerous to mention, Rubin has a knack for distilling what’s great about a performer, cutting out the bulls–t, and allowing people to be their best.  Rubin’s collaboration with Diamond is an out-and-out masterpiece.