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Music notes: Diamond DVD is transport to 1976

When I was in elementary school, my mother loved Neil Diamond.

She had all his albums on 8-track tape. From time to time, I would steal one and listen to it in my room. My favorite, as I have stated in previous columns, is 1976's "Beautiful Noise."

I liked his singer/songwriter/troubadour image at the time.

I also liked how musical he was. And by that I mean the man was a classical music lover and got a lot of inspiration for his songs by listening to Mozart.

In fact, "Song Sung Blue" is based on Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21.

At any rate, in 1972, at what some would call the pinnacle of his career, Neil Diamond took a nearly four-year break from touring to "find himself," as he would state in later interviews.

During this time, he released is definitive live album — "Hot August Night" — and his soundtrack to the motion picture "Jonathan Livingston Seagull."

Then in 1976, he returned to the stage with an Australian tour.

The final night of the historical 21-date tour, played to 38,000 people at Sydney's Sports Ground and telecast on Australian TV, has been released on DVD.

"Neil Diamond The Thank You Australia Concert: Live 1976" (Eagle Vision, $19.98) is a single-disc featuring the concert and a bunch of extras.

While the concert — featuring half of the "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" soundtrack songs (with sometimes cheesy, superimposed graphics of seagull silhouettes) — and a slew of hits including "Play Me," "I Am, I Said," "Holly Holy," "Sweet Caroline," "Cherry Cherry," "Longfellow Serenade," "Cracklin' Rosie" and aforementioned "Song Sung Blue," to name a few — is obviously the focus of the disc, it's the extras that really catch the viewer's attention.

My favorite segment is an interview Diamond did with "A Current Affair" on Australia's Channel 9 on March 9, 1976. Make note the Australian version of "A Current Affair" was not like the U.S. tabloid program.

During the interview with host Michael Schildberger, Diamond, then 35, gave thoughtful insight to his childhood, songwriting, personal life and fame.

That, to me, is the most interesting aspect of this DVD. Among the other extras is the inclusion of additional concert footage of "Morningside," live commercial breaks that were seen on the original TV concert and a photo gallery.

The only complaint I have is that the DVD is not available in widescreen format.

With the release of his most recent Columbia Records CD, "Home Before Dark," Diamond marked 42 years in the music business. And while he is still a huge concert draw today, he will always be the man I first heard more than 35 years ago. And the "Thank You Australia Concert" DVD transports me back to that era.