A song from the young, aspiring, floundering Brill Building trio of Al Kooper, Bob Brass, and Irwin Levine. An interview excerpt from
Stephen Bishop's book Songs in the Rough:
Stephen Bishop: "This Diamond Ring" must have been written about 1964 or 1965?
Al Kooper: I would think 1962 or 1963.
SB: That early?
AK: Yeah. It didn't come out until later, but we wrote it in 1962 or 1963. We wrote it for The Drifters.
SB: Did you do a demo of it back then?
AK: We did. It was a black demo. My friend Jimmy Radcliffe sang the demo.
SB: When you look back at that now, how do you feel about it? Do you feel proud of it?
AK: I always hated the Gary Lewis record, because it was an R&B song and they took all the soul out of it. Later, I cut it on an album of mine Act Like Nothing Is Wrong (United Artists -- December '76), and cut it the way it was written.
Interestingly, the teams of Leiber and Stoller and Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill had collaborated, in 1963,
on a song called "Only in America", written for the Drifters, and even recorded by them, but it was never
released in the US (until a few years ago) -- a second version with Jay and the Americans singing over the
same backing became a big hit instead. One could say, too, that they "took all the soul out of it", but
who can argue with a shower of royalties?
Kooper heard the Lewis recording of "This Diamond Ring" (I don't think The Drifters even had a chance to reject it)
and despised it -- a 45 RPM death blow to his mind's-ear conception of the song. In the years since Kooper/Brass/Levine had written it,
young country/pop producer Snuff Garrett, who might be better known for one of his later gigs doing rural-populist
soundtracks to rural-populist films like Smokey and the Bandit II and Any Which Way You Can (not to mention magnum opera like "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia", and the 70s schlock that made Cher a gay icon)
took a liking to it, and recorded it with Gary Levitch, the son of Jerry Lewis. The drop in vocal quality from the
legendary Drifters to the let's-bury-it-in-the-mix voice of young Levitch was too much for Koop to stand. And then he
heard it on the radio. Again and again. More and more. Koop gradually made a temporary peace with it.
Who can argue with a shower of royalties?
Me, unencumbered with the sounds and visions of Drifters in my head, think it's a pop classic, of sorts, and it's
this recording that separates young Levitch's group from the other celebrity-offspring group of that era -- Dino (Dino
Martin, whose subsequent tennis career matched his musical one), Desi (Arnaz, Jr., whose subsequent acting career
yadda yadda yadda), and Billy (Hinsche, who was non-celeb-kid, but had the longest-lasting career in music, most notably, perhaps, as an auxiliary Beach Boy).