What a title for your first “greatest hits” compilation, eh? Diamonds Diamonds emerged the year after Max Webster broke up, with no songs from the final album Universal Juveniles, the only one without Terry Watkinson. Even though these kinds of posthumous records are usually not very good, Diamonds Diamonds is an exception. It’s also one of the hardest Max Webster albums to find on CD, but a generous slice of vinyl at 13 tracks and 47 minutes.
“What do I know?” asks Kim Mitchell in the opening line of “Gravity”, the debut number. Kim knew quite a bit actually, including how to write catchy music without it being overtly commercial. He knew how to challenge listeners while delivering the hooks they craved. “Gravity” is one such slice of brilliance. It’s complex pop.
“High Class in Borrowed Shoes” is a classic rocker from their second album in ’77. As much as it kicks, the lyrics and keyboard arrangement are not typical. The title track “Diamonds Diamonds” followed “High Class” on the original album and it does again here. Like a lullaby, “Diamonds Diamonds” floats on the wings of the backing vocal arrangement. Next is “Summer’s Up” from the incredible debut Max platter. Jangling guitars and dreamy keyboards make for a summer scene by the pool side, with drinks. “Blowing the Blues Away” has a more traditional feel, country and blues and pop rolled into one, with a side order of quirky tones. But it’ll make you feel good. Continuing the feel-good celebration, it’s “A Million Vacations”, one of the greatest Canadian party songs of all time. Kim Mitchell’s guitar work is sublime and baffling at once.
Side A ends with one of Max Webster’s most significant songs, “Let Go the Line” with lead vocals by Terry Watkinson who wrote the song, music and lyrics. In Max Webster, lyrics were usually handled by the poet Pye Dubois. In fact he wrote all but two of the lyrics on Diamonds Diamonds. The two he didn’t (“Blowing the Blues Away” being the other) were written by Watkinson. “Let Go the Line” could not be improved upon if you tried. Kim’s regal guitar line, Dave Myles bass pulse, and the thrift of Gary McCracken’s drums are all flawlessly and perfectly fit to Terry’s ballad. If Max Webster only had one “perfect” song, it’s “Let Go the Line”.
Fearlessly opening side two with furvor, it’s “The Party”! It’s the off-kilter musicianship on tracks like this that had fans often comparing Max Webster to Frank Zappa. Frank liked to have fun, too. Well Max really liked to have fun! “We’re all here for a celebration, the madcap scene and the Max Machine!” That says it all.
Every decent “greatest hits” album needs unreleased songs. Diamonds Diamonds has two decent ones, good songs that might be a bit too mainstream for a Max studio album. “Hot Spots” is the first, a rip-roaring boogie of a good time. By comparison, Kim could have recorded it on one of his early solo albums if Max didn’t release it on this. It is chased by the outstanding “Paradise Skies”, another summery Max hit that keeps Canadian radio stations in business. Melody and musicianship — that should be Max’s calling card. The second of the new unreleased tunes is “Overnight Sensation”, the most ordinary (or forgettable) of the tracks. The bassline really hops, and there’s even some cowbell, but the song isn’t comparable to something like “The Party” or “High Class”.
Although it’s better as an album opener, “Lip Service” (from Mutiny Up My Sleeve) is a bouncer. “Socialutions, written down in our teens. I mailed them to Kennedy, I typed them for Tito.” Brilliance in a pen by Pye Dubois, barely contained by the bopping bass and upbeat keys. Then before it’s all over it goes into a brief jazzy jam! Finally it’s “Hangover”, also traditionally an opening song. It’s the hardest rocker of the bunch, quirky as all hell and actually a good closer too!
Diamonds Diamonds still an important record today because “Overnight Sensation” and the outstanding “Hot Spots” haven’t been reissued on anything else. You can’t say that about any of the songs on The Best of Max Webster (1989). This is the one to get. If you find one on CD, you’ve got yourself a good one.