This Diamond Ring was written by Al Kooper with a soul arrangement in mind. The song was offered to the Drifters, but they turned it down. Producer George Butcher had a singer and limbo dancer from Miami named Sammy Ambrose record the song first.
Here's This Diamond Ring by Sammy Ambrose on Musicor 1061 from December 1964:
Sammy Ambrose went on the road with a band called The Afro-Beats. Success eluded him and he ended up back in Miami Beach dancing the limbo at a burlesque joint called Place Pigalle. Unfortunately, Sammy Abrose was overcome by drug addiction. As that destroyed his career, he took to selling heroin on the street. One of his customers was a 28 year old Vietnam veteran who bought dope from him on 12 October 1976 and died of an overdose shortly afterward. Sammy was charged with first degree murder and sent to prison. He died in Dade County Florida at the age of 47 on 26 February 1988.
Producer Snuff Garrett must have heard hit potential in the song because he immediately got the Wrecking Crew behind Gary Lewis to record and release what would become the million-selling version. The two different versions were released so close together that both of them were reviewed in the same issue of Billboard Magazine. Despite Al Kooper's soulful vision for the song, it was This Diamond Ring by Gary Lewis And The Playboys that won the day. The song went to #1 on Billboard and Cashbox, and was #1 in Canada as well. It went to #8 in Australia, but strangely did not chart at all in Germany or England. It was the only #1 hit for Gary Lewis.
Sammy's version didn't do very well, peaking at only #117 on the Bubbling Under chart, but it became a classic at the Northern Soul clubs in England. Both songs are very well done, but Gary Lewis had the advantage of appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show to promote his version.
The fact that the Gary Lewis version was so strong no doubt helped propel today's New Oldie to #134 on the Bubbling Under chart. This Answer Song was issued just a few months after Gary Lewis topped the charts with This Diamond Ring, and it has a lot in common with the Gary Lewis hit. Both records were on the Liberty label, produced by Snuff Garrett, and arranged by Leon Russell. It would appear that the Answer Record was made in a deliberate attempt to capitalize on the success of This Diamond Ring, and it almost succeeded.
Here's (Gary Please Don't Sell) My Diamond Ring by Wendy Hill on Liberty 55771 from 1965:
Gary Lewis - Wendy Hill - Snuff Garrett
Nobody seems to know what happened to Wendy Hill, and we only know a little about her background. She made three teener records on the Era label in 1961 and 1962, one of which, Without Your Love, made it to #111 on the Bubbling Under chart, but did much better in Phoenix and San Diego (Top 10) and Los Angeles, where it shows up at #24 on the KRLA-AM 1110 Tunedex Record Survey on 22 September 1961. Some think she had previously done childrens records for Peter Pan Records as Wendy Williams in the mid-1950s, but that's almost certainly incorrect as she would have been way too young at the time. I'm still tracking down leads.
Here's Without Your Love by Wendy Hill on Era 3055 from 1961:
I just can't end this without exposing you to a very interesting cover version of the song, also sung by a female vocalist, but NOT with different lyrics. This one comes from Nancy Sit from Hong Kong who covered a whole bunch of American and British hits for the Chinese market back in the 1960s. She did a lot of the songs in Chinese, but she tried to tackle this one in English. But I'm not sure she actually understood the words as she sang the song!
Here's This Diamond Ring by Nancy Sit With The Blue Lake Combo on Po-Lo 3053 from 1966:
Nancy Sit Ka Yin
Nancy Sit Ka Yin became an actress on the TVB Network. She mentored Anita Mui, who became one of the biggest superstars in Hong Kong history. She left the music business to raise her three children, Justina, Jackson, and Jamie. When her husband left her in the early 1990s, she was so devastated that she contemplated suicide. But she fought back for the sake of her children. She decided to make a comeback in show business. She'd be 62 now, and is reportedly recovering from a serious illness and surgery, still living in Hong Kong with her daughter.
I'll spend some more time digging out dusty discs this weekend. Maybe I can find more gems to add to the MusicMaster Oldies collection!