Diamond, Neil (Leslie)
Diamond, Neil (Leslie)
Diamond, Neil (Leslie), popular songwriter nicknamed “the Jewish Elvis”; b. Brooklyn, Jan. 24, 1941. An army brat, Neil Diamond never stayed in one school for very long. One summer, Diamond spent the season at Surprise Lake Camp in Cold Springs, N.Y. Legendary folk singer Pete Seeger lived close by and played for the campers. Some of the campers played their own songs for Seeger. The idea of songwriting intrigued Diamond. When he turned 16, someone gave him a guitar for his birthday. While he continued to study at Erasmus Hall High, and work with the fencing team, he took lessons and started writing songs. He continued to write songs while studying for a pre-med degree at N.Y.U. on a fencing scholarship. After the fall semester of his senior year, however, he quit school to take a $50 a week job as a contract songwriter with a N.Y. publishing company.
Within a few years, Diamond rented his own office, actually little more than a closet over the famous jazz club, Birdland, and started his own publishing company. He was marginally successful, cutting some records as a performer in the early 1960s, as well. One of his demos came into the hands of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, who went to see him perform at a club in Greenwich Village. They had started a new label called Bang, and quickly signed the young songwriter.
In 1966, Diamond recorded his first sides for Bang, including “Solitary Man/’ “Cherry Cherry,” and “I Got the Feeling (Oh No, No).” “Cherry Cherry” hit #6 on the charts, one of Bang’s first hits. “I Got the Feeling (Oh No, No)” rose to #16, and Diamond’s career as a performer was underway. Ironically, at the same time, Diamond landed one of his first major hits as a writer with “I’m a Believer” a song that Barry had produced for the Monkees. It topped the charts for seven weeks.
Diamond hit a run of success, landing four more hits as a performer with Bang over the course of the next year: “You Got to Me” hit #18, “Girl, YouTl Be a Woman Soon” hit #10, “I Thank the Lord for the Night Time” rose to #13, and “Kentucky Woman” went to #22. Additionally, performers including Jay and the Americans, Lulu, and Deep Purple recorded Diamond songs.
In 1969, Diamond moved on to UNI records. Here, he started to experiment a little. He recorded an album that fused pop and gospel themes. The first hit, the title track from Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show, only reached #22. However, the second single, “Sweet Caro-line,” was Diamond’s biggest single to date, going platinum and hitting #4. His next album, Touching You Touching Me produced another platinum single, “Holly
Holy,” which rose to #6. The album hit #30 and went gold.
Bang Records, hoping to cash in on the sudden success of Diamond, re-released his 1968 single “Shilo” which hit #24. This was better than the next single UNI put out, “Soolaimon (African Trilogy)/’ the product of Diamond experimenting with African rhythms on his Taproot Manifesto album. The album yielded one more hit, however, a song based on a story a shaman once told Diamond about a tribe with more men than women. The men-without-women would take a bottle of wine to be their woman for the weekend. This led to the platinum-selling “Cracklin’ Rosie,” Diamond’s first chart topper as a performer. It took the album to #13 and platinum. As “Cracklin7 Rosie” was climbing the charts, Bang re-released an almost hit from 1967, “Solitary Man,” which went to #21. Similarly, Diamond’s cover of “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” for UNI, which hit #20, was dogged by a reissue of “Do It,” a Bang tune that hit #36.
Diamond had moved to L.A. shortly after signing to UNI, and once again all those Army brat emotions of not fitting in surfaced. They became the subject of a song that took him close to a year to write. That tune, “I Am I Said” rose to #4 in 1971, launching the album Stones to #11 and gold sales. The title track from the album hit #14.
Diamond topped the charts again with “Song Sung Blue” in 1972. The single went gold. Along with the #11 single “Play Me” and the #17 “Walk On Water,” the album Moods went platinum, hitting #5, Diamond’s highest-charting album to that point. It also won a Grammy for Best Engineering.
Along with having success as a recording artist, Diamond became a major live attraction. His next project was a double-live album recorded at L.A.’s Greek Theater. Hot August Night also rose to #5, selling double platinum, despite the lone hit from the album, a live version of “Cherry Cherry”, stalling at #31. When the tour that spawned the album arrived in N.Y., Diamond played 20 sold-out shows at Broadway’s Winter Garden Theater, the first rock-era star to headline on Broadway. After these shows, Diamond announced a hiatus from performing live, which lasted for nearly four years
He didn’t stop recording, however. His next album was the soundtrack to the movie based on the best-selling book Jonathan Livingston Seagull. While the movie was a stiff, the album did surprisingly well, hitting #2 on the charts and selling double platinum. It was doubly surprising because the only semi-hit from the album, “Be,” stalled at #34. The album won the Grammy for Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture.
Diamond returned to the top reaches of the pop charts with his next single, “Longfellow Serenade.” The song hit #5 pop, topping the Adult Contemporary charts. The album Serenade went platinum and hit #3.
Former Band guitarist Robbie Robertson worked with Diamond on his next project, the sprawling Beautiful Noise. This album also went platinum, peaking at #4, propelled in part by the hit “If You Know What I Mean,” which went as high as #11 and topped the Adult Contemporary chart. Diamond’s association with Robertson would lead him to appear at the famous Last Waltz concert.
In 1976, Diamond once again recorded an album live at the Greek Theater. Love at the Greek was a double platinum, #8 album, and also a television special. Diamond was becoming such a phenomenon that his albums didn’t need Top 40 airplay to sell by the end of the 1970s. I’m Glad You’re Here with Me Tonight went double platinum and hit #6 on the charts even though the single, “Desiree,” peaked at #16.
Diamond’s next hit was something of a fluke. He wrote and recorded a song called “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.” Around the same time, Barbra Streisand covered the record. Individually, their versions garnered some airplay. One astute DJ noticed that the songs were in the same key. He started alternating lines. The effect was galvanic. The request lines lit up, first with people who wanted to hear it, then with retailers who wanted to sell it. Both artists recorded for the same company, so they were put into the studio and cut the tune as a duet. The song went to the top of the charts. Along with the #20 hit “Forever in Blue Jeans,” it propelled Diamond’s You Don’t Bring Me Flowers to #4 and double platinum. He followed this with the platinum, #10 September Morn. The title track hit #17.
In 1980, Diamond attempted a film career. He chose as his vehicle a remake the first talkie, The Jazz Singer, taking the Jolson role of the cantor’s son who wants to be a pop star. In addition to doing decent box office, the soundtrack went quintuple platinum. The album spawned some of Diamond’s biggest, highest-charting hits, including the #2 “Love on the Rocks,” the #6 hit “Hello Again,” and the Adult Contemporary chart topper (#8 pop) “America,” a swirling oratorio about the immigrant experience.
The early 1980s were golden for Diamond. In the wake of his film success, On the Way to the Sky went platinum and reached #17. It also spun off another Adult Contemporary chart topper in “Yesterday’s Songs” (#11 pop) and the #35 “Be Mine Tonight.” Heartlight, inspired by the movie ET, went platinum and hit #9 based on the #5 title track and the #35 “I’m Alive.” The Primitive album went gold and hit #20 with no Top 40 play at all, as did the #20 album Headed for the Future.
As the 1980s went on, Diamond was heard less and less on Top 40 radio. His albums, however, generally continued to sell. While the 1988 redux of Hot August Night, imaginatively called Hot August Night II, stalled at #59, it managed to go gold. Headed for the Future, an album that included songs by contemporary soul legends Stevie Wonder and Maurice White, sold gold and went to #20 despite no hit singles. Indeed, while Diamond put out a spate of albums, he didn’t experience much in the way of high profile hits, though the #44 Lovescape managed to quietly go platinum. Ironically, this nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn cut a 1992 Christmas Album that hit #8 and went platinum.
Diamond’s next album was an exercise in nostalgia, of sorts. Up on the Roof: Songs from the Brill Building captured the essence of Diamond’s early years, with songs from the era when he just got started. The album entered the charts at its peak of #28. He continued to be a major draw live, and was the top concert attraction in the U.S. for the first half of 1992. He holds the record for consecutive sold-out shows at both N.Y.’s Madison Square Garden and the Los Angeles Forum.
In the 1990s, Diamond’s recording activity slowed. In 1996, for his first new recording in five years, Diamond chose to make a country record. Tennessee Moon did well, both on the country album charts, where it hit #3, and the pop album charts where it topped out at #14. The album was gold within six months of its release. Two years later, Diamond cut an album of movie chestnuts. As Time Goes By presented Diamond’s versions of songs from films ranging from Casablanca to Hard Day’s Night. It peaked in its first week at #31 on the album charts and didn’t go gold.
At the turn of the 21st century, Diamond has achieved near-legendary status. With over 90 million records sold, his middle-of-the-road pop has served “billions and billions” of customers—like the fast food of McDonalds. Just like Frank Sinatra, he will probably go on recording and performing on the lounge circuit for decades to come.
The Feel of Neil Diamond, Just for You (1967); Velvet Gloves & Spit (1968); Sweet Caroline: Brother Love’s Traveling… (1969); Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show (1969); Touching You, Touching Me (1969); Neil Diamond (1970); Shilo (1970); Tap Root Manuscript (1970); Do It! (1971); Stones (1971); Moods (1972); Hot August Night (live; 1972); Rainbow (1973); Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1973); Serenade (1974); Focus on Neil Diamond (1975); And the Singer Sings His Song (1976); Beautiful Noise (1976); I’m Glad You’re Here with Me Tonight (1977); Love at the Greek (live; 1977); Carmelita’s Eyes (1978); You Don’t Bring Me Flowers (1978); September Morn (1979); The Jazz Singer (1980); Diamonds (1981); Solitary Man (1981); Love Songs (1981); On the Way to the Sky (1981); Song Sung Blue (1982); Live Diamond (1982); Heartlight (1982); Primitive (1984); Headed for the future (1986); Hot August Night 2 (live; 1987); Red Red Wine (1988); The Best Years of Our Lives (1988); Lovescape (1991); The Christmas Album (1992); Up on the Roof: Songs from the Brill Building (1993); The Christmas Album, Vol. 2 (1994); Live in America (1995); I Knew Love (1996); Tennessee Moon (1996); Live in Concert Reader’s (1997); The Movie Album: As Time Goes By (1998); This Time