Neil Diamond, 2007
|Birth name||Neil Leslie Diamond|
January 24, 1941 |
Brooklyn, New York, United States
|Genres||Pop, rock, folk, country, soft rock|
|Labels||Bang, Uni, MCA, Columbia, Capitol|
Neil Leslie Diamond (born January 24, 1941) is an American singer-songwriter with a career that began in the 1960s. Diamond has sold over 125 million records worldwide, making him one of the world's best-selling music artists of all time. He is the third most successful adult contemporary artist on the Billboard charts behind Elton John and one-time duet partner Barbra Streisand. His songs have been covered internationally by many performers from various musical genres.
Diamond was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1984 and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. Additionally, he received the Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000 and in 2011 was an honoree at Kennedy Center. On the Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary charts, he has had eleven No. 1 singles: "Cracklin' Rosie", "Song Sung Blue", "Longfellow Serenade", "I've Been This Way Before", "If You Know What I Mean", "Desiree", "You Don't Bring Me Flowers", "America", "Yesterday's Songs", "Heartlight" and "I'm a Believer". He continues to record and release new material and maintains an extensive touring schedule.
Early life and education
Neil Leslie Diamond was born in Brooklyn, New York, to a Jewish family descended from Russian and Polish immigrants. His parents were Rose (née Rapaport) and Akeeba "Kieve" Diamond, a dry-goods merchant. He grew up in several homes in Brooklyn, attending Erasmus Hall High School and Abraham Lincoln High School.
At Lincoln, the school from which he received his high school diploma, he was a member of the fencing team. He later attended New York University on a fencing scholarship, specializing in saber, and was a member of the 1960 NCAA men's championship team; into his adult life he maintained his swordsmanship skills and continued to warm up with fencing exercises before his concerts.
His life ambition was in medicine, as explained in a live interview with TV talk show host Larry King:
I actually wanted to be a laboratory biologist. I wanted to study. And I really wanted to find a cure for cancer. My grandmother had died of cancer. And I was always very good at the sciences. And I thought I would go and try and discover the cure for cancer.
However, during his senior year at New York University, a music publishing company made him an offer he could not refuse: writing songs for $50 a week started him on the road to stardom. Thirty-five years later, in 1995, New York University gave him an honorary degree.
Diamond's first recording contract was billed as "Neil and Jack", an Everly Brothers-type duo comprising Diamond and high school friend Jack Parker. They recorded two unsuccessful singles: "You Are My Love At Last" b/w "What Will I Do" and "I'm Afraid" b/w "Till You've Tried Love", both released in 1962. Later in 1962, Diamond signed with Columbia Records label as a solo performer. Columbia released the single "At Night" b/w "Clown Town" in July 1963. Billboard gave an excellent review to "Clown Town" in their July 13, 1963, issue, predicting it would be a hit. Despite a tour of radio stations, the single failed to chart. Sales and Top 40 airplay were disappointing, Columbia dropped him from the label shortly thereafter, and he was back to writing songs on an upright piano above the Birdland Club in New York City.
Diamond spent his early career as a songwriter in the Brill Building. His first success as a songwriter came in November 1965, with "Sunday and Me", a Top 20 hit for Jay and the Americans. Greater success as a writer followed with "I'm a Believer", "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You", "Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)", and "Love to Love", all performed by the Monkees. There is a popular misconception that he wrote and composed these songs specifically for the band. In reality, Diamond had written and recorded them for himself, but the cover versions were released before his own. The unintended, but happy, consequence was that Diamond began to gain fame not only as a singer and performer, but also as a songwriter. "I'm a Believer" was the Popular Music Song of the Year in 1966.
"And the Grass Won't Pay No Mind" brought covers from Elvis Presley (who also interpreted "Sweet Caroline") and Mark Lindsay, former lead singer for Paul Revere & the Raiders. Other notable artists who recorded his early songs were the English hard-rock band Deep Purple, who interpreted "Kentucky Woman"; Lulu, who covered "The Boat That I Row"; and Cliff Richard, who released versions of "I'll Come Running", "Solitary Man", "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon", "I Got the Feelin' (Oh No No)" and "Just Another Guy".
In 1966 Diamond signed a deal with Bert Berns's Bang Records, then a subsidiary of Atlantic. His first release on that label, "Solitary Man", became his first hit. Prior to the release of "Solitary Man", he had considered using a stage name; he came up with two possibilities, "Noah Kaminsky" and "Eice Charry". But when asked by Bang Records which name to use, Noah, Eice, or Neil, he thought of his grandmother, who died prior to the release of "Solitary Man". Thus he told Bang, "...go with Neil Diamond and I'll figure it out later." Diamond later followed with "Cherry, Cherry", "Kentucky Woman", "Thank the Lord for the Night Time", "Do It" and others. Diamond's Bang recordings were produced by legendary Brill Building songwriters Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, both of whom can be heard singing background on many of the tracks.
His early concerts saw him as a "special guest" of, or opening for, everyone from Herman's Hermits to, on one occasion, the Who, which he confirmed on an installment of VH1's documentary series program Behind the Music.
Diamond began to feel restricted by Bang Records. He wanted to record more ambitious, introspective music, like his autobiographical "Brooklyn Roads" from 1968. Finding a loophole in his contract, he tried to sign with a new label, but the result was a series of lawsuits that coincided with a dip in his professional success. He eventually triumphed in court and secured ownership of his Bang-era master recordings in 1977.
After Diamond had signed a deal in 1968 with Uni Records (named after Universal Pictures, owned by MCA which later consolidated its labels into MCA Records), he moved to Los Angeles in 1970. After February 1969's "Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show", his sound mellowed, with such songs as "Sweet Caroline" (1969), "Holly Holy" (1969), "Cracklin' Rosie" (1970) and "Song Sung Blue" (1972), the last two reaching No. 1 on the Hot 100. "Sweet Caroline" was Diamond's first major hit after his slump. Diamond admitted in 2007 that he had written "Sweet Caroline" for Caroline Kennedy after seeing her on the cover of Life in an equestrian riding outfit. It took him just one hour, in a Memphis hotel, to write and compose it. The 1971 release "I Am... I Said" was a Top 5 hit in both the US and UK and was his most intensely personal effort to date, taking upwards of four months to complete.
In 1972, Diamond played 10 sold-out concerts at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. The August 24 performance was recorded and released as the live double album Hot August Night (the title being the opening words of "Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show"). That fall Diamond appeared over 20 consecutive nights at the Winter Garden Theater in New York City; the small (approximately 1,600-seat) Broadway venue provided an intimate concert setting not common at the time. Reportedly, every performance was a sellout.
Hot August Night demonstrates Diamond's skills as a performer and showman, as he reinvigorated his back catalogue of hits with new energy. Many consider it his best work; critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine called Hot August Night "the ultimate Neil Diamond record... [which] shows Diamond the icon in full glory".
The album has become a classic. It was remastered in 2000 with three additional selections: "Walk on Water", "Kentucky Woman" and "Stones". In Australia, the album spent a remarkable 29 weeks at No. 1; in 2006, it was voted No. 16 in a poll of favourite albums of all time in Australia. Also, Diamond's final concert of his 1976 Australian Tour (The "Thank You Australia" Concert) was broadcast to 36 television outlets nationwide on March 6. It also set a record for the largest attendance at the Sydney Sports Ground. The 1977 concert Love at the Greek, a return to the Greek Theatre, includes a version of "Song Sung Blue" with duets with Helen Reddy and Henry Winkler, a.k.a. Arthur "The Fonz" Fonzarelli of Happy Days.
In 1973, Diamond switched labels again, returning to Columbia Records for a million-dollar-advance-per-album contract. His first project, released as a solo album, was the soundtrack to Hall Bartlett's film version of Jonathan Livingston Seagull. The film received hostile reviews and did poorly at the box office. The album grossed more than the film did. Richard Bach, author of the best-selling source story, disowned the film. Both Bach and Diamond sued director Bartlett; Bach, because he felt the film omitted too much from the original novella; Diamond, because he felt the film had butchered his score. "After Jonathan," Diamond declared, "I vowed never to get involved in a movie again unless I had complete control." Bartlett angrily responded to Diamond's lawsuit by criticizing his music as having become "too slick... and it's not as much from his heart as it used to be." However, Bartlett also added, "Neil is extraordinarily talented. Often his arrogance is just a cover for the lonely and insecure person underneath."
Despite the controversy surrounding the film, the soundtrack was a success, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard albums chart. Diamond would also garner a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score and a Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture. From there, Diamond would often include a Jonathan Livingston Seagull suite in his live performances, as he did in his 1977 "Love at the Greek" concert. In 1974, Diamond released the album Serenade, from which "Longfellow Serenade" and "I've Been This Way Before" were issued as singles. The latter had been intended for the Jonathan Livingston Seagull score, but was completed too late for inclusion.
In 1976, he released Beautiful Noise, produced by Robbie Robertson of The Band. On Thanksgiving night, 1976, Diamond made an appearance at The Band's farewell concert, The Last Waltz, performing "Dry Your Eyes", which he had written with Robertson, and which had appeared on Beautiful Noise. He also joined the rest of the performers onstage at the end in a rendition of Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released".
Diamond also accepted $650,000 from the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, to open their new $10 million Theater For the Performing Arts on July 2, 1976. The show played through July 5, 1976, and drew sold out crowds for the 7,500 seat theater. The "Who's Who" of Hollywood attended opening night, ranging from Elizabeth Taylor to Chevy Chase. Diamond walked out on stage to a standing ovation. He opened the show without music, but rather a story about an ex-girlfriend who dumped him before he became successful. His lead in line to the first song of the evening was: "You may have dumped me a bit too soon baby; cause look who's standing here tonight".
In 1977, Diamond released I'm Glad You're Here With Me Tonight, including "You Don't Bring Me Flowers", for which he composed the music and collaborated with Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman on lyrics. Barbra Streisand covered the song on her Songbird album, and later, a Diamond-Streisand duet, spurred by the success of radio mash-ups, was recorded. That version hit No. 1 in 1978, his third song to top the Hot 100. His last 1970s album was September Morn, which included a new version of "I'm a Believer". It and "Red Red Wine" are his best-known original songs made more famous by other artists.
In February 1979, the uptempo "Forever in Blue Jeans", co-written with his guitarist, Richard Bennett, was released as a single from You Don't Bring Me Flowers, Diamond's album from the previous year.
According to Cotton Incorporated, "Neil Diamond might have been right when he named his 1979 No. 1 hit 'Forever in Blue Jeans': 81% of women are planning their next jeans purchase to be some shade of blue." The song has been used to promote the sale of blue jeans, most notably via Will Ferrell, impersonating Diamond singing, for The Gap. Ironically, Diamond himself had performed in radio ads for H.I.S. brand jeans in the 1960s, more than a decade before he and Bennett jointly wrote and composed, and he originated, the selection.
A planned film version of "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" to star Diamond and Streisand fell through when Diamond instead starred in a 1980 remake of the Al Jolson classic The Jazz Singer, opposite Laurence Olivier and Lucie Arnaz. Though the movie was not a hit, the soundtrack spawned three Top 10 singles, "Love on the Rocks", "Hello Again" and "America". For his role in the film, Diamond became the first-ever winner of a Worst Actor Razzie Award, even though he was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for the same role.
Another Top 10 selection, "Heartlight", was inspired by the blockbuster 1982 movie E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Though the film's title character is never mentioned in the lyrics, Universal Pictures, which had released E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and was the parent company of the Uni Records label, by then referred to as the MCA Records label, for which Diamond had recorded for years, briefly threatened legal action against both Diamond and Columbia Records.
Diamond's record sales slumped somewhat in the 1980s and 1990s, his last single to make the Billboard's Pop Singles chart coming in 1986. However, his concert tours continued to be big draws. Billboard magazine ranked Diamond as the most profitable solo performer of 1986. In January 1987, Diamond sang the national anthem at the Super Bowl. His "America" became the theme song for the Michael Dukakis 1988 presidential campaign. That same year, UB40's reggae interpretation of Diamond's ballad "Red Red Wine" would top the Billboard's Pop Singles chart and, like the Monkees's version of "I'm a Believer," become better known than Diamond's original version.
1990s to present
During the 1990s, Diamond produced six studio albums. He covered many classics from the movies and from famous Brill Building-era songwriters. He also released two Christmas albums, the first of which peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard's Album chart. Keeping his songwriting skills honed, Diamond also recorded two albums of mostly new material during this period. In 1992, he performed for President George H.W. Bush's final Christmas in Washington NBC special. In 1993, Diamond opened the Mark of the Quad Cities (now the iWireless Center) with two shows on May 27 and 28 to a crowd of 27,000-plus.
The 1990s and 2000s saw a resurgence in Diamond's popularity. "Sweet Caroline" became a popular sing-along at sporting events, starting with Boston College football and basketball games. Most notably it is the theme song for Red Sox Nation, the fans of the Boston Red Sox, although Diamond noted that he has been a lifelong fan of the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers. Red Sox executive vice-president Dr. Charles Steinberg noted that the song entertains, engages, and with fan participation, the energy in the park changes. The song is also played during the 8th inning of every New York Mets home game.
The New York Rangers have also adapted it as their own, and play it when they are winning at the end of the 3rd period. The Pitt Panthers football team also plays it after the third quarter of all home games, with the crowd cheering, "Let's go Pitt". The Carolina Panthers play it at the end of each home game when they win. The Davidson College pep band plays it at every Davidson Wildcats men's basketball home games, in the second half.
Urge Overkill recorded a version of Diamond's "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" for Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, released in 1994. In 2000, Johnny Cash recorded the album American III: Solitary Man, and won a Grammy Award for his cover of Solitary Man. Smash Mouth covered Diamond's "I'm a Believer" for their 2001 self-titled album. In the comedy film Saving Silverman (2001), the main characters play in a Diamond cover band, and Diamond made an extended cameo appearance as himself. Diamond even wrote a new song, "I Believe in Happy Endings", especially for the film. During this period, comedian Will Ferrell did a recurring Diamond impersonation on Saturday Night Live, with Diamond himself appearing alongside Ferrell on Ferrell's final show as a "Not Ready For Prime Time Player" in May 2002. "America" was used in promotional ads for the 2002 Winter Olympics. The Finnish band HIM covered "Solitary Man" on their album, And Love Said No: The Greatest Hits.
Diamond has always had a somewhat polarizing effect, best exemplified by the 1991 film What About Bob? There the protagonist posits, "There are two types of people in the world: those who like Neil Diamond and those who don't." The character of Bob attributes the failure of his marriage to his fiancee's fondness for Diamond. Another example of this love–hate dichotomy was shown in the Becker episode "It had to be Ew" is largely devoted to ridiculing Diamond and his fans.
He has also helped a range of causes.
Diamond continues to tour and record. 12 Songs, produced by Rick Rubin, was released on November 8, 2005, in two editions: a standard 12-song release, and a special edition with two bonus tracks, including one featuring backing vocals by Brian Wilson. The album debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard chart, and has received generally positive reviews; Earliwine describes the album as "inarguably Neil Diamond's best set of songs in a long, long time". 12 Songs also became noteworthy as one of the last albums to be pressed and released by Sony BMG with the Extended Copy Protection software embedded in the disc. (See the 2005 Sony BMG CD copy protection scandal.)
In December 2007, a 2008 UK tour was announced, appearing in Manchester on June 7 and 8, Birmingham on June 10 and 11, and London on June 21, 23 and 24. A month later, further UK dates were added, including Hampden Park in Glasgow on June 5, Rose Bowl, Southampton on June 17, and the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on June 19.
In 2008, Diamond gave filmmaker Greg Kohs permission to use his songs in a documentary. Kohs, a director from Philadelphia, had met a popular Milwaukee, Wisconsin, duo, Lightning & Thunder, composed of Mike Sardina, who did a Diamond impersonation, and his wife Claire. Kohs followed them for eight years and produced the film Song Sung Blue, but needed permission to use Diamond's songs. The movie was sent to the singer in January 2008, at the recommendation of Eddie Vedder, a supporter of the film and of the duo. Although Sardina had died in 2006, Diamond invited his widow and her family to be his front-row guests at his show in Milwaukee, where he told them he was moved by the film.
On March 19, 2008, it was announced on the television show American Idol that Diamond would be a guest mentor to the remaining Idol contestants who would be singing Diamond songs for the broadcasts of April 29 and 30, 2008. on the April 30th broadcast, Diamond premiered a new song, "Pretty Amazing Grace" from his album Home Before Dark. On May 2, 2008, Sirius Satellite Radio started Neil Diamond Radio. On April 8, 2008, Diamond made a surprise announcement in a big-screen broadcast at Fenway Park, that he would be appearing there "live in concert" on August 23, 2008, as part of his world tour. The announcement, which marked the first official confirmation of any 2008 concert dates in the US, came during the traditional eighth-inning sing-along of his "Sweet Caroline", which has become an anthem for Boston fans.
On April 28, 2008, Diamond appeared on the roof of the Jimmy Kimmel building to sing "Sweet Caroline" after Kimmel was jokingly arrested trying to sing the song dressed up as a Diamond impersonator.
Home Before Dark was released May 6, 2008, and topped the album charts in New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.
On August 25, 2008, Diamond performed at Ohio State University while suffering from laryngitis. The result disappointed him as well as his fans and on August 26 he offered refunds to anyone who applied by September 5.
According to posts on Diamond's Twitter page, he is currently[when?] working on a new album, his third with Rick Rubin. He says he plans to play electric guitar on the album, a first for him. In 2009, Diamond stated that he prefers Gibson and Martin acoustic guitars and confirmed that recently he had been playing Gibson electric guitars.
Long loved in Boston, Diamond was invited to sing at the July 4, 2009 holiday celebration.
Through his Diamond Music Company, Diamond now belongs to that small group of performers whose names are listed as copyright owners on their recordings.
In August 2008, Diamond allowed cameras to record his entire four-night run at New York's Madison Square Garden and released it in the United States on August 14, 2009, on DVD, one year to the day of the first concert. Hot August Night/NYC debuted at No. 2 on the charts and is exclusively available at Wal-Mart and has sold out at many locations all over the country. Also, on the same day the DVD was released, CBS (the former parent of his label, Columbia Records) aired an edited version of the DVD, which won the ratings hour with 13 million viewers. The next day, the sales of the DVD surged and prompted Sony to order more copies to meet the high demand.
On October 13, 2009, he released A Cherry Cherry Christmas, his third album of holiday music.
On September 28, 2010, Diamond was nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
On November 2, 2010, he released the album Dreams, a collection of 14 interpretations of his favorite songs by artists from the rock era. The album also included a new slow-tempo arrangement on his own song, "I'm a Believer".
On December 14, 2010, it was leaked by numerous sites that Diamond had been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, along with Alice Cooper, Darlene Love, Dr. John and Tom Waits. The induction ceremony was on March 14, 2011, at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City.
On May 27, 2011, he appeared on Irish Television in a live recording in front of a celebrity audience.
In December 2011, he appeared at the 2011 Kennedy Center Honors gala to accept the honor.
On November 24, 2011, he appeared in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, riding on a replica Mt. Rushmore float and singing shortened versions of "America" and "Sweet Caroline" to promote tourism for the state of South Dakota.
The Very Best of Neil Diamond, a compilation CD of Diamond's 23 studio recordings from the Bang, UNI/MCA, & Columbia catalogs was released on December 6, 2011, on the Sony Legacy label.
On April 20, 2013, Diamond made an unannounced appearance at Fenway Park to sing "Sweet Caroline" during the 8th inning. This was the first game at Fenway since the bombings at the Boston Marathon. On July 2, he released the single "Freedom Song (They'll Never Take Us Down)", with 100% of the purchase price benefiting One Fund Boston and the Wounded Warrior Project.
In January 2014, it was confirmed Diamond had signed with the Capitol Music Group unit of Universal Music Group which also owns Diamond's Uni/MCA catalog. UMG will also take over Diamond's Columbia and Bang catalogues which means all of his recorded output will be consolidated for the first time.
On July 8, 2014, Capitol Records announced, via a flyer included with Diamond's latest greatest hits compilations, All-Time Greatest Hits, which charted at 15 in Billboard 200, that his next album, Melody Road (produced by Don Was and Jacknife Lee) would be released on September 30, 2014. In August, the release date was moved to October 21.
Diamond has been married three times. In 1963, he married his high school sweetheart, school teacher Jaye Posner; they had two daughters, Marjorie and Elyn, before they separated in 1967 and divorced in 1969. He then married Marcia Murphey, a production assistant; they had two children, sons Jesse and Micah. His second marriage ended in 1994 or 1995 (sources differ).
In 1979, Diamond had collapsed on stage in San Francisco and was taken to the hospital where he endured a twelve-hour operation to remove what turned out to be a tumor on his spine. He said he had been losing feeling in his right leg "for a number of years but ignored it." When he collapsed, he had no strength in either leg. He underwent a long rehabilitation process just prior to beginning principal photography for his film The Jazz Singer (1980). He was so convinced he was going to die, he even wrote farewell letters to his friends. As of 2008, Diamond still suffered from chronic, and often severe, back pain.
Diamond was in a relationship with Australian Rae Farley, who he met in Brisbane, Australia, in 1996. The album Home Before Dark was written during her struggles with severe chronic back pain, surgery, and ongoing recovery. Diamond said, "She had back surgery and it wasn't going well. She was in extreme pain for a year and the surgery did not really work. If anything, it made it worse. And I never left her side. I was within twenty feet of her for the entire year that I took writing this album."
On September 7, 2011, the same day he learned he was to be a Kennedy Center Honoree, Diamond announced his engagement to his then 41-year-old manager Katie McNeil in a message on Twitter. On April 21, 2012, they married in front of family and close friends in Los Angeles. Diamond said that his 2014 album Melody Road was fueled by his relationship with McNeil. "There's no better inspiration or motivation for work than being in love. It's what you dream of as a creative person. I was able to complete this album - start it, write it and complete it -- under the spell of love, and I think it shows somehow." In addition to serving as Diamond's manager, McNeil produced the documentary Neil Diamond: Hot August Nights NYC.
Diamond is known for wearing colorful beaded shirts in concert, originally out of necessity so everyone in the audience could see him without the aid of binoculars. Bill Whitten designed and made the shirts for Diamond from the 1970s until about 2007.
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- [dead link]
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The sadness permeating much of the album is evoked not only by Diamond's artistic expression but by his very real sense of loss since the end last year of his 25-year-marriage to Marcia Murphey, 54.
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