Neil Diamond (1941) American singer-songwriter
Polish-Russian descendent Neil Leslie Diamond was born on January 24, 1941 in Israel Zion Hospital in Brooklyn, New York. Because the Diamonds moved around much, Neil always felt an outsider at school. In one of his high schools he was in a choir with Barbra Streisand, both still extremely anonymous at that time. Aged 16, he received a guitar as a birthday present, and soon he focused on lessons and song writing. He attended University as a pre-med student but song writing remained his first love. He left college six months before graduating to accept a song writing position with a publishing company. Later, he would get his degree anyhow, a Honorary one.
"I think I was just trying to impress a particular girl when I was 17, and that led to the realization that writing a song could be fun. I've been doing it ever since."
Neil Diamond answering a question about his song writing inspirations.
It took a while before Diamond was discovered. Once at Bang Records in 1966, he recorded what would become his first three hits: Solitary Man, Cherry, Cherry and I Got The Feeling (Oh No, No), while also writing Girl, you'll be a woman soon in this period. He also scored his first number one as a writer with the Monkees’ I’m A Believer. Gospel themed pop song Sweet Caroline was his first big smash hit in 1969. In the following year, Cracklin' Rosie was released as a single and became a major success in Europe. In 1971, Neil embarked on his first European tour. By this time, his records had become available all over the world. The charismatic performer had become famous for his beautiful voice and his personality on stage.
At the end of 1972, the singer stopped performing to dedicate himself to studio projects. But before disappearing from stage, Diamond played seven days in a row at the Winter Garden on Broadway. Shortly after, Diamond went on a sabbatical leave, which lasted forty months. He spent his time at his Malibu beach house, together with his family.
After a renewed career in co-operation with Robbie Robertson who lived next to him, Diamond made the album You don't bring me flowers, together with the duet of the same name with Barbra Streisand, in 1978. He then started to get health problems. At first a painful left leg, followed by surgery to remove a tumour in his back. During his European tour, Neil met French singer Gilbert Bécaud, who passed away last week. With Bécaud, Diamond wrote the low-pitched September Morn, which was released in 1979. Bécaud also recorded his own version of September Morn in French. Although considered one of the best solo artists on stage in the world, Diamond loved to work together with musicians he admired. Diamond's favourite artists are Tracy Chapman and U2, although his all-time favourites are many decades older: The Everly Brothers, James Brown, The Weavers and Harry Belafonte.
Diamond played in a movie called The Jazz Singer in 1980. The music of his hand became a big hit, unlike the film itself. He would act in one more movie: Saving Silverman (2001). The highlight of his 1984 European tour was a concert in Birmingham, attended by Prince Charles and Lady Diana: a birthday present from Charles to his wife, Neil being one of her favourite singers. On Diana's request Diamond was invited at the dinner organized by US president Reagan and his wife Nancy at the White House in November of the same year. Diamond was inducted into the Songwriters' Hall of Fame in 1984 and was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from that organization in 2000.
Neil Diamond's song America was used by Michael Dukakis for his presidential election campaign in 1988. Two years later, he received the American Music Award of Merit recognizing his meaning to musical entertainment during the past 25 years. Stevie Wonder presented the award to him in Los Angeles.
In the 1990's Diamond still worked on his musical career, but experimenting with new styles and working in the background made him less visible to the larger audience. Still, he was the number one solo artist of this decade based on gross earnings, according to Amusement Business Magazine. Some of his projects include a country CD with Chet Atkins and Waylon Jennings (Tennessee Moon in 1996), a duet with Frank Sinatra, two Christmas albums and the ultimate Neil Diamond collection called The Greatest Hits 1966-1992.
According to me, his best songs include: