FROM THE DESK OF DAVE RADSTOCK
50 GOLDEN YEARS
If indeed the soul of an artist is best revealed in what one creates, then the work of singer/songwriter/performer Neil Diamond speaks volumes,
an illustrious career spanning five decades has earned Neil a place amongst music royalty.
Labelled by his millions of fans as their king, he has carved out a legacy that few other performers can match. However, the history of this “anonymous” star is fraught with contradictions. He is an enigmatic character, a dichotomy, the world renowned celebrity, who has sung for presidents and danced
with princesses, and yet the quiet, fiercely private loner, the self-proclaimed Solitary Man.
As Neil Diamond celebrates fifty years of hit making this year, he is embarking on another gruelling World Tour. A schedule that would leave younger artists burned out, but this is the norm for Neil, who has taken his songs around the world time and again. Yet another opportunity for his fans to see
their idol in their home cities, a fact not lost on Neil, he was recently offered the chance to do a season in Las Vegas, but declined, stating, that as a performer it is his responsibility to go to his fans and not the other way round. An honest and no nonsense ethic which has held him in good stead throughout his career, and reason why he is so beloved by not just his dedicated, almost rabid fans, but respected throughout the music industry.
Neil Diamond, it is claimed, is the marathon man of music. He just keeps going, long after many acts have been and gone. When asked about his longevity, Neil, as humble as ever, puts it down to his fans still wanting what he provides, and yet he is an immensely talented individual, which cannot be overlooked, particularly in an age where image overcomes substance.
Neil Diamond has never been hip, or at least says the great man himself, and yet he continues to inspire, his music is still a mainstay on radio, TV, and film. He even delved into acting, most notably in the movie “The Jazz Singer” where he was employed to not only appear in the film, but write the soundtrack, an immense task by any standards, especially for a man who had no prior knowledge of the world of film acting. He has appeared in low budget American TV shows, and made cameo appearances in other movies, Saving Silverman/Evil Woman, playing himself, alongside Jack Black who was part of a Neil Diamond tribute band, That alone is a massive tribute to Neil, to have a film centred around him and his work. Neil Diamond is also responsible for the soundtrack to the movie of the cult novel, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, the allegorical story of the life of a young Seagull, I cannot think of another artiste who could have carried that off with such aplomb, it was inspired. The album still rates as one of Neil’s best sellers.
In the decades since Neil Diamond first appeared on the music scene, he has enjoyed a myriad of hit albums and singles, he has toured the world over and again, breaking attendance records, and garnering rave reviews, from fans and critics alike. Neil Diamond has been a constant in our lives, for me at least, his music has been the soundtrack to much of my life, I can find a Neil song to suit any mood, and can immerse myself in his music without ever tiring. Do I have a favourite Neil Diamond song? That is an impossible question, considering Neil has written some of the most memorable songs ever, by any artist, spanning all genres, Pop, Rock, Gospel, Country, Jazz, he has even had a go at Rap.
Neil Diamond’s story is one of perseverance, strength of character, and dogged determination, he is not only a brilliant performer, he is a model of the archetypal rags-to-riches American success story.
It is claimed the Neil Diamond phenomenon was born on the stage of the Greek Theatre in 1972, when that series of concerts were to catapult Neil into the music stratosphere. The critics raved. Frank H Lieberman of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, stated, “Until Monday, Neil Diamond appeared to be just another top flight contemporary artist on the Greek Theatre summer line-up.... At about 10:30pm Monday, following a couple of encores and standing ovations from the audience, he became number one, having presented the finest concert, in artistic and production sense, in Greek Theatre history. One particular night of the series of concerts was to be captured on record, Thursday, August 24, 1972, where Neil delivered possibly his greatest performance ever, it was to be known as Hot August Night, a mesmeric, dynamic and hypnotic performance, one only has to read the sleeve notes of the album to understand what Neil had achieved. Hot August Night is still regarded as possibly the finest “live album” by any artist or group.”
Neil Diamond has continued to “pack them in” whenever he tours, his shows are an event, and he gives everything, musically and of himself. He defies
his age, and still possesses that strong, deep baritone voice, instantly recognisable. I have seen Neil on tour many many times, and he has never disappointed, I had the great pleasure of speaking to him, instigated by my impulsive nature, where Neil was passing my (aisle) seat having just left the stage at Birmingham’s NEC Arena, as it was known in 1992, I stood up and thrust out my hand in a handshake gesture, Neil reciprocated, I said “Great show Neil, to which he replied, “Thank you, we love coming to England, we have some of our greatest fans here, it is a pleasure to present our show to you, thank you again, and hope to see you at another of our performances.” At which point he was quickly escorted to the confines of the dressing room(s), to a man who had been a fan of Neil Diamond since being a young boy, this all too brief encounter cemented my belief that my support was justified, that this
world famous icon and my music idol, had deigned to stop and speak to me, was beyond all expectation, and certainly elevated him further in my esteem.
These more recent years have seen Neil become more recognised as the great talent that he is. He has garnered a whole new group of younger fans, no doubt taken kicking and screaming to his show by admiring parents, only to leave as believers. There is no set Neil Diamond fan demograph, obviously, there are those who have been there at the beginning, and then those who latched onto him early on, and the new generation of fans, who I respect purely because they recognise Neil’s standing in the music landscape. I am always amazed how the “kids” of today think Neil Diamond is cool, where stories of how their mum and dad brought them up on his music, look around at the audience when attending his show, and you will see a whole spectrum of age groups, this is highlighted fabulously by the DVD of his Hot August Night/NYC concert at Madison Square Garden 2008, the camera pans around the arena, and you see all the “young things” shaking their booty and all in time to the music, it is fantastic, and a sight to behold.
Recent albums ‘12 Songs’, ‘Home Before Dark’, and ‘Melody Road’, have seen Neil rediscover his muse. Personally, I don’t believe he ever lost it, buried beneath the demands of output above quality, lyrically, these albums contain some of the finest songs Neil has written in a long time, ‘Hell Yeah’ can sit alongside ‘I Am...I Said’ as modern autobiographical song. ‘If I Don’t See You Again’, is a masterpiece of not just songwriting, but storytelling also, and ‘Nothing But A Heartache’ from his most recent offering is one of those majestic Neil Diamond power ballads.
As Neil Diamond plans and contemplates this latest tour, no doubt he will reflect on his life and career, and what it has bestowed upon him, the highs, the lows, and the in-betweens. He is a perfectionist. In a recent interview he stated, nothing will be left to chance, there will be no song unsung. These concerts will be worthwhile, for myself and for the fans, we are still on this (musical) journey, where anything is possible.
If this is to be Neil’s last hurrah, he will make it memorable, that’s for sure, for me, as a fan, I would say it has been a wonderful ride, and thank
Neil Diamond for making us all believers.
In 1966 a new singer/songwriter burst onto the charts with his self-penned song, ‘Solitary Man’. The singer came across as a moody, introspective loner, the song appeared to portray this persona perfectly. The lyric, “I’ll be what I am, a Solitary Man”, encapsulated what this new talent wanted to convey, the song peaked at number 55 on the Billboard chart, but launched the immense career this young man was about to enjoy, fifty years later, his career is still going strong, the man in question ... Neil Leslie Diamond.
Since that heady time in 1966, Neil Diamond has written some of the most memorable songs in music history, he has multiple gold and platinum selling albums, won many awards and accolades for his contributions to not only music, but popular culture, he has inspired many other musicians, and is one of the most beloved music idols of all time, within the music industry, and by music fans all over the world.
One of the reasons for this reverence, is his talent as a live performer, he sells out arenas and stadiums like no other artiste; his shows are an event. Neil said of himself, that he is essentially a live performer, his songs work well in a live setting, and he gets great joy from the reaction of his audiences when he performs them.
Given Neil’s immense catalogue of songs, how does he choose which songs to sing, and which ones to leave out, there are so many, he could put on a show with the songs he has left out, and it would still be fantastic, such is the quality of the material, however, there are those songs Neil wouldn’t dare to leave out.
This series is going to look at those songs which are Neil Diamond concert staples, the songs which were hits, and elevated the young Diamond into the pantheon of songwriting greats, and also catapulted him into rock and pop mega-stardom.
I will include a synopsis of each song, along with an audio track of the selected song, this is Neil Diamond Gold, and will be a celebration of Neil’s fifty years as a recording artist and performer, and of the hard earned rise to fame of the prodigiously talented Solitary Man.
'I AM... I SAID'
Of all the songs Neil Diamond has written, this is possibly the most personally honest song of all. It is wrought with angst, and a desire to be accepted, and questions the whole point of (his) existence. The story within the song is about a man, (Neil) who feels that, even though he became what he dreamed of in his life, he feels empty inside, and needs peace of mind, and is crying out to anyone who will hear his voice.
I Am ... I Said, I am someone! I exist! A cry for acceptance, and of confirmation of his being.
The song goes into levels of social isolation and metaphysical loneliness, and of being solitary, a theme that runs through a number of Neil Diamond songs.
‘I Am … I Said’ speaks of the way all his earthly dreams have come true, almost miraculously, worldwide fame, success, money, applause, accolades etc... but it is simply not enough. Fulfilment requires much more, and on a different level than worldly success, where, he believes, man cannot be truly happy without deep friendships and intimate love relationships.
Neil seems to acknowledge something unique about his existence as a human person, yet he can’t figure out what it is, what he’s missing, or what his purpose or end is, what the meaning of his life is.
He feels the threat of his loneliness and isolation socially, but he doesn’t have a solution, either on a human level or that of the divine. The song presents the problem well, but he does not know where to turn for hope and a way out.
'I Am... I Said', took four months for Neil to write, to get down on paper his thoughts, and how he wanted to relate them, he said it wrung every emotion out of him. Aside from being autobiographical, it is a deep philosophical song, where it presents issues that many of us may have faced, and makes us ask questions of ourselves.
On a purely musical level, it is a masterpiece of self observation, and of great song writing craft, it is one of popular music’s all time standards, and is possibly one of the most anticipated songs at Neil’s show.
"But I got an emptiness deep inside and I've tried but it won't let me go ..."
This was the follow up single to ‘Sweet Caroline’ and has a strong gospel focus, with an equally spiritual theme running through it; it was Diamond’s favourite song he had written up to that point. He once referred to it as a “stream of consciousness song, where you do not listen to the words but, rather to the feeling they convey.”
The song starts quietly with acoustic guitar, against a bass line, the lyrics are sparse, but the vowels in the words are elongated, gradually the arrangement builds up, with a tempo shift in the bridge, with a backing choir against strings lasting throughout, building up to the chorus the strings become prominent, and then the whole introduction of all instruments as it builds further towards the inspirational chorus, the bass drum thuds through you
as it accompanies the rich strings to a crescendo.
Call the sun in the dead of the night
And the sun gonna rise in the sky
Touch a man who can’t walk upright
And that lame man he gonna fly
And I fly, and I fly …
You can hear that fabulous crescendo as you read those words, singing the song in your head.
Neil said he wanted to create a religious experience between a man and
a woman as opposed to man and God.
'Holly Holy' succeeds on many levels, as it draws the listener in, and makes them contemplate the relationship between religion, man and woman.
Holly Holy is a powerful, awe inspiring, divine, healing experience, that touches you in ways you cannot and do not want to deny, it is healing, uplifting and pure.
Holly holy love, take the lonely child, and the seed
Let it be filled with tomorrow, Holly holy ...
As a concert song, it showcases Neil Diamond’s power as a “live” performer, and his great ability to reach into our very soul.
The version here is from the legendary 'Hot August Night' concert of 1972. Neil Diamond became the ultimate “live performer” on that night.
An early venture into world music. Soolaimon was part of a suite of songs known as 'The African Trilogy' and featured on the concept album
'Tap Root Manuscript' a foray into the music of the African continent long before Paul Simon recorded his 'Graceland' album.
Diamond studied African culture at the Kenyan mission, the United Nations, and the African studies department at UCLA. Soolaimon can mean Hello, Welcome, Goodbye, and Peace Be With You. The word is a variation of Salamah.
The song is a powerful, almost tribal chant, where it starts with a thudding conga drum, slowly adding chimes and strings to create an authentic African sound, the opening lyric is of a woman pleading with an almost spiritual lover to spend time with her.
Come she come say ri..i..i..i ide, on the night, sun become day, day ay ay ay ayyy, shall provide ...
It then moves into the chant “Soolaimon” as though summoning a deity of some kind, and then a recognition of the power of the deity.
God of my want, want, want
Lord of my need, need, need
Leading me on, on, on
Onto the woman she danced for the sun
God of my day, day, day
Lord of my night, night, night
Seek for the way, way, way
Take me home...she callin' ...
Soolaimon is an immensely spiritual song, a prayer, and evokes images of those tribal get togethers.
As a concert song those fabulous sounds fill the arena, and transport us to the heart of the African continent, and fits wonderfully as part of Neil Diamond’s gospel trilogy - ‘Holly Holy’, ‘Soolaimon’, and ‘Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show’.
Come she come say, ride ... on the night. Sun becomes day, day shall provide ...
And truth is sad, for not a child would claim the gift he had
The words he carved became his epitaph 'For my children'
This is a wholly “heart wrenching” song, and was inspired by Neil’s own reflections about his grandparents' deaths.
In his own words, "'Morningside' is a very sad song, it’s a song about dying alone; something I’ve been aware of for a long time. I was struck by it when my grandparents passed away - that they did die alone - that they weren’t with their children when they died. And at the time, when I was in London for the first time, I passed a shop, and saw this beautiful table in the window, it was carved by hand, and for some reason the two things came together, and the song started then.”
The old man died
And no-one cried
They simply turned away …
Neil Diamond’s emotive voice on this song, along with the slowed down tempo of the music, allows listeners to pay careful attention to his meaningful lyrics. We cannot help but reflect about how heart-wrenching it must have been for the elderly man when he died.
After singing those lyrics solemnly, Neil turns his attention to the gift that the elderly man left in the event of his death.
And when he died
He left a table made of nails and pride
And with his hands
He carved these words inside
'For my children'
He hoped that, even though his children were absent when he died, this handcrafted table would serve as a beautiful reminder of how much he loved them.
Wash away the sadness from these eyes of mine ...
As the narrator in the song, Diamond shares his own reflections about the man’s fate, the contrast between day and night represents his grief process, Neil acknowledges his different emotional reactions by the verse:
I spent the night
With dreams that make you weep
Wash away the sadness
From these eyes of mine
For I recall the words an old man signed...
'For My Children'
'Wash away the sadness' represents the journey of learning important life lessons, in times of loss and grief.
The sombre lyrics of 'Morningside' which are beautifully evoked in Neil’s singing, it allows the listener to reflect on the status of their relationships between their loved ones, their families, and especially their ageing parents.
Even if people cannot be with a loved one when he or she dies, they can take comfort in knowing that the dying person will still forgive and love them,
and possibly leave something for them, to be remembered by for years to come.
'Morningside' is not a regular concert song, but I felt compelled to include it in this series for its sheer beauty and poignancy. Webmaster, Doug informed me it was a particular favourite of his, where his beautiful video (above) of this song is both moving and majestic, it also holds a special place for me.
Without wishing to cast a sombre mood on our celebration of Neil Diamond, yesterday was the third anniversary of my own Mother’s passing, where she died April 26, 2014, she was surrounded by family, myself and my other siblings, unlike the elderly man in the song. I have listened to this song a few times these last couple of days, firstly out of the emotion of the day, but also to inspire me to compile a heartfelt tribute to it. I sincerely hope I have done it justice.
Webmaster: Without a doubt Dave, and ever so succinctly and poignantly as only someone of your ilk is able to. Thank you. - DV
“A Serenade, a hymn of sorts, at most a small potion for the soul”- ND (1974)
Is it possible for a song of such majesty to come from one man? It is lyrical perfection, and musically soars with a greatness not often heard. This is
Neil Diamond at his poetic best.
How can I even begin to analyse and interpret this song, it speaks on so many levels, personally, religiously, and on a higher human level. I believe the song is semi-autobiographical, which speaks about the duality of Neil’s nature, and the things which conflict him, and ultimately affect him.
The man on the right is a man undone
He’d give you his soul
If you asked him for some
This is the open, giving side to Neil’s character, which he shares through his music, his generosity of spirit shines through.
That love is a song, for each man to sing ...
Neil is sharing his love, his gifts, and himself ...
The man on the left is a prize un-won
A candle unlit and a song unsung ...
This is the private Neil, the loner, the part of his personality that closes him off to publicity, and the contemplative Neil, considering things not yet achieved and still to be done.
Lady Magdalene I can hear your distant trumpet
Calling from the morning mountain ...
Could Lady Magdalene be his spiritual muse, who Neil calls upon to enable him to be inspired? An almost symbiotic relationship.
There is a strong religious current running through the song, where it could be interpreted as relating to the Crucifixion, where the three entities, the man on the right, the left, and in between are regarding the two thieves, and Jesus Christ between them.
The man in between waits between the two
Not hearing the lie and not seeing the true
Unknowing what is and denying what seems
And there he will sleep
The man in between
Reading those words makes such an interpretation seem logical, but equally too obvious, and yet, in being a very spiritual man, Neil is possibly speaking about his own thoughts on Jesus Christ, and the conflicts within him during his last days on Earth. An acceptance of his fate or what is to come.
I am not particularly religious, but every time I listen to this song, it gives me chills. It is truly majestic and inspired, and shows Neil’s deep, understanding of the relationship between religion and human existence, and also a deep understanding of himself and his position in life.
The song is fascinating, as I’m still not sure as to what Neil was actually writing about, on the surface, it is a religious narrative, hymn like and a prayer, and yet it is still enshrouded in mystery, spiritually, and yet there exists a raw emotion and feeling on another plain, only by speaking to Neil himself would I/we come to understand the messages and meanings within the song, and what he was feeling whilst writing it.
The last time Neil performed this song “Live” he paired it with “Yes I Will” a song which equally speaks of Neil’s duality, 'Yes I Will' -
Yes I will
Indeed I will
If I may, If I might, if I can ...
Does this speak of Neil trying to be all things to all people, and his struggles to satisfy everyone? It certainly sits comfortably as an incorporation with 'Lady Magdalene' and shows how Neil wants to be committed to his family and his work, and trying to combine both, so he says ...
Yes I will
If I can ... It’s a struggle.
Since composing this narrative, my home city of Manchester, England, was subject to an act of the most abhorrent evil, where an incendiary device was detonated at the Manchester Arena, killing twenty two people, most of them youngsters and children attending a pop concert. We have been in a state of shock since. Like many of my fellow Mancunians, I have been deeply affected emotionally by this atrocity, and in truth, for the last few days I haven’t done much of anything, other than analyse and try to make any sense of it. We can make all the platitudes of standing tall and not bowing to the threat of overt evil, but it changes you a little, we become more wary, vigilant, and careful of where we find ourselves, but we must carry on, and I, and the great people of Manchester are, in some respects returning to some level of normality.
I have listened to this song a few times since the evil that visited us, and found some inspiration from it, not religious inspiration, but a sense that life, despite the ills that befall us, is better than we think. Hard to imagine I know, right now, but there is beauty, wonder, love, happiness, kindness, and goodness, it is there, not too deeply buried beneath the debris of such abominable atrocity.
Peace and love to all.
Webmaster: From the other side of the world, we share the outrage, pain and deep sadness of Dave, his precious family and the great people of Manchester.
This song was Neil Diamond’s first single for MCA Records, and introduced an epic storytelling and fully orchestrated sound that Diamond would become known for.
It was an autobiographical song of his years growing up on the streets of Brooklyn, and tells of the dreams and aspirations he had whilst growing up.
It is a fabulous song, beautifully crafted, where in the mind’s eye the listener can envisage the story, and wholly relate to it. The line, “And I see two boys, racing up two flights of staircase, squirming into Papa’s embrace, and his whiskers, warm on their face, where’s it gone? Oh where’s it gone?”, conjure
a deep sense of loss, yearning and nostalgia.
I am often asked, “What is your own favourite Neil Diamond song?” If pressed, I would say it is this majestic masterpiece... Brooklyn Roads.
This song is always well received during Neil’s show, as he gives fans a glimpse of his life in Brooklyn via video footage from those bygone years.
Of all Neil Diamond’s songs, none has been more dissected than Play Me, for its meanings, and grammar, the supposed none word “BRANG” is always criticised, but I suspect Neil was merely exercising poetic license, as opposed to using “Brought” which would have misaligned the rhyming lyric -
Song she sang to me, song she brang to me ...
‘Play Me’ is an audience favourite, especially amongst the women who attend Neil’s concerts, who carry signs saying “Neil, Play Me” as an entreaty to romance.
The stark beauty of the song cannot be overlooked, and can be regarded as one of Neil’s finest compositions, with its immense passion, and strong romantic overtones, which has Neil’s female admirers shrieking and swooning.
The meaning of the song is somewhat open to all manner of interpretation.
Is it a love song, or is it borne out of spiritual sub-conscience?
She was morning
And I was night-time
I one day woke up
To find her lying beside my bed
I softly said
Come take me ...
It begs the question of why was she lying beside his bed, and gives the impression she was waiting for him to become aware of her presence.
Rhyme that sprang from me, warmed the night,
And what was right, became me
Could this be he became what was right, the better person, or he felt through her eyes, he could do no wrong, or that what was right looked more becoming, more attractive because of her presence.
And so it was, that I came to travel
Upon a road that was thorned and narrow
Another place, another grace, would save me
So at some point he decided to leave her, another place, another grace, something else, destined to save him, fame, fortune? There’s almost a religious connotation to those words.
You are the sun, I am the moon,
You are the words, I am the tune
In the final rendition of the chorus, Neil echoes this sentiment three times, is he looking back at earlier memories of her, or is he relating to a new entity that he has chosen to follow? Could the song not be about a lover, spiritual, or otherwise, and based on a more earthly domain ... his ... guitar...?
Think about it ...
Lying beside my bed...(not on it)
Come take me...(You are the words)
I am the tune... (Play Me)
The guitar is his companion, and source of the tune, Neil is the source of the words, I could be wrong, but it makes sense the way he wrote the lyrics.
Whatever the meaning behind the song, it stands as a firm favourite, and cemented Neil’s immense talent as a songwriter.
The sound of the Puerto Rican Carnival Parade was in full swing as Neil Diamond relaxed in his hotel room with his Mum (Rose), Dad (Akeeba) and daughters Marjorie and Ellie. The exotic sounds of the parade mingled with the traffic, and the hustle and bustle of life filtered through the open windows.
Marjorie looked out at the fabulous scene below. The colours and razzmatazz as it passed by, full of rhythm and joy. Marjorie turned to her father, “What a Beautiful Noise, Daddy!” Boom! That was it, Neil had the title for the song he was to work on. It, incidentally, was also to become the title of an album idea he had, based upon his experience of being a struggling songwriter in the famed Brill Building on Tin Pan Alley.
‘Beautiful Noise’ has become a Diamond standard, and a staple of his concert set-list, instantly recognisable as the first strains are heard in recreating those wonderful sounds his daughter heard from that hotel window all those years ago. The album of the same name was one of Neil’s most well received albums of his career. It was produced by the Band’s Robbie Robertson. The songs therein tell the story of Neil’s struggles as a young singer/songwriter as he strove to become the star he dreamed of being.
NB: The Puerto Rican Day Parade (also known as the National Puerto Rican Day Parade) takes place annually in the United States, along Fifth Avenue in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York. The parade is held on the second Sunday in June, in honour of the nearly four million inhabitants of Puerto Rico and all people of Puerto Rican birth or heritage residing in the mainland USA.
"On stage Diamond radiates the same excitement that has made pop stars from Sinatra to Presley, and it's a sensation that can't be described,
only felt'" - Cashbox, October 4, 1969
This is the song that kicked it all off for Neil, a song of pent up angst. Moody and introspective, conveying a notion of loneliness and isolation.
Solitary Man was different to many of the previous compositions Neil had written, it was darker, but more mature, talking about something Neil Diamond would prove to be a master narrator of ... love, and everything it brings, joy to heartbreak, happiness to sadness, it sits in total melancholia, where the protagonist in the song, (Neil) tells of his misery, that he has been cheated on, and until he finds that “someone” he will remain a solitary man.
Don't know that I will
But until I can find me
The girl who'll stay
And won't play games behind me
I'll be what I am
A solitary man
It is a classic of bubblegum pop, but is unique by the truth within the lyrics, who of us haven’t been hurt in such a way.
What is surprising, despite the sad theme of the song, the melody is rather uplifting, and upbeat, and maybe there is a hidden message in there, that things will turn out right in the end.
Fifty years ago, (fifty one to be exact) this song charted on the Billboard Hot 100, and was to launch the massively successful career of its composer,
Neil Leslie Diamond.
Solitary Man is a hugely anticipated inclusion in Neil’s show, I have always loved how Neil has managed to polish each song to make it sound fresh, with new vibrant arrangements. The updated guitar work on the song rings as Neil takes you on his ride of hurt and angst.
The version I have included is the fabulous rendition from Doug Weston’s Troubadour in 1969, and featured on Neil’s recorded live album “Gold” from that show, it includes the lead dialogue prior to the song, brilliant.
Is there a better three chord pop song than ‘Cherry Cherry’? Is there a better guitar riff than that which runs right through the song? A simple E,A,D, arrangement, strummed repetitively to lift it from the ordinary to the inspired? Accompanied by a sparse upright piano, it is possibly the only
Neil Diamond composition that has no drums in the arrangement, where the original cut was filled out with backing vocals and hand claps, provided by legendary songwriting duo, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, who could be said. are responsible for discovering Neil Diamond. The three of them joined forces to form Tallyrand Music in order to publish Diamond’s music.
The song is typical of many pop songs back then, telling the story of a boy enamoured with his new love ...
Baby loves me, yes, yes she does, Cherry Cherry
The girl’s outta sight, yeah ...
Said she loves me, yes, yes she does, Cherry Cherry
Gonna to show me tonight, yeah ...
Speaking about the song, Diamond stated it was inspired by an early relationship with a significantly older woman.
She got the way to move me, Cherry
She got the way to groove me
C’mon Cherry baby ... alright
'Cherry Cherry' is an interesting song as there are different variations of how Neil performs it, which are far removed from the original cut. As
Neil Diamond songs go, this is far from being a lyrical masterpiece, but what it does achieve is to immerse the listener into the clever nuances of the melody underlining the song, particularly that fabulous guitar riff.
As a concert song, it is well received with its lively arrangement and infectious rhythm, where in recent years, it has been upgraded to being one
of the major songs of the show, where the band are given the opportunity to showcase their musical talents.
I cannot think of another song which has more of an infectious chorus as this
Neil Diamond standard, 'Sweet Caroline'. It seems as though it was made for a live performance, where the audience plays their part in full, and a song which is probably first on the set list, and will never be omitted, how can one not be urged to join in as the music lifts towards that fabulous infectious chorus .....
Hands, touching hands, reaching out, touching me, touching you .......
da da da da ... da da da Sweeeet Ca..ro..line.... bah bah bah .... etc...
Sweet Caroline has become Neil Diamond’s most famous song, and one could be forgiven for believing people turn up to his shows just to hear him sing that song, that isn’t true of course, but is a measure of the power of the song, and how it has remained one of pop music’s all time standards, by any artist. The song is almost fifty years old, written and recorded in 1969, and yet sounds as fresh as ever, and certainly deserves it’s place in all time favourite songs.
It reached #8 on the UK charts when released in 1971.
The included file is the live cut from Neil Diamond’s Madison Square Garden concert 2008 illustrates how it has stood the test of time.
'SONG SUNG BLUE'
This song was inspired by Mozart’s ‘Piano Concerto #21’ and is possibly the bounciest hit inspired by the classical composer.
Song Sung Blue is almost nursery rhyme like in its lyrics...
Song sung blue
Everybody knows one
Song sung blue
Every garden grows one
A simplistic lyric with a classical melody, however, Neil said he never paid
too much attention to the song, a very basic message, unadorned. “I didn’t even write a bridge to it... I had no idea that it would be a huge hit, and that people would want to sing along with it.” Whilst Diamond he didn’t think the song had hit potential, Russ Regan, who ran his record label UNI, was a believer, telling Diamond it would be his “biggest copyright ever.”
“Although the lyric says everything I wanted it to say,” said Diamond, “there’s not much meat to it, but it turned out to be a major, major copyright.”
When you listen to Mozart’s second movement within his ‘Piano Concerto #21’, you can literally sing the words to ‘Song Sung Blue’. It is a clever use of melody and structure which lifts the song to a higher level.
Me and you are subject to
The blues now and then
But when you take the blues
And make a song
You sing 'em out again
The lyrics are not philosophical, or particularly complicated, but they have a massively infectious pull to them, where the listener would find it difficult not to sing along, or hum the tune, where it stays in your head long after hearing it.
Song sung blue
Weeping like a willow
Song sung blue
Sleeping on my pillow
It is a master-class of the use of simplistic rhyme, the last lines of the verse sums it all up...
But you can sing it with a cry in your voice
And before you know it get to feeling good
You simply got no choice
The song became one of Neil Diamond’s biggest hits, despite his earlier reservations.
'AND THE GRASS WON'T PAY NO MIND'
After the stress of extracting himself from Bang records, Neil Diamond signed to UNI Records in 1968, a subsidiary of Universal Pictures, whose owners, MCA Inc. would consolidate into MCA records, this was to be Diamond’s prolific era, where he would write all those smashes that have become Neil Diamond standards.
Diamond’s song writing had evolved into a more mature style, far removed from the bubblegum pop of earlier hits ‘Cherry Cherry’ ‘You Got to Me’,
‘The Boat That I Row’, etc. His songs were thought provoking, and the themes were emotionally deep, many had religious themes, others were more wistful.
‘And The Grass Won’t Pay No Mind' was one such song, where Neil stated -
“The song was a pure stream of consciousness, written more to capture a moment in time, than to tell a story”.
You can hear God callin'
Walkin' barefoot by a stream
Come on to me
Your hair softly fallin'
On my face as in a dream
And the time will be our time
And the grass won't pay no mind
Child, touch my soul with your cries
And the music will know what we’ve found
I’ll, hear a hundred goodbyes
But today I hear only one sound
And the moment we’re living is now, now, now.....
Despite what Neil said, the song was a beautiful story of young innocent love. Diamond was hot as a pistol, and was quickly gaining a reputation as being the most prolific songwriter around, even eclipsing Lennon and McCartney.He was most sought after, on television shows, and his concerts were garnering huge acclaim, in the year 1969 he was named best male vocalist, and from there went from strength to strength.
‘And The Grass Won’t Pay No Mind’ was recorded and released in 1969, and became a top ten hit, the song has been recorded by Elvis Presley, and a relatively unknown singer, Mark Lindsay (lead singer of Paul Revere & the Raiders).
'CRUNCHY GRANOLA SUITE'
Neil Diamond thrusts out his arm in that iconic way, in salute and in triumph, as the audience shows its approval with ecstatic applause, whistles, whoops, and hollers, and calls for more...
This still was from his fabulous Madison Square Garden, Hot August Night NYC show of 2008, which showcased Neil on top form in front of his “home crowd” in New York.
The DVD of this concert captures one of Neil’s shows from his four night stand at the venue, where Neil puts on one of his finest concerts of recent years. For me, one of the standout performances was his rendition of ‘Crunchy Granola Suite’ as part of the 'Hot August Night' revisited section.
The performance was awesome, not just Neil’s performance, the band, the backing singers, they were smoking hot on this, and then the audience, as the camera pans around the arena, you see all the young things shaking their booty, and all in time to the music, and older men and women, and just men, really lapping it up, It was rock of the highest order, where Neil Diamond was at his dynamic best.
The song is a strange kind of song based upon something that very few songwriters would dare to write a song about, a nutritious breakfast cereal.
It is said the song was inspired by the healthy lifestyle Diamond was introduced to after moving to Los Angeles from New York. The song describes how a man who suffered all kinds of hang-ups found solace with his new found adherence to the stereotypical Californian, macrobiotic granola health food lifestyle.
Deede-ee deet deet deet deet deet deet deedle dee dee
I got a song been on my mind
And the tune can be sung
And the words all rhyme
Deedle-ee deet deet deet deet deet deet deedle-dee doo
Though it don’t say much
Well it won’t offend
If you sing it at school
They’re liable to send you home
Never knowing, what you’re growing
Think you’re growing your own weed
Let me hear that
Get me near that
Crunchy granola suite
Drop your shrinking
Stop your drinking
Crunchy Granola’s neat
Sing it out, alright!
It is amazing how Neil has been able to take songs from way back when, and bring them right up to date, and into the modern era, and make them sound fresh and vibrant, no-one who has ever attended a Neil Diamond concert will fail to recognise his sheer brilliance in his performance, and how he can transport his audience to times long past.
The song has been reinstated as a major concert song in recent years, especially as Neil has taken to reliving that amazing time at the Greek Theatre 1972 known as ‘Hot August Night’.
This is one of those all-time Neil Diamond sing-along standards, an uncomplicated song which tells us that the greatest joy can be gotten from
the simplest things in life.
But it don’t sing and dance
And it don’t walk
Long as I can have you here with me
I’d much rather be
Forever in blue jeans
It is almost an admission by Neil, that despite his fame, wealth, and immense success, he would sacrifice it all to enjoy the simple things with his love. In a strange kind of way, the message in the song is similar to Neil Sedaka’s ‘The Hungry Years’, where the story within the song tells of a couple who have made all their dreams come true, but yearn for the days where they aspired to reach those goals, and return to a simpler time -
I miss the hungry years
The once upon a time
The lovely long ago
We didn’t have a dime
Those days of me and you
We lost along the way
Forever In Blue Jeans is a catchy, clapping, singing, and stamping along song, and is a much anticipated concert song, where Neil rouses the audience to sing along. I see it as part of the trilogy of whole audience participation songs - ‘Sweet Caroline’, ‘Cracklin’ Rosie’, and ‘Forever In Blue Jeans’, where the whole auditorium is in unison in celebration of the music.
This song is a classic coming of age song, telling the story of a young man’s sexual awakening via his encounter with an older woman. You can almost feel the heat of the day, as Neil sets the scene...
It was the third of June
On that summer day
When I became a man
At the hands of a girl almost twice my age
And she came to me
Just like the morning sun
And it wasn’t so much her words as such
As the way they were sung
It was the way they were sung
The verse describes the encounter like a song, where the man likens the experience of the most beautiful music, and is allowing his more experienced partner to take control.
The name “Desirée” has its origins in French, and literally means desired, which offers a suitable title for the song, given its theme.
There I was found
By the sweet passion sound
Of your loving song
The time was right the night was long
Somehow I knew
I could only have you, 'til the morning light
If only for that single night
Sweet Desirée you made it right
The chorus is a recognition by the man, that this encounter is a one time happening, and he tells us how the experience lived up to his expectation and beyond, it is reminiscent of Bobby Goldsboro’s “Summer, The First Time” an almost spiritual experience, where the encounter suddenly makes a man of the innocent young boy.
The second verse is very clever in how Neil writes about how the man cannot forget the encounter, and put it down to a one-time event, and experience.
Then came the fourth of June
On that sleepless night
Well, I tossed and I turned
While the thought of her burned
Up and down my mind
For she was there and gone
Without one regret
But she continues on
Like the words of a song
I could not forget
I could not forget...
The man is now tortured by the encounter being nothing more than a one night stand, he is haunted by her, and wants to experience her all over again, but for the more worldly seductress, it was nothing more than what the song suggests, a brief and singular experience, whereas he is forever tormented by the fact he will never see her again.
The song is clever in how Neil describes this encounter beautifully, without being explicit, and yet the listener fully understands what is happening, where they can envisage how the more worldly woman has seduced the innocent young man.
'LOVE ON THE ROCKS'
Of all the songs featured in the 'Jazz Singer' movie, 'Love On The Rocks', is the stand out song, even eclipsing the patriotic anthem ‘America’. It is classic
Neil Diamond, talking of a broken relationship, the opening verse is constructed in the way of the classic scenario of a man alone, opening up to anyone who will listen.
Love on the rocks
Ain't no surprise
Just pour me a drink and I'll tell you some lies
Got nothin' to lose so you just sing the blues
All the time
The second verse is reflecting on what the jilted lover gave in the relationship, I gave everything and still she dumped me, I don’t understand, what did I do wrong?
Gave you my heart
Gave you my soul
You left me alone here with nothing to hold
Now all I want is a smile
It’s almost a resigned acceptance of what has happened, despite the heartache.
The chorus sums up the whole mystery of women, and the unpredictability of a relationship. It’s almost asking, “What is it you really want? What more can I do?" And how we’ve all been there.
First, they say they want you
How they really need you
Suddenly you find you're out there
Walking in a storm
When they know they have you
Then they really have you
Nothing you can do or say
You've got to leave, just get away
We all know the song
Neil has an innate ability to put into words the many nuances of relationships, and the aftermath of one that has ended. The last verse hits the proverbial nail on the head.
You need what you need
You can say what you want
Not much you can do when the feeling is gone
May be blue skies above
But it's cold when you love's on the rocks
'Love On The Rocks' has become a Neil Diamond standard, and is possibly the most recognised tune of his of younger music fans. It has stood up wonderfully well against ever changing music trends, and can justifiably be regarded as an all time classic.
It was widely thought that before the release of the 2005 album ‘12 Songs’, that Neil Diamond was a busted flush as a creative force in music, (I never shared that view). The critics, however, thought otherwise, where he was often ridiculed as a purveyor of elevator music, or over the top schmaltz, never recognising his standing as possibly the most prolific songwriter of the last forty years at least. They criticised his songs, his sentimentality, and his stage attire, and that his act as nothing more than Las Vegas cabaret, this was wholly unfair, and equally untrue, as Neil Diamond has always strived to turn out the best music he possibly can, and has succeeded many times over. However, it must be said that in later years, prior to 2005, Neil had become too comfortable with his status in the music industry, concentrating on touring and obligating the wants of his record label and employers in turning out work which appeared to have lost some direction, and below the high standard expected and associated with Neil.
It was during that period that he was approached by music producer extraordinaire, Rick Rubin, a man who had garnered huge recognition for his work with many bands, and other ageing stars, his work on Johnny Cash’s American Recordings was critically acclaimed, and went a long way in bringing Johnny Cash back to the forefront of popular music. Neil Diamond presented a whole different problem for Rubin, after all, Diamond was still a hugely prominent artist, recording and touring, where his shows never failed to sell out. However, Rubin felt Neil had lost that spark, the genius that elevated him above many other songwriters, Rubin was an admirer of
Neil Diamond, particularly that body of work which catapulted Neil Diamond into mega-stardom.
It was Rubin’s intention to have Neil revisit his earlier recordings, and really listen to them, and think about what it was that motivated him, and to get Neil to dig deep within himself as he did all those years earlier, to reignite that creative spark. It worked, Neil is quoted as saying, “Rick (Rubin) kicked my butt, he thought I’d gotten lazy, and maybe I had, who knows, but Rick brought the best out of me, or at least the best I could do at that time, the end result is something I am immensely proud of.” So he should be, '12 Songs' became a hugely successful album, possibly the finest album of original material for over twenty years, many cited the 'Jazz Singer' album as his finest before 12 Songs.
The album featured some truly fabulous songs, Neil had really tapped into his muse, stripped back to almost the bare bones, we could hear Neil as raw as we had ever heard him, a man with just his guitar, accompanied by the most basic instrumentation, and his rich, baritone voice, and how he delivered. We felt the emotion, the soul, the empathy, all traits of the younger Neil Diamond, but this was new, these songs were sung with the wisdom of age and life experience, and there were stories within them.
The album featured some stellar material, ‘Oh Mary’, 'Save Me A Saturday Night’ and one of my own favourites, ‘Captain Of A Shipwreck’, they were inspired, but the stand out track was ‘Hell Yeah’ of all the most recent songs Neil has written, this can be considered as a true modern classic, and to me is a modern day 'I Am...I Said' the autobiographical nature of the song is evident....
If you’re thinking that my life
Is a hoot and a holler
From the start of the day
To the dark of the night,
And that it’s ringing like a bell
That you only want to follow
Just believe me when I say
I’m still trying to get it right
Straight away Neil is telling us, that despite his success and status in life, everything isn’t always rosy, and everything he has achieved has to be
worked at, where even now, he believes he is still learning. The second verse is an affirmation of what it took to get where he is.
Still, I think about myself
As the luckiest dreamer,
And if you’re asking me to tell
Is it worth what I paid
You’re gonna hear me say...
And then follows the bridge, which is an admittance that it has been worth every step it took him to realise his goals.
Hell yeah it is
Gonna say it loud
I’ve loved it all
And I’m not too proud
To sing my song, just let it fly
Hell yeah, this crazy life around me
It confuses and confounds me
But it’s all the life I got, before I die
Hell yeah it is...
The remainder of the song talks about the glare of being in the spotlight, and the demands of maintaining a particular profile.
I’ve been living in a bowl
With a lot of people staring
Had my feet on shaky ground
And my head up in the sky
But it’s where I want to be
It’s a life made for sharing
Got a song to pass the day
And a girl to share the night
The final verse has Neil contemplating his demise, and whether he would be remembered, and was it all worthwhile, and a realisation that he followed his dreams, and fulfilled every ambition and more. ‘Hell Yeah’ is a stark and honest narrative on his own life, approached with the same critical analysis that he adopted when writing 'I Am...I Said', it is a masterpiece of self observation, and reason why Neil Diamond is so highly regarded as a songwriter, and equally beloved.
Footnote: Neil's daughter Marjorie, in attendance his Hot August Night NYC 2008 concert, wept when Neil sang this song. She later asked him if he meant what he sang. His immediate response ... "Every word."
And he taught us more about living than we ever cared to know
And we came to learn the secret and we never let it go
The Last Waltz - "The Best Rock Movie Ever Made" - Rolling Stone
"It started as a concert .... it became a Celebration."
The Last Waltz was a concert by the rock group The Band, held on American Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1976, at Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. The Last Waltz was advertised as The Band's "Farewell Concert Appearance."
The event was filmed by director Martin Scorsese and made into a documentary of the same name and released in 1978.
'DRY YOUR EYES'
A tribute to the late, great Dr Rev Martin Luther King Jr.
This song featured on Neil Diamond’s highly acclaimed ‘Beautiful Noise’ album. The album was produced by ‘The Band’s’ Robbie Robertson, where he said he was fascinated by the Tin Pan Alley tradition that Diamond represented, and claimed the concept behind ‘Beautiful Noise’ was to pay tribute to that Rock ‘n’ Roll version of Tin Pan Alley that he first encountered when he was fifteen.
‘Dry Your Eyes’ was a collaboration between Diamond and Robertson, and spoke of how people felt after the assassination of both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jnr. On the strength of their collaboration on the album, Robertson invited Diamond to perform at the Band’s farewell concert, known as ‘The Last Waltz’ held on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1976.
The critics were incensed, claiming that Neil Diamond didn’t belong on the same stage as the stellar line-up that was assembled; however, they missed the whole point of the concert, on a purely intellectual level. Diamond’s participation made sense, Robertson wanted representation from all the aspects of ‘The Band’s’ sound, their “Musical Wheel” as he called it Southern Blues, Canadian Folk, New Orleans funk, and so on, Neil Diamond represented the New York City based Brill Building sound.
The song had a very staccato rhythm, like a march, which appeared to be what Neil was aiming for given the solemnity of the song.
Dry your eyes take your song out
Well it’s a newborn afternoon
And if you can’t recall the singer
Can you still recall the tune
The song appears to be a lament of the passing of Robert Kennedy and
Martin Luther King Jnr. and sounds almost funereal, the song could also represent the existent ill feeling about the Vietnam war, and speaks about
Dry your eyes and play it slowly
Just like you’re marching off to war
Sing it like you always wanted
Like you sang it once before
The critics questioned why Neil didn’t sing a known song in the Last Waltz concert, but that would have been too obvious. What has to be remembered is that Neil Diamond is firstly a songwriter, his choice of ‘Dry Your Eyes’ was appropriate, and was a powerful statement of sadness, symbolic of the changing of the guard regarding the Band’s breakup.
Watching the film, when Neil Diamond is announced, there appears to be a collective “What?” but as Neil’s performance develops, there becomes a sense of transformation as Diamond completely wins over the crowd, and they become engulfed in stunned amazement at this powerful song. The performance also demonstrated that Diamond had a commanding charisma, and could grab a contemporary audience’s attention, and reach a higher level that moves a performance into the spiritual...and do it powerfully. Neil’s performance also proved that he was the real deal, Robbie Robertson knew it, as do his fellow musicians and the industry.
In performing with this stellar crowd of musicians in ‘The Last Waltz” Neil Diamond took his rightful position among them and garnered much deserved respect.
I include the version of 'Dry Your Eyes' from that concert to showcase the power in Neil’s delivery and capture the message Neil was putting across.
The sixties were a potpourri of everything, soon to be known as the “Swinging Sixties”, an era that held a special place in popular culture for the people who came of age in the decade, particularly as they constantly reminisce about how great it was. The often stated "If you remember the 60's, then you weren't really there," seemed to be a commentary of the lifestyles adopted by many who lived through those heady times.
The “Theme Park” version of the “Swinging Sixties” included “free love”, beehive hairdos, Hippies and Psychedelic Rock. There were girl groups, in mini skirts and Go-Go boots, Marijuana and “The Pill”. However, the decade was more about the music, Mop Topped bands to psychedelia inspired artists like Jimi Hendrix, and confessional songwriters, Bob Dylan, who possibly captured the era like no other artist with his many protest songs, along with the Rolling Stones and the Beatles.
The Sixties were also the era of the songwriter, where many now major artists broke through, Bob Dylan, Carole King, Simon and Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens, and James Taylor, many of their songs spoke of the issues of the times, or offer an escape from the lives of the youth of the day.
One new artist was plying his trade in the famed Brill Building on Tin Pan Alley his name.... Neil Diamond, a Brooklyn born, Jewish, New York native.
At that time by his own admission he wasn’t as good as he thought, and was fired by five publishing houses, this prompted him, then earning $40.00 a week, to rent a flat above a shop and an upright piano and work on his own. He also purchased a disused public pay phone and had it installed in his room with the intention of keeping telephone calls and their associated costs to a minimum.
“Those days were extremely hard, says Neil, I was living a very meagre existence, with not much money, and even less food, but I was determined,
it took eight long years to get my break, and when it came, I grabbed it and didn’t let go.”
It was those times Neil Diamond would remember on his ‘Beautiful Noise’ album, one such song was ‘Jungletime’ and appears to be Neil talking about the harshness of the city, and the struggles he faced whilst growing up and striving to become famous, or at least make something of his life. None more so than his brush with a bullet. This was in Neil’s youth, where he was a member of a street gang, and actually carried a gun, it was during an encounter with another street gang that he got shot, just below his right eye. Neil states, “If you look real close, you will see a noticeable scar, an inch higher, I may have lost my eye, or even not survived.” It was this incident which seemed to straighten out the young Diamond, where he would concentrate on his studies and his burning desire to be a music star.
The song ‘Jungletime’ has the kind of beat that shouts the “Concrete Jungle” the lyrics talk of what it took to survive whilst growing up –
Time for the fight and it's time for the fury
Settin' it right and then takin' the glory
Jungle time, rumble time
Baby, baby, baby, baby
Baby, baby, baby, baby
Strut your stuff
Lay it all out
Like you don't care who knows it
Strut your stuff
You keep your cool
While the other guy blows it
Strut your stuff, hangin' tough
Baby, baby, baby, baby
Baby, baby, baby, baby
This song was Neil reflecting on those heady but dangerous times he experienced whilst growing up on the mean streets of Brooklyn, New York.
'Cracklin' Rosie' was released in 1970, and became Neil Diamond’s first number one record on the Billboard Hot 100, and his third to sell over a million copies. It was also Neil’s breakthrough single on the UK charts, peaking at #3 for four weeks in November and December of that year. Billboard ranked it as the number 17 song of 1970.
'Cracklin' Rosie' tells the story of a cheap wine, consumed by the men of the North Canadian Indian tribe as there weren’t enough women to go around,
so the men sought solace in “Cracklin' Rosie”, hence the line -
"Cracklin' Rose, you’re a store bought woman", which seemed to satisfy their desires.
The song is a lively, infectious number, with a catchy chant within the chorus; “Play it now, play it now, play it now, my baby”, which has the audience joining in with great gusto, it seems it was given to such participation.
Neil has said he was most satisfied with the song, as it gave him his first #1 success as a performer, and it can stand alongside ‘Sweet Caroline’ as a fan favourite.
Is there a more famous image attached to a song than this one depicting
Neil Diamond in iconic pose at the end of his ‘America’ song, taken from the movie, 'The Jazz Singer'? It encapsulates everything what many perceive
about Neil Diamond, the glitzy mega-star, who stands alone atop the music landscape.
This is a tribute to immigration in America, where people from all over the world were welcome to come and seek opportunity.
Neil Diamond grew up in Brooklyn, New York, where many Europeans arrived, his grandparents were immigrants, where on his father’s side were from Poland and on his mother’s side from Russia.
Diamond wrote the song for the movie “The Jazz Singer” where he also starred in the movie, playing a young Jewish man who must defy his father to follow, and realise his dream of becoming a singing star. Many have said that in some respects it mirrors Diamond’s real rise to fame, and that he was merely playing himself.
‘America’ is an anthem, and has been used by would be presidents on the campaign trail, most notably by Michael Dukakis in his 1988 campaign to emphasise his own ethnic origins as a third generation American.
Does this song still hold true? On a political level ‘America’ is an enticement of the American dream; of freedom, and opportunity, however, there is a growing concern in America about an out of control immigration problem, and most people entering America, are not planning to live there forever, and arrive via the enticement of better jobs with higher wages which they can send back to their homeland.
There are shifts of speaker in the song, where the opening is from the perspective of the immigrants -
Far we’ve been travelling far
Without a home, but not without a star (symbolism)
The chorus and refrain at the end is spoken from the American citizens perspective.
On the boats and on the planes, they’re coming to America
The immediate, direct, social connection is that of immigration, however, some indirect connections are - Poverty, tyranny, economic and cultural differences and privilege.
The running theme within the song is that immigration is what feeds a nation, it shows the greatness of the state if people want to emigrate there,
Liberty is a desirable quality in a nation.
The reason people immigrate is for freedom, we should be proud of immigration; an example in the song is the line:
Freedom’s light burning warm
The song tells us that Neil Diamond is a very nationalistic person, it is also greatly patriotic, and suggests that America is a nation that stands above all others, and can provide the life the immigrants have dreamed of ... the ultimate American dream.
Some have said ‘America’ is nothing more than overt jingoism, but they miss the messages of hope, pride and success, contained within the lyrics, and is more patriotic than America’s actual national anthem.
'BROTHER LOVE'S TRAVELLING SALVATION SHOW'
Neil Diamond created one of the great characters of music and live performance in ‘Brother Love’. Inspired by the revivalist tent preachers, who would stir up the faithful by creating an almost circus-like atmosphere, at which fiery preachers would bring a message of brimstone and redemption, delivered in an almost manic sermon, where the devotees would believe they would be damned if they transgressed.
Diamond explained the song was written after attending a revival meeting, out of curiosity, and because he felt he had all the answers.
“I sat at the back of the tent, and got caught up in the music, the clapping, the singing, it was tremendously exciting. After a while I felt something about the people. There was a yearning, looking for answers, trying to ease the burden of their very rough lives. After a while, the music stopped, and the preacher walked out, I remember thinking, that all the education, all the books, all the learning I had at college, didn’t mean anything to these people, I had nothing for them, so I found myself pulling for this man, who was about to give them something, something I couldn’t even begin to give them.”
The song marked a turning point for Neil, as it was a character driven song, as opposed to being something personal and introspective, and allowed him to play a character on stage, Neil credits the song for enabling him to become the consummate performer he is known for being. “How could I not let go of my inhibitions, when playing such a wonderful character?”
The song has all the hallmarks of those meetings Neil spoke of, the organ, the excitement, and that fabulous sermon created by Neil’s mastery of words.
The song has been tailored for a modern audience, where the sermon includes “gay and straight” in its delivery, and Neil is very authentic in his preaching, capturing the power and charisma of those revivalist preachers. It is a fabulous song, and was made for live performance; it isn’t hard to be drawn in, and we’ll say Amen to that.