Neil Diamond had established himself as the biggest music star in the world by the time the eighties came around, he had enjoyed almost a decade of unrivalled success throughout the seventies, recording and touring, so needed to evaluate his career in order to maintain his standing. Neil Diamond knew he had to work twice as hard to enable himself to continue to progress, it was the invitation to star in a movie towards the end of the seventies, a first for Neil, that gave him the kind of challenge that he probably needed to start the decade off positively, and whilst the movie received mixed reviews, Neil’s album of the soundtrack to the movie was his biggest seller for many a year.
The 'Jazz Singer' album continued that great run of success of album sales for Neil Diamond. Never one to rest on his laurels, Diamond released an album almost every year of the eighties. These albums once again cover every genre, but also show a change in style, introducing richer orchestration, and a more modern sound to fit with the decade. These albums were still very much Neil Diamond, but the songs were deeper, showing a maturity of writing beyond his seventies material.
The critics would argue that Neil’s music of the eighties lacked the spark that catapulted him into super-stardom, but they miss the point that he was writing for a wholly different audience, and not solely concentrating on chart success. The albums of the eighties highlight the ever evolving style of Neil Diamond, but still show a man still at the top of his game musically. - Dave Radstock
THE JAZZ SINGER
The album opens with ‘America’ which is one of the more rock based songs, and has a wonderfully catchy chorus, the instrumentals on this song are amazing, going far above the rock standards that the listener would expected going into this release, with brilliant use of strings and is one of Diamond’s all time classics. It is a rousing patriotic anthem to immigration, and the lure of the USA as a haven for those wishing to live the American dream.
Everywhere around the world
They’re coming to America
Every time that flag’s unfurled
They’re coming to America
This is the enticement of freedom and liberty, and to realise the dreams and aspirations of those searching for a new beginning. The song has been a feature of Neil Diamond’s concerts ever since, and receives its due reception.
This was the album which accompanied Neil Diamond’s introduction to the world of film acting, and is regarded as one of Diamond’s finest albums of his whole career. What was staggering at that time was that Diamond was placed as the star of the movie above acting legend Laurence Olivier, surprising as Neil Diamond had no previous acting experience.
The movie aside, what we have here is a masterful album of songs where many have become not just Neil Diamond classics, but pop and rock standards. The album, produced by Bob Gaudio, has been suggested as the album that Diamond crossed over from rugged, respected troubadour into the schmaltzy cabaret act, which is somewhat unkind and misses the point of what Neil Diamond is all about. Critics be damned,
as Neil Diamond could take solace in the phenomenal sales of the album, it shifted over six million in the states alone.
The album is not a typical Neil Diamond album, being somewhat of a rock-based album, with influences of 80’s pop, country, blues and folk. This is a very diverse album, that still maintains a consistency that is almost unrivalled by any album in any genre, no matter what artist wrote it. The songs are all short and sweet, lasting no more than 3-4 minutes for the most part, but each of them is an incredibly powerful piece of music, layered with meaning, and each one dripping with emotion, channelled beautifully through Neil Diamond’s incredibly powerful voice.
"Freedom's light burning warm..."
‘Adon Olom’ and 'Kol Nidre' is a nod to Neil Diamond’s Jewish heritage...
‘You Baby’ is the third track and is one of those light rockers that Neil Diamond is known for, with a catchy hook, it fitted in with the movie where Neil is about to perform in a club frequented by black people, this offers a chance to give a nod to Al Jolson blacking up when he performed.
‘Love On The Rocks’ is possibly the biggest hit on the album, a song that is possibly one of Neil Diamond’s most recognised songs. Its deceptively calm verses cede to a bridge/chorus of lung rattling muscularity. It could be said it is an ode to celebrity as much as emotional turmoil. ‘Love On the Rocks’ is one of the best songs anyone could hear, it takes Diamond’s signature love ballad, and utilises his voice for the most soothing effect possible. It’s a very emotional song, that packs so much of a punch on first listen, with the mourning piano lines backing up the incredibly well written lyrics, and Neil’s voice coating it in velvet escalates it to a majesty all of its own.
First they say they want you
See how they really need you
Suddenly you find you’re out there
Walking in a storm
And when they know they have you
Then they really have you
Nothing you can do or say
You got to leave, just get away
We all know the song
‘Amazed And Confused’ is a raw rock number which never got the credit it deserved. The scene in the movie where Neil performs this song as an audition for the concert promoter is performed as it was intended, where Neil allows his raspy vocal ride over it to give it the edge it has, punctuated with roars it has an enticing element to it.
‘Robert E Lee’ could be suggested as a filler song to tie a particular segment of the story where Neil is fired and so is persuaded not to give in, and relax and party.
Summerlove’ is one of those breezy romantic songs that Neil Diamond has always pulled out of the hat, it talks of what the title suggests a summer love, and of the euphoria that comes with being in love.
‘Hello Again' is widely considered to be among one of Neil’s finest songs ever, this is not in any way an overstatement, starting off with an utterly haunting intro. It goes into one of the most apologetic, and yet optimistic songs known, building up to a breathtaking crescendo about three quarters of the way through the song, words alone cannot do the song justice, just listen to it.
The remaining songs on the album, ‘Acapulco’, ‘Hey Louise’, ‘Songs Of Life’, and ‘Jerusalem’ are by no means mere fillers, particularly ‘Songs Of Life’ which is a fabulously beautiful song and maybe should have been a hit in its own right. A song that can be deemed equal to the trio of hits off the album, ‘America’, ‘Love On The Rocks’, and ‘Hello Again’.
So I sing my songs of life
That I may hold you Inside forever
And you will know me And I’ll be yours
And you’ll be mine
The Jazz Singer album is a wonderful mix of songs with differing styles, the three big songs ‘America’, ‘Love On The Rocks’, and ‘Hello Again’ seemed to have escaped the shackles of being merely soundtrack songs, and stand as hits in their own right, the rest of the songs hold up when listened to as separate entities from the movie.
This album is the masterpiece Neil Diamond will leave behind when he decides to retire from the music industry for good. His many other albums can be considered solid, but this can be regarded as the centrepiece of his discography, combining well known greats like ‘Love On the Rocks’, and ‘Hello Again’ with some equally awesome but less popular songs such as ‘Amazed and Confused’. This really is an 80’s pop/rock classic, with so many hints of other genres, and so many new things to listen to upon every play. If there is one album to listen to before you die, this is the one.
ON THE WAY TO THE SKY - 1981
Neil Diamond entered the eighties riding high after the successes of late seventies albums, ‘I’m Glad You’re Here With Me Tonight’, and ‘September Morn’, quickly followed by his first eighties release, the soundtrack to the movie ‘The Jazz Singer’ a movie in which Diamond also starred.
‘On The Way To The Sky’ continued that run, an album of songs full of subjects and themes Diamond was a master narrator of, love, loss, heartache, and rediscovering yourself.
The opening song, ‘Yesterday’s Songs’, is a catchy ode to the ever changing trends of the music industry, and a lament of what is lost.
Don’t stay around long
Not much anymore
Don’t make themselves heard
Like they did before
Baby, yesterday’s blues
Maybe yesterday’s news
But the truth always stays the same
And the good things will never change
Like saying I love you
Just saying I love you
The song captures an innocent moment in time, and focuses on a sense of nostalgia.
The second song, being the title track, ‘On The Way To The Sky’, is a beautiful, sweeping ballad, haunting and atmospheric, it’s a story of loneliness, and trying to find something worthwhile in your life.
We are two
And two of us are one
I’m back on my feet again
Out on the street again
Looking for love
On the way to the sky
Some people moving up
Some people standing still
Some hold their hand out
And some people never will
Lovers and liars,
Consumed by the fires
Of too many dances
But not enough songs
You’re my song
The song is mostly about trust, and also about starting all over again, and the sense that you’ve been here before.
‘The Drifter’ is one of those Neil Diamond gems, a deep emotional love song of being lost and of finding yourself again, and of finding that something, and someone special, and not wanting to let it go.
The song conjures images reminiscent of the scene in ‘The Jazz Singer’ movie, where Neil takes off to contemplate where he is at, it also has western influences, as the video depicts, Neil in cowboy attire, on a journey of self discovery.
Well, I’m the drifter
I walk the highways
I cross the river
That rolls on forgotten
I sing for the living
And live for the trying
But what’s it about
If you got to be trying alone
Webmaster Doug, created a wonderful video for this song.
‘Right By You’ follows, and is a plea for acceptance, and understanding, “Don’t I do right by you, baby don’t I do right by you, all night long, it is about seeking confirmation that everything is good in the relationship.
'Only You' is a wonderful bluesy, jazzy number, where one can imagine being in a nightclub and doing the Rumba to this song, I love it, it opens with a soulful saxophone, and is filled with horns and strings, the lyrics are masterful.
Me, I was that fool on a hill
You know I’d be waiting there still
Hoping you’d come back again
I heard your name
Echoing soft through the trees
I know it was calling to me
And nothing could keep me away
I only wanted to hold you
And only you
‘Save Me’ is a classic, wistful song, of falling in love, and how the emotions take over, and equally the fear of it going wrong, and of the hidden vulnerability of men.
‘Be Mine Tonight’ tells of a relationship gone wrong, where jealousy played a part, but is mostly about regret about how things have turned out
You told me to go
When I wanted to stay
Taking me over in every way
Telling me just what to do with my life
But how I wish you could be mine
Oh! I wish you would be mine tonight
‘Love Burns’ has possibly the most heartbreaking lyrics of many
Neil Diamond songs, written by band members, Tom Hensley, and
Alan Lindgren. It is starkly haunting and speaks of insecurity and fear in
a relationship, and how such a powerful love can become all consuming.
See what you do
You make me act so crazy
I’m overcome, I know
Stealing my own show
For you love
And who am I now, Clown or Casanova
I’m never sure with you
What more can I do
The song wrings every emotion from the listener right up to the
second bridge, which describes the power of such a forceful love.
Love burns when the spirit is wounded
Cut deep by the sword of rejection
Love burns in the soul of the seeker
Through shadows, in every direction
Love burns when the heart is uncovered
In the rage of the coldest storm
Love burns through the night and the morning
Till the frozen heart is warm
I believe 'Fear Of The Marketplace' is based around Agoraphobia (also known as Fear of the Marketplace), an anxiety disorder that Neil’s wife Marcia suffered from, and speaks of how debilitating it is, where the sufferer appears unable to venture beyond the front door and face the world. The condition is characterised by severe bouts of anxiety in situations where the person perceives the environment to be unsafe, with no easy way to escape, the condition is compounded further by fear and panic attacks when having to face the wider world, and will look at ways to avoid having to go out. In the most severe cases, sufferers can become overtly reclusive. It is a clever song in as much it also talks of coaxing the sufferer to face the fear and try and overcome it.
Fear of the marketplace
Afraid of the world outside her door
Maybe it’s cold out there
And if it’s cold, you can’t Come home anymore
Fear of the marketplace
Just gotta forget, the whole damn thing You’re ready to take that fling
You’re ready to make it swing
You’ve done it before
Just open the door
It’s a fabulously narrative on the whole world of relationships.
‘Rainy Day Song’ is one of those Neil Diamond songs which speaks of a relationship that isn’t going well, and talks about working things out, and the differing perspectives from the two people in the relationship. The man is trying to get his lover to hear his discontent, whereas the female appears to want other things, and the relationship is suffering, the rainy theme suits the song as it evokes misery.
‘Guitar Heaven’ is a catchy ode to Neil’s enjoyment in creating and making music, it is totally indulgent, but reflects the joy music brings to people.
‘On The Way To The Sky’ is a very listenable album of varied songs, and continued Neil Diamond’s success in achieving Gold status for successive releases. It is a journey into the realm of love, romance and heartbreak, as well as loneliness, told as only Neil Diamond can, and is a timeless addition to Neil’s impressive album catalogue
‘Headed For the Future’ was different to what many perceived. This was a foray into a synthesized sound that was prevalent in the 80’s never more evident than on the title track, ‘Headed for The Future’ there was no shortage of power ballads on the album. ‘The Man You Need’ a song lamenting on a relationship turned sour, ‘It Should Have Been Me’ a beautiful song of a man who regrets letting his lover go –
It should have been me
That's holding you instead of someone else
I needed you, but never let it show
It should have been me
That's loving you
Through all the lonely nights
I knew that I should have never let you go
The song was penned by none other than than Bryan Adams, Diamond’s rich, deep vocals were great for this light rock ballad.
Other stand out tracks were ‘Me Beside You’ and ‘Love Doesn’t Live Here Anymore’, not to be confused with the classic Rose Royce song with a similar title. However, the only song rescued from the ill-fated first project proved to be one of those Neil Diamond gems, ‘The Story Of My Life’ was a gorgeous song, telling of the enduring love between a man and a woman –
I was alone
You found me waiting
And made me your own
I was afraid
That somehow I never could be
The man that you wanted of me
‘Lost In Hollywood’ had that wonderful Stevie Wonder sound running right through it, a bouncy catchy number. ‘Stand Up For Love’ could have been an Earth Wind & Fire track, that unique sound was evident throughout the song, written by EWF founder Maurice White, and band-mate Greg Phillinganes. ‘Angel’ and ‘Me Beside You’ were
co-compositions with song-writing luminaries, Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer-Sager.
The album proved to be a greater commercial success than the two previous albums, ‘Heartlight’ and ‘Primitive’ and put Neil Diamond back on course for earning sales recognition in every year he released an album.
HEADED FOR THE FUTURE -1986
Olympian aspiration, raw aggression, and agonising self-doubt. Neil Diamond possesses an abundance of all three qualities. This contradictory blend forms the chemistry of the special kind of stardom that the Brooklyn-born singer-songwriter has sustained throughout his career.
It was the mid-eighties, and Neil Diamond was at a crossroads, after giving Diamond a record setting contract, his employers, Columbia, were concerned about the modest sales of his previous two albums, ‘Heartlight’ and ‘Primitive’ the label had rejected ‘Primitive’. Diamond countered with a lawsuit, but backed off, and agreed to work with a new producer, (Denny Diante) where he would drop some original tunes and add three new ones, including ‘Turn Around’, however, the only Diamond song going up the chart was a reworking of his hit ‘Red Red Wine’ into a reggae arrangement by Birmingham band UB40. Frustrated by the ‘Primitive’ ordeal, Diamond returned to his comfort zone ... the road.
After that tour, which included dates in England, where one date at Birmingham’s NEC arena was attended by Princess Diana and Prince Charles, Diamond started work on his next album, where many songs related to the death of his father Kieve in 1985. It was tentatively titled ‘Story Of My Life’ but once again radio-conscious Columbia was dissatisfied, all the songs were scrapped, save the title track, which was to be included in the newly titled album, ‘Headed For The Future’.
For this album, Neil employed the services of several producers, and songwriters, including, Stevie Wonder, David Foster, and Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire. Diamond declared it was his most ambitious project since ‘Beautiful Noise’, working with talented people that he admired, where he stated, they all came into the project with their own idea of who Neil Diamond was.
Although the album was a success, charting at #10 on the adult contemporary chart, and the single release of ‘The Story Of My Life’ reaching #11, Diamond wasn’t overly happy, stating he would not do another synthesized album.
It wasn’t that he wasn’t happy with the finished album, but that he felt it wasn’t the true Neil Diamond sound, or style. It was far removed from what he had created, the sound and style he had cultivated and honed into a fine art, and which was instantly recognisable as Neil Diamond, something he vowed to return to when he next went to work on new material.
The ‘Headed For The Future’ album was not a roaring success, but nor was it a failure, it achieved "Gold" status, which was in keeping with most of his albums throughout his career, and certainly brought him out of the lull that he had suffered with his last two projects.
On a personal level, I think the album has some fabulous tracks, powerful, emotional ballads and upbeat numbers, following the format of many a
Neil Diamond album. I recently re-visited the album prior to compiling this article, and wasn’t surprised by the quality of the songs, and Neil’s delivery of them. I enjoyed reconnecting with them, where it took me right back to the time the album was released.
It will not be regarded as Neil’s best work, but for sheer musicianship, and an opportunity to hear a master plying his trade, you can’t go far wrong.
THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES - 1989
This was the last album Neil Diamond released in the eighties, and was a return to his tried and trusted format after his foray into the synthesized sound that was prevalent throughout the decade, with his previous album ‘Headed For The Future’. Once again, Neil hired the talents of David Foster as music arranger, it worked a treat. All the songs were composed by Diamond, except for his cover of Tracy Chapman’s ‘Baby Can I Hold You’ which once again showcased Diamond’s immense gifts as an interpreter of other artists songs, where one could be forgiven in thinking it was actually a Diamond composition, where he gives it just the right feel, and expression.
The title track was a lively number, with a light rock feel, and a catchy hook -
Hey, listen to the working man
Can you hear the dream
That resides in his soul?
And when you hear that poor man singin'
Can you hear a story
That cries to be told?
Wanna Hear you say “Oh Yeah”
I need to hear you say “Oh Yeah”
It’s time to stand up and be counted
These are the days of our beginnings
This ain't the time for the faint of heart no
Don’t want to lose
The chance we’re given
These are the best years of our lives
The very best years of our lives
This was one of those classic Neil Diamond songs which worked fantastically well in his “live” show, where it immediately grabbed you in, and didn’t let go. It’s jangling guitar was reminiscent of many of Neil’s recognised tunes.
The album contained many really good songs, ‘Hard Time For Lovers’ appeared to be a commentary on sexual trends and issues of the day -
It isn’t easy when you’re making the scene
You either fit right in, or fall in between
These are hard times, for lovers
‘This Time’ is one of those gorgeous Neil Diamond ballads speaking of trying to hang on to a failing relationship. ‘Hooked On The Memory Of You’ another stand out track, which Neil would reprise on the ‘Lovescape’ album as a duet with Kim Carnes, and one of my own favourites from the album. ‘If I Couldn’t See You Again’ a song speaking of a man’s devotion to his love, and how he would be affected if she wasn’t in his life.
The songs were well crafted, and a return to the style that is associated with Neil Diamond, great lyrics, powerful themes, and deep emotional delivery.
A particular stand out track was the Spanish flavoured ‘Carmelita’s Eyes’ where Neil seduced the listener with an opening Spanish lyric which speaks of how he encountered the Spanish/Latino lovely, and hoped he would see her again someday -
Quizas algun dia la encuentre otra vez alli
En una frontera
Me robo el corazon
Yo sabia que a ella la perdia
Vi todoun mundo en
The verse translates as -
Some day maybe I will find her again there
At the border
She stole my heart
I knew I was losing her
I saw the whole world in
The music has a rich Spanish flavour running through it, castanets and all, where you are transported to this beautiful and exotic Meditteranean location.
'Carmelita’s Eyes' is one of those gems that could have been a hit, it’s beautiful Spanish/Latino flavoured story tells of how a man fell in love with a more experienced Spanish/Latina Senorita, the clever lyrics add to the hypnotic salsa feel, you cannot help but feel that you want to get up and move to the rhythm. Webmaster Doug compiled a video to accompany the song, where the images in the video are stunning, the Spanish/Latina lady in the video is a real beauty.
For this album, Diamond went on a huge promotional tour, after the tepid response to previous albums, travelling to the UK to guest on various chat shows,
most notably the celebrated “Wogan” Show, hosted by genial Irish DJ and raconteur, the now departed Terry Wogan, these appearances would include renditions of songs from the album, and a precursor to a World Tour, Neil’s efforts paid off, with the album faring well on sales.
The Album cover displays a black and white image of Neil, dressed in all dark attire, roll neck sweater, and two piece suit, with him casually strumming his guitar, the picture is angled and appears like a Polaroid snap, it is mounted on a pink background, which looks surprisingly effective and gave it a real modern look at the time.
The album can be considered as a strong entry in the Neil Diamond “Oeuvre” and is an album that is romantic and sentimental without being manipulative,
the album reached #46 on the Billboard chart, and #42 on the UK chart, three singles, ‘The Best Years Of Our Lives’, ‘This Time’, and ‘Baby Can I Hold You’,
reached #7, 9, 28 respectively.
Thanks and appreciation to Dave Radstock for his invaluable and infromative contributions