THROUGH THE DECADES
The early 1960’s proved to be particularly revolutionary in terms of popular music, as it saw the evolution of “Rock” the Rock and Roll and pop of the 1950’s continued, nevertheless, the rock and roll of the decade before began to merge into a more international, eclectic variant known as Rock.
There were many styles emerging in the early sixties, Pop, Rock, Psychedelic Rock, Blues Rock, and Folk Rock, which had grown in popularity. The Country and Folk influenced style, associated with the latter half of the 1960’s Rock music spawned a generation of popular singer-songwriters, who wrote and performed their own work, artists such as Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Carole King, and more established stars like Neil Sedaka, who adapted to the ever changing trends, newer artists were breaking through, Paul Simon, who would team up with long standing high school friend Art Garfunkel, where they would form an
Everly Brothers type duet, but concentrate on a more Folk-Blues sound,
and a young Jewish boy from Brooklyn, New York... Neil Diamond.
Contrary to popular belief, Neil Diamond didn’t just spring up from nowhere,
he entered the music business in his late teens, shopping his compositions from publisher to publisher in New York’s Tin Pan Alley, and suffered rejection after rejection, eight long years of promises and disappointments before what would
be his first hit ‘Solitary Man’ was released in 1966 by Bang Records.
Neil Diamond spent the early part of the sixties peddling his songs, and trying to create his own unique sound, he had already tasted a bit of fame as part of a duo,
Neil and Jack, with his high school friend Jack Packer, they had moderate success, releasing a few records, ‘What Can I do’ being one, where the young Neil was influenced by his music idols the Everly Brothers, and wanted to emulate their success. Alas, this early flirtation with fame was short lived, partly because their sound wasn’t commercial enough, but more because Neil had bigger ambitions.
It was no secret that Neil’s parents had other hopes for their son, where a career in music wasn’t one of them, they envisaged the young Neil making his name in medicine, but regrettably Neil dropped out of his studies to pursue his musical dream.
Neil often speaks effusively about his years in 'Tin Pan Alley'.
“Everybody wanted one of those geniuses, you had Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Phil Spector, Jerry Lieber, and Mike Stoller, Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, Burt Bacharach and Hal David. These people were the geniuses, and everyone wanted to be like them and write as well as them. Together they probably had more of an effect on American contemporary music than anybody.
The whole interplay was very simplistic at the beginning, because Rock and Roll was very simplistic, but then things became more complicated when people like
Bob Dylan and John Kennedy came along, suddenly the childlike nature of the music coming out of that area had an opportunity to change and grow, and over the next few years, with the introduction of The Beatles, and the whole invasion of British groups, things changed almost completely, because only those writers who were performing their own music had a chance of having their music heard. A lot of people were kind of lost for a number of years -
“I think the thing that saved me was I had no hits at that point, so I was an unknown factor.” - ND
Surprisingly Neil’s fortunes changed for the better when he rented a little storeroom above a nightclub, bought a piano from a warehouse for fifteen dollars, put in a payphone and worked for himself, writing songs for himself, of life, love, anger, regret, the same things everyone else feels. It was a meeting with the queen of demos Ellie Greenwich that opened the door for the success that was to follow, Ellie thought Neil sang nicely, but loved his writing, she introduced Neil to her husband, song-writing luminary Jeff Barry, who loved the way Neil wrote, but loved the way he sang, on the basis of those meetings Jeff and Ellie agreed to enter into a producing deal with the young performer, they would set up “Tallyrand Music” to publish Neil Diamond’s early songs.
Throughout this time, Neil Diamond had cultivated a fresh new sound, wholly unique, aided by his swarthy good looks he was ready for the big time. Jeff Barry introduced Neil to Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records, Wexler was so taken with Neil’s audition he signed him up to a recording contract immediately. The next day Neil was assigned to a new label financed by Atlantic, Bang Records. The man in charge of Bang Records, Bert Berns, was a classic example of the early sixties pioneer, Berns had quite an eye for talent, he had worked with Solomon Burke, and Wilson Pickett, and he had written songs for the Drifters, he also worked in England, producing the Rock group 'Them' for whom he wrote the hit, ‘Here Comes The Night’, the band’s star was a then unknown Van Morrison, who was also signed to Bang Records, the young Neil was in the midst of the big break he’d been seeking, and this time he was fully prepared for success.
Towards the end of the sixties, Neil Diamond had, to a greater degree established himself as a bona fide music star, both as a performer and songwriter, but he knew himself that he needed to progress and evolve his style to be able to match, and be regarded in the same breath as his contemporaries, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell etc...
Neil had to move beyond the “Bubblegum” pop that had become his staple sound from the early to mid-sixties, and it appeared he had achieved that by the time the decade came to an end. He had written the smashes ‘Sweet Caroline’ and ‘Holly Holy’ in 1969, there were other songs which showed a more mature writing style, such as ‘And The Grass Won’t Pay No Mind’, ‘Brooklyn Roads’,
‘And The Singer Sings His Song', etc. These songs were deeper and had more meaning than his earlier light pop compositions, where Neil was looking to be regarded as a serious artist, and wanted to prove more than ever he was an important talent on the contemporary music scene.
In 1969 Neil Diamond moved to Los Angeles, which he felt would expand his song-writing horizons, and also locate himself at the heart of the contemporary music scene. The 1970’s were to be the decade which Neil Diamond would solidify his status as the worlds #1 recording artist as well as the number one songwriter.
During this period with Bang Records, Neil Diamond would write many of the smashes that became standards, ‘Cherry Cherry’, ‘Shilo’, ‘Solitary Man’,
‘Kentucky Woman’, ‘I’m A Believer’, et al.
It was ‘I’m A Believer’ which didn’t just open the door for Neil, but smashed it down. When his hit ‘Cherry Cherry ‘ was released, Neil got a call from
Don Kirschner, producer of the "Monkees” self-titled TV show, he asked Neil if he had any similar songs to ‘Cherry Cherry’, Neil sold him the rights to four songs, ‘Love To Love’, ‘A Little Bit Me A little Bit You’, ‘Look Out Here Comes Tomorrow’, and ‘I’m a Believer’. The latter song became a mega hit, released in 1966 the single hit #1 on Billboard’s hot 100 in January 1967, and remained there for seven straight weeks, more than 5million copies were sold in the United States alone, beating the Beatles ‘Penny Lane’, and the Rolling Stones ‘Ruby Tuesday’, it had taken Neil Diamond a long time to write a hit, but his perseverance and talent were finally rewarded. Whilst ‘I’m A Believer’ was climbing the charts, Neil embarked on a series of concert dates, Fred Weintraub’s Bitter End club in Greenwich village, but bigger dates in Florida, at Dave Hull’s Hullabaloo club on Sunset Strip. Neil spent time playing as many clubs and other venues as possible, honing his stage craft. It was this kind of dedication that would pay off for Neil, where he would be invited to perform at The Hollywood Bowl, and the Cow Palace, he was armed with a strong repertoire of hits, and his stage persona was that of a brooding loner, dressed in all black, a la Johnny Cash, he had attracted quite a following, and garnered favourable reviews, by the end of the decade. Neil Diamond had become a recognised star, and was as hot as a pistol, 1968 onwards was going to be that prolific period where Neil cemented his status as a great songwriter.
Neil certainly started the decade off in the right direction, writing and releasing his first #1 hit single ‘Crackling Rosie’ in 1970, a light pop number with a catchy chant of “Play it now, play it now, play it now, my baby”, running through it. This was his follow up single to his previous smash ‘Sweet Caroline’ the year earlier. During 1970, Diamond would work on a concept album, a foray into world music, entitled ‘Tap Root Manuscript’ a project based around the music of the African continent. It was a very bold move by Diamond, and one which had his record label scratching their heads, they needn’t have worried as it spawned a string of top forty hits, and a number 1 single, the aforementioned ‘Cracklin Rosie’. 1970 was surely a pivotal year for Neil Diamond, after waging a battle with his former label Bang Records over the release of one of his biggest hits, ‘Shilo’, and signing a lucrative five-year contract with Uni, a division of MCA records in 1968, it was vital Neil repaid the faith his new employers had in him, not to mention the huge investment, a record at the time. In early 1970 Neil was scheduled to play at the famed Doug Weston’s Troubadour, a venue where anyone who was anyone in music had played there, over the earlier years Neil had certainly honed his stagecraft, and this was evident over the three shows he performed at the venue, which was recorded for a “Live album” release entitled ‘GOLD’ during this period Neil had dedicated himself to writing top quality material. The period from 1968-1973 was to be Neil Diamond’s most prolific era as a songwriter, he would go on to pen some of his most memorable hits, ‘Morningside’, ‘Soolaimon’,
‘Crunchy Granola Suite’, ‘Play Me’, another #1 hit, ‘Song Sung Blue’, and one of his greatest compositions, a self analytical song, ‘I Am...I Said’.
The fact that many of the songs Neil wrote at this time became a top ten hit was testament to Neil’s immense talents as a song-writer and performer. Neil Diamond was proving to be the number one artist in music and in great demand, where he would be signed to do a BBC Television special as part of their “In Concert” series, where other of his song-writing peers had also appeared, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young etc., this particular show would be a warm up for a summer engagement at Los Angeles Greek Theatre in 1971.
Neil Diamond played a seven night engagement at the Greek in 1971, from August 23-29, it was regarded as the finest series of concerts staged at the famous theatre, where it was the first time a stereo sound system was used, along with a 35-piece string orchestra, whilst these engagements could be regarded as a milestone in
Neil’s ever evolving career, little did anyone know he would return a mere twelve months later and stage the most revered series of concerts ever seen at the venue by any artist or group.
Neil Continued to perform, write, and record during the remainder of 1971, where he released his ‘Stones’ album, Bang records released ‘Do It’, an album of Neil’s earlier hits for the label to cash in on Neil’s ever increasing status and popularity.
These were certainly heady times for Diamond, he had recently been voted best male contemporary artist, above Frank Sinatra, and Elvis Presley. It appeared
Neil’s career was moving into the stratosphere, the months leading into 1972 were spent fulfilling concert engagements, and preparing for his return to the Greek Theatre, where he was planning to stage a more spectacular series of shows than his 1971 concerts.
Neil Diamond had spent much of the last two years touring, and was talking about a possible touring sabbatical, however, he chose to broaden his horizons with his first ever overseas tour, he had visited Europe before to perform on Television shows and conduct interviews, but had never played a concert there. On the 1971 trip he played eight shows, three in England, and five in Germany, and he taped television specials in London, Paris and Milan.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Neil spent the first half of 1972 in the studio, recording songs for a new album, to be entitled ‘Moods’. The album was released in July 1972, along with ‘Song Sung Blue’ which became a #1 hit, the album contained the exquisitely beautiful ‘Play Me’ which reached #11 on the chart as a single, and ‘Walk On Water’ which was also a hit at #17. All in all, the ‘Moods’ album was his most successful to date, establishing him once and for all as a serious adult performer. ‘Moods’ was also his last studio record for Uni and MCA, Neil had one more album to go on his contract, and he decided it would be recorded at his now favourite venue, the Greek Theatre, in order to recapture the magic of the previous year’s shows, the recording dates were set as before , in August. Whilst preparations were being made for the concerts, Neil was fielding offers for a new contract. The three bidders were MCA, his current company, Warner Bros, and Columbia, which was being run by the powerful Clive Davis. Banking on the fact that Neil, with eight straight Gold albums under his belt, could continue to sell records, Davis made Neil an irresistible offer, it was an offer unprecedented in the history of the music industry at the time, a five-year contract for five albums at one million dollars each, five million dollars guaranteed, Diamond duly signed the contract with Columbia. Once complete, Neil focused his attentions on his Greek Theatre performances, and the ensuing album, attempting to outdo his 1971 stint. He added songs from ‘Moods’ even more instruments, and a quadraphonic sound system. The reaction to the sold out shows was exactly as Neil had hoped. Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times, hailed the event as “More of a triumph in every measurable way than his stunning shows last summer.” The “Live” album was a further indication of the series of concerts overwhelming success, ‘Hot August Night’, a two record set went straight into the billboard’s top five, and remained a top seller until as late as 1974, and stayed on the chart longer than any other Diamond album.
In Australia, the album was still in the top ten in 1976.
His Greek Theatre shows complete, Neil had set a date for his performing sabbatical, it would begin after he played one last series of shows in October...
The twenty scheduled performances at the 1,479 seat Winter Garden Theatre were sold out well in advance of the opening night. In fact, every ticket was sold within one day of going on sale. The performances were awe-inspiring, where Diamond’s Broadway shows established his super-stardom in resounding fashion. Shortly into his final show, Neil addressed the audience, stating, “This is the last of twenty performances tonight, and I welcome you all to share this special performance with us, I want to make the most beautiful music we can make.”
At the end of a flawless performance at the Winter Garden, and amid the wild cheers of the audience, Neil Diamond left the stage. It would be a long time before he would return.
Now exhausted after being on the road for six long years, Neil Diamond granted himself the sabbatical, he had promised himself, this would allow him to spend time with his family, particularly his two-year old son, where Neil would take time to bond with him, and build a fatherly relationship with him, where Neil believed his son needed him more than his audiences. The time Neil had afforded himself would be spent getting to know himself again, to get a concept of who he was, the person removed from the perception of who the public think you are, who reviewers think you are, and who record companies and the industry in general think you are, “I wanted to rediscover who Neil Diamond was.”
Before Neil could fully relax into his temporary retirement, he had one more major project to complete. Immediately after his Winter Garden engagements, Neil had been approached by film director Hall Bartlett, who was working on the motion picture of the famed novel ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’ and he wanted Neil to write the score for the film. Jonathan Livingston Seagull was to be Neil’s first album for his new employers Columbia, the soundtrack album was released in October 1973. Prior to the movie’s release, the album was an overwhelming success, reaching number 2 on the album chart, and was to become the highest grossing soundtrack in history, until it was eclipsed by the score of ‘Saturday Night Fever’ in 1978. Jonathan Livingston Seagull remains Neil’s best-selling album in America to this day. The Jonathan Livingston Seagull project wasn’t without its problems, the movie bombed, plagued by bad reviews, Richard Bach, author of the eponymous novel filed a lawsuit, claiming director Bartlett had dramatically altered the screenplay without his consent, less than two weeks later Neil Diamond filed a lawsuit, based around one of his compositions for the movie, entitled ‘Sanctus’ had been replaced by a selection written by Neil’s music arranger for many years, Lee Holdridge. Moreover, on the film’s credits, Holdridge had been given a shared song-writing credit with Neil Diamond, his lawsuit demanded that his original music be reinstated, and that he receive his original sole song-writing credit, in November, a judge ruled in favour of both Neil and Bach in respect of their individual lawsuits, Holdridge and Diamond never worked together again.
In the aftermath, Neil said of the experience with Jonathan -
“It took one whole year of my life, and I honestly don’t know what it took out of me, it probably gave me more than it took, but it was the hardest year of my life.”
Neil Diamond was to be rewarded grandly for his stunning work on the soundtrack. In February 1974 The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, awarded Neil Diamond a Grammy for best original score.
After all the tribulations with “Jonathan” Neil would finally settle into his sabbatical, spending time with wife Marcia, and son Jesse. The relaxing schedule enabled Neil to write new songs for a new album, by the summer of 1974 the album ‘Serenade’ was nearly complete.
The album was influenced heavily by the romantic poets Neil had so admired as a young man, the influence was most recognised in the lyrics of ‘Longfellow Serenade’. Whilst the album wasn’t as well received by the critics, it was adored by his fans, and moved directly into the top ten, the single released from the album, ‘Longfellow Serenade’ reached number five on the charts.
During the promotional aspects of the album, Neil travelled to Europe to do interviews, and make a special appearance on one of the world’s finest female singer’s TV show, Shirley Bassey’s Christmas Special, it was a very prominent appearance, and probably sated Neil’s desire to perform, despite being on a touring break.
After returning to California from his promotional junket, Neil Diamond continued with his hiatus from touring. He also made some changes to aspects of his career, Neil set up an office on Melrose Place in west Hollywood, and also employed a new manager, Fred Weintraub, a well-connected man in the industry who had staged concerts for many of popular music’s biggest stars. Following this appointment, Neil also enlisted the services of a fellow Californian neighbour for his next album, Robbie Robertson.
Robbie Robertson was a member of the rock group 'The Band' he was responsible for writing the hits ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’ and ‘The Weight’. The two had previously met in 1975 and became friends, which would eventually lead to their collaboration. The project they would work on would be Neil’s album ‘Beautiful Noise’ which would be a concept album based upon his years as a struggling musician in New York’s “Tin Pan Alley”. While Neil continued working on songs for the album, he also worked on plans for the next chapter in his career...... a return to the stage.
During this period Neil had received various offers to play in Las Vegas again, but consistently turned them down. However, he received an offer he couldn’t refuse, he was approached to become the first performer to play at Las Vegas newly built Aladdin Hotel Theatre, for three concerts he would be paid $500,000, it was the highest payment for a Vegas performer at the time, including Frank Sinatra, Diamond accepted the deal. The Vegas shows were a great success, adding another first for Neil Diamond.
Shortly after returning to Los Angeles, Neil Diamond set himself another challenge, a September series of shows, a return to “The Greek Theatre”
Neil’s early successes at the Greek were legendary, so it was understandable that Diamond felt a level of trepidation going into these shows. Thoughts of what could he present that was different, and could top what people have in their minds. For these shows, gone was the “Rock and Roll” of his earlier appearances, in place was a bejewelled, styled, and sophisticated looking Neil, looking every inch the superstar he aspired to be, and had finally become.
Neil had matured, so had his music, and his fans did not leave disappointed, the shows were a tremendous success, where the final show was taped by NBC and broadcast as “The Neil Diamond Special”.
It had been four long years, and Neil felt the time was right for a concert comeback. “I got itchy about wanting to get back in front of an audience again, I wanted to test myself again, being on stage is a real upper, it makes one write better, where I imagine how a particular song would work in a live setting.”
After performing a few warm up concerts in California, and Utah, Neil Diamond headed to New Zealand and Australia for a series of concerts of epic proportions, Neil was immensely popular Down Under, where his ‘Hot August Night’ album was still Australia’s best-selling album of all time. This is Neil’s first tour of the region all tickets were sold out overnight. The tour culminated in a free concert at Sydney sports ground, aided also by millions more via a
TV broadcast of the concert.
Neil returned home after his Australian tour in May 1976, his new album ‘Beautiful Noise’ was released in June, and climbed all the way to number six on the billboard chart, continuing Neil’s overwhelming success with regards to album sales.
In 1977, Neil Diamond was approached by long-time friend Robbie Robertson to appear in the line-up for The Band’s farewell concert, he would appear with a stellar group of performers, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Ringo Starr, Van Morrison, and other musical luminaries. For the next few months Diamond made arrangements for a summer European tour, where he would play the historic Woburn Abbey, via invitation from the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk, Lord and Lady Tavistock, as well as four nights at the famed London Palladium, in front of Princess Margaret. The European tour was filmed by legendary movie director William Friedkin, of 'The Exorcist' fame, unfortunately Diamond wasn’t happy with the sound quality of the footage, and Friedkin had moved onto other commitments. The project was scrapped, however, Neil and TV director Art Fisher took the usable footage and created a TV documentary entitled ‘I’m Glad You’re Here With Me Tonight’, featuring footage from the tour and his Woburn Abbey concert. The album of the same name went platinum.
A particular song from the album was getting much interest after a Midwest DJ spliced Neil’s recording of ‘You Don’t Bring me Flowers’ with that of another artist who had recorded the song, in almost the same tempo and key, Barbra Streisand, Neil’s label Columbia knew a good thing when they heard it, and arranged for Neil and Barbra to record it as a single, the resulting duet went to #1, and remains a pop standard to this day.
The success of ‘You Don’t Bring me Flowers’ was to be the title of his next album, after an initial project of cover versions to be called “The American Popular Song” was scrapped after Neil’s employers at Columbia convinced him to take advantage of the song’s popularity. The album released in November 1978 rose to number four on the charts and became one of Diamond’s best-sellers, it also featured what was to become one of Diamond’s most famous hits, ‘Forever In Blue Jeans’, during a concert tour of early 1979, Neil had to cut the tour short due to the birth of his son, Diamond said his kids were his greatest achievements, better than his best songs, performances, “They give me the greatest satisfaction” he said. Diamond resumed the tour only for disaster to strike, where he collapsed on stage. It was found he had a cancerous tumour on his spine, Neil stated, “I started to lose the feeling in my right leg, but it happened so gradually I convinced myself it wasn’t anything serious.” It is reported Neil feared he would never walk again, and not be able to perform, but insisted should that be the case, his wheelchair be dressed in sequins and “wheel me out there.” The tumour was removed successfully, and by June that year, Neil was back on his feet. Neil carried on where he left off, and resumed touring at the venue he collapsed “Cow Palace”, and worked on a new album to be called ‘September Morn’ an album of original material and covers of other songs, the album went platinum, but Neil’s focus was on a major turning point in his career, he was approached to star in a motion picture, an update of the Al Jolson classic
‘The Jazz Singer’.
Rumour has it that due to his heavy schedule Neil Diamond turned down the 'Jazz Singer' project, and only when it was offered to Barry Manilow did Diamond take the role, it was believed there was something of a rift between Diamond and Manilow, who it was believed was taking over Diamond’s mantle as the number one performer. Certainly his record sales and popularity provided evidence that may have been the case, and may have caused some angst with Diamond, and maybe a little jealousy.
Diamond would star in the movie, and write the soundtrack, an immense task, he was given a massive four million dollars for his work, the highest up-front guarantee for any actor at the time, never mind one that had never acted in a movie before.
Neil Diamond was at a crossroads in his career, he had turned away from his early Rock & Roll roots, both as a songwriter and performer, the new fashions in music “Punk” and “New Wave” were making all the headlines. However, Columbia records thought Neil’s appeal was still strong enough to sign him to an eight album, $30million record contract.
His first album as part of the deal was ‘On the Way to the Sky’ the album produced three hit singles, the title track, ‘On the Way to the Sky’, ‘Be Mine Tonight’, and ‘Yesterday’s Songs’, it was a huge success, selling over one and a half million copies in just six months. Columbia’s investment in Neil was looking like a bargain.
Throughout 1981 and 1982, Neil Diamond was touring the United States, and playing to sold out audiences, during a day off Neil, his wife Marcia, and showbiz friends and fellow songwriters, Burt Bacharach, and Carol Bayer-Sager visited the cinema to take in a showing of E.T. The Extraterrestrial. The three songwriters were so inspired by the story that they wrote their most famous collaboration, ‘Heartlight’, the single rose to #5 on the chart, giving Neil his best selling single since ‘America’ from ‘The Jazz Singer’. The album of the same name was released in 1982, the album also featured a light rock number 'I'm Alive’ which was to become a concert staple.
Neil would later state that it was a case of miscommunication, the suit was settled and the album was released in 1984.
Although things appeared to be settled amicably between Neil and his record label, Diamond still felt a sense of frustration about the whole ordeal, and sought solace in his comfort zone... the road.
This new tour would include dates in England, where one particular show at Birmingham’s NEC arena was to be attended by Prince Charles, and
It turned out that the then 23yr old princess was a “Diamondhead” and was thrilled to see the superstar performer, the concert was a great success, where Diana, who was expecting her second child, (Harry) looking resplendent in a green jewelled maternity frock danced along with all the other attendees, Diamond blew kisses towards his Royal guest, and Diana, in typical fashion blushed shyly.
Neil Diamond continued touring during 1984, and also started working on a new album as part of his eight album deal with Columbia, it was tentatively titled, ‘Story of my Life’, on completion, Diamond delivered it to Columbia, who were again dissatisfied with Neil’s efforts, all the song’s were scrapped, except for the title track, which was to be included in a re-working of the album to be entitled ‘Headed For The Future’. Diamond was determined that this would not be regarded as inferior, and enlisted the services of some of the highest profile names in the industry, David Foster, Stevie Wonder, Maurice White of Earth Wind and Fire. It included songs composed not solely by Diamond, as Stevie Wonder, and Maurice White were key collaborators, and also a young light rock star, Bryan Adams supplied a song. Other notable collaborators were Carol Bayer-Sager and Burt Bacharach, the album was released in May 1986 and was well received by fans and continued Diamond’s success of sustained record sales, three weeks after the album was released Diamond starred in a new TV special entitled ‘Hello Again’ which was a series of light comedy sketches and music, featuring guests Stevie Wonder, and comedienne Carol Burnett, as well as footage from Neil’s most recent tour, the show also included a new video to accompany Neil’s hit from the album ‘Headed For The Future’ involving a group of young dancers and given a new age feel, it wasn’t an aspect of the industry Neil was particularly familiar with, but in an effort to fit with the times it was something Neil felt he had to do.
Neil was concerned about the authenticity about his on-screen performances that he insisted that he was filmed singing “Live” rather than lip-syncing to a pre-recorded backing track, not only that he was worried about starring opposite, arguably the greatest screen actor of all time, Laurence Olivier, so much so he asked the advice of another acting legend, Dustin Hoffman, who advised Neil to be as natural as possible, and take in any further advice.
The story of ‘The Jazz Singer’ charts the life of Yussel Rabinowitz, the son of a Jewish cantor, (Neil Diamond) who rebels against his orthodox father (Olivier) to pursue his dream of rock superstardom against every wish of his father, who wanted his son to continue the tradition of there being a Rabinowitz as Cantor at the Synagogue, the film received mixed reviews. The album went gold, and featured three hit singles, ‘Love On the Rocks’ ‘Hello Again’, and ‘America’.
The film was savaged by the critics, Neil Diamond came in for some scathing criticism, where one critic claimed he had achieved nothing. Neil Diamond merely played Neil Diamond. Neil took the criticism rather well, as he believed he had brought a little of the Jewish culture to the masses.
The 80’s hadn’t started well for Neil due to the Jazz Singer ordeal, he threw his all into the role, and had genuine ambitions of an acting career of some kind, but the ordeal turned him away from that area of the entertainment industry.
Neil Diamond continued to tour and write for the remainder of 1982, and into early 1983. In March 1983, Neil Diamond was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall Of Fame in New York City, along with Sammy Cahn, Fred Ebb, and John Kander. It was a fitting tribute to Neil Diamond’s longevity and abilities as a songwriter that he would be included with such luminaries.
The year continued with Neil fulfilling further concert engagements, most notably at the Los Angeles Forum, Neil wanted to do another Greek Theatre show, but according to the media, the venue couldn’t accommodate the number of fans wanting tickets, and his last appearance at the Greek in 1976 left many of his most loyal fans disappointed due to not playing enough dates. The Forum could seat 17,000 , but was expanded to seat more than 18,000 fans for these shows, and yet seven nights were sold out in one day. It set an attendance record for the venue, which stood for six years, until Neil himself would break it in 1989.
June 13, 1983 was deemed Neil Diamond day in Los Angeles, Radio stations played his hits in anticipation of his opening night at the Forum, nearly 130,000 people saw Neil perform over the seven night stand, breaking the venue’s revenue and attendance records previously set by Elton John. Neil had made arrangements to tape the concerts for another “Live” album, but rather mysteriously decided not to follow through with the album.
Neil committed himself to working on a new studio album, ‘Primitive’, his third in as many years, following on from ‘On the Way to the Sky’ and ‘Heartlight’. Little did Neil know that this album would cause a major crack in the relationship between himself and Columbia records, where executives at Columbia did not think that ‘Primitive’ was the best album Neil could deliver. According to one company source, Diamond disagreed so strongly that on March 1 1984, he filed a lawsuit in Santa Monica, California, seeking an order for the company to release the record.
Diamond said he enjoyed doing the video, "It was fun, I got the chance to work with a choreographer and some wonderful trained dancers, I remember going in for rehearsal, and ask they put an L on my left shoe, and R on my right. What it proved is that I could dance with an ensemble, I am not going to go and change profession and become a dancer, but I showed I could do it.”
Diamond didn’t change profession, he stuck to what he knew, and hit the road, playing three nights in Chicago, five in Detroit, and a record setting eight nights at Madison Square Garden, his first shows in New York City in a decade, and his first ever at the fabled Manhattan venue. Then Diamond would return to the Greek Theatre in Hollywood for an astonishing fourteen shows, where he would record another “Live” album.
Except for drummer Ronnie Tutt, and percussionist Vince Charles, Diamond had the same band members with whom he recorded his ‘Love At The Greek’ album in 1976. Souvenir T-Shirts proclaimed “Another Hot August Night”.
During this period Neil Diamond was nursing his own heartache, after his beloved father “Kieve” passed away in 1985, for the remainder of that year Diamond didn’t do any shows for seven months, but spent the time recuperating from his loss, and coming to terms with it. He was noticeably still affected whilst touring in 1986, where he had taken his elder son Jesse with him for a level of support, Neil is reported to have said, “If I look like I’m struggling, just give me a reassuring look, and I’ll be alright.”
The Greek Theatre stand was the success it was expected to be and produced a “Live” album, originally titled ‘Hot August Night II’. It included all the songs expected of such an album, but didn’t live up to its more famous predecessor.
Neil continued to tour for the remainder of 1986, and resumed touring in 1987, it appeared that the thrill of “Live” performance was keeping Neil occupied and stress free where he had been on the road for over a year. The US tour ended in July 1987, Neil would return to the studio to write songs for a new album.
In 1988, Neil worked on his latest album release, ‘The Best Years Of Our Lives’, it would be produced once again by David Foster who was garnering huge recognition as a producer and was most sought after, as with most of the decade Diamond would plan another World Tour.
This new tour would take Diamond back into Europe and England. It was five years since he last performed in Britain. On that occasion he performed in front of British Royalty. Although his record sales were declining Diamond was arguably still the biggest concert draw in music, and was reason for his continued love affair with performing.
Prior to going on the road, Diamond would launch a concentrated promotional tour, for his album and his concert tour, he would appear on TV shows, and conduct interviews. The tour was to be named ‘The Best Years Of Our Lives’ tour.
It was felt the album was one of the better albums Diamond had produced in recent years. Diamond had always enjoyed performing in Britain, where he had stated he has some of his most loyal fans, and wanted to continue his love affair with those fans across the pond, where he would stage five shows at Birmingham’s NEC arena, and stage eight sold out shows at Wembley Arena, proof if it was ever needed, that critics be damned, Neil Diamond was still regarded as a class act, a world class act at that.
Neil Diamond entered the 90’s at a particular crossroads in his career, he had faced upheavals in the past, but the new decade presented new concerns. Diamond had achieved great success in his career, but with the changing music trends, his greatest concern was whether he would still be relevant, both as a recording artist and performer.
1990 started fabulously well for Neil Diamond, he received the American Music Award in January for his services to the industry, presented to him by Stevie Wonder, and it certainly kick started the year and the decade off on the right foot for Neil. Having just completed a concert tour at the back end of 1989, Neil devoted himself to writing, but generally staying out of the limelight, aside from the odd guest appearance, it was a quiet time for Neil.
The New Year 1991 arrived with still nothing coming from the Diamond camp. It was around April that whispers started to emerge about the release of a new album, and the potential of a tour. The album duly arrived.
In between the 1991 and 1992 section of the tour, Neil Diamond would take a break to record an album of music that had always appealed to him, this was a surprise to many of his fans, but more to the industry in general, the project in question was a Christmas album. The obvious question would arise, why would a clean cut Jewish boy record an album of Christmas songs, but Neil explained on the various TV shows he appeared on, that "Christmas music was always played when I was growing up, in school and at home, and one shouldn’t attach a religious debate to it, I think Christmas music can be enjoyed by all." The album, simply titled -
'The Christmas Album' was greatly received, and Neil’s renditions of these traditional classics were fabulous, not veering from their original arrangements, and remaining respectful to them. Neil would also record a Christmas TV special to accompany the album.
1994 was to present Neil with some heartache, he and Marcia, his wife of twenty-five years were to divorce, citing irreconcilable differences, however, Neil presented Marcia with a $150million divorce settlement, stating she was worth every penny, it still stands as the highest divorce payment in entertainment history. Following on from the success of his previous Christmas album, Neil recorded a second volume of Christmas songs, and once again it proved highly popular.
After his divorce Neil would turn his attention to a project he had wanted
to do for a long time.
Neil would take himself off to the heart of Country Music, Nashville, Tennessee, where he would work with some of the best country music artists of the day, and also use it to escape and to heal after the heartache of his divorce.
Neil took the stage on November 14, 1989 for his opening night of his eight night sold out stand at Wembley Arena. The weather may have been rather inclement outside on a typical British autumn evening, but Neil Diamond was red hot as he treated his adoring fans to a mesmerising concert, full of chutzpah, charisma, and style, blowing the cobwebs off the chill night air. Neil Diamond had triumphed in cementing his position as the number one box office draw on the concert circuit. These shows scheduled to finish on November 22, 1989 brought to an end a decade full of highs, but also more than its share of lows. Neil Diamond would return home and reflect what direction he would take heading into a new decade, and an ever changing music scene.
Released in August 1991, entitled ‘Lovescape’ it was a collection of romantic ballads, a couple of covers and the upbeat numbers that Neil is known for. The album was well received by fans, where it peaked at #44 on the album chart. Neil went on a strong promotional campaign for the album, where he would announce details of a US tour and a world tour the following Year.
The “Lovescape” Tour started in earnest in December 1991 in Fort Worth, and kicked off the US leg of the tour, he would tour the US until April 1992, where Neil would then take the show to Australia, he would visit Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth, and from there start on his European tour, visiting towns he hadn’t previously visited, Sheffield being one, and Croke Park, in Dublin, Ireland,
a country where Neil had an almost rabid army of fans.
This tour was different to his many other tours, where Neil would perform in
“The Round” on a circular stage built in the centre of the various arenas that Neil would perform in, the stage would slowly rotate, and give fans a more up close view of the “Superstar” performer. This concept proved a massive success, as once again Neil Diamond topped the chart as the biggest concert attraction, it was a fitting answer to those who had written Neil off, and certainly put Neil back
where he belonged, standing atop the music landscape. The “Lovescape” Tour would finish in October 1992, or at least take a hiatus, where Neil would embark on a complete US tour from February 1993 to December 1993, where he would record an album titled ‘Live in America’ where recordings would be taken from many of the towns and cities the tour visited. All in all Neil had been touring for two full years.
Neil and Marcia in better times.
After his divorce, Diamond rented a house in Nashville, he didn’t even tell Columbia records about his idea, he just wanted to find his songwriting groove again.
“I was just four or five months out of my marriage, and I needed something to throw myself into my music again, I started quite a number of songs over the last few years, but I finished very few of them because I had no target.”
The album ‘Tennessee Moon’ was released in February 1996, the reception the album received was heartwarming, where many regarded the album as possibly Diamond’s best work since ‘Beautiful Noise’ in 1976, but more importantly the album reached number three on the chart. On the back of the album’s success
Neil Diamond announced a summer tour, including a UK tour that would see Diamond play at the relatively new Nynex Arena in Manchester, now known as simply “Manchester Arena” as an attendee of that concert, I remember Neil talking of the last time he visited Manchester, way back in the late sixties, where he performed at the “Apollo” theatre, he spoke warmly of the City, and surprisingly on that particular date, Saturday May 11 1996, Manchester United had beaten Liverpool in the F.A. Cup Final to claim the trophy, something that Neil made reference to in order to ingratiate himself with the fans and the city, for me it was one of those surreal moments in life, I watched my beloved Manchester United win the Cup in the afternoon, and was then going to see my all time music idol perform for the first time in my home city, I had always had to travel far and wide to see Neil, but this was the stuff of dreams.
Neil Diamond knew his place in the new Indie and grunge era, he knew the score in 1996, he realised he didn’t fit into the radio format in the same way that he did in the sixties, seventies, and early eighties, and was adapting to the changes, not necessarily in a music sense, but certainly in how the music is promoted. To this end, Neil Diamond opened up his archives for a three disc, seventy-one song collection of hits, from Bang, Uni, and Columbia entitled ‘In My Lifetime’ it would also include demo’s and rarities, and unreleased recordings, incorporating a booklet with commentaries from Neil. Two things set this collection apart from other boxed-set retrospectives. This one landed on the chart at #122 and it went gold.
I'm December 1999 New Years Eve, Neil Diamond was to perform at the Pepsi Centre in Denver, Colorado, and would welcome in the New Year with a spectacular performance, where his anthem, ‘America’ was to be broadcast on the BBC as part of the countdown to the new Millennium. The Neil Diamond that appeared wasn’t the long, stiff haired icon we expected, but a neatly coiffed, clean cut, new look Diamond, he looked svelte and fit as he performed, regaling the crowd in a rousing countdown to usher in this new era.
It was a fabulous start to the new millennium for Neil, his stock hadn’t been so high since the ‘Jazz Singer’ and more good things were to come Neil’s way. The film world’s obsession with Neil Diamond continued in 2001, “Smashmouth” a Californian rock band recorded a version of ‘I’m A Believer’ for the soundtrack to the animated sensation ‘Shrek’, the movie. The song went to number one, Diamond reciprocated by writing ‘You Are My Number One’ for the group’s ensuing album.
“It was a spine tingling experience,” Diamond reflected in a 2005 interview, "the country was ready to get away from their TV sets and go out. “We went out on tour ten days after 9/11, we played New York, I had no idea whether anyone would turn up, everybody turned up, it was a great moment. On a spiritual level it was an important experience for us, it became more than entertainment and fun, we went out and felt we had to make a contribution at that point, it was like a healing process, where in the horror of what happened. people would forget how to live and enjoy themselves again, and we felt that, and gave everything we could, everyone in our organisation extended themselves, we left a mark, and we’ll never forget it, because we felt we were actually doing something that was real to us. We had never had that level of emotion on tour before. We talk about it all the time, it changed everyone, and it changed us too, but we are glad we did it.”
Coincidentally, Neil finished his tour at the venue he welcomed in the new millennium, the Pepsi Centre, Denver Colorado, on December 31, 2002. Prior to that Neil performed at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas on 27 December 2002, this show was recorded for inclusion on his next album release, a five CD collection called ‘Stages’ performances from 1970-2002, it would also include
a sixth disc, a DVD showing highlights of his concert at Dublin’s Landsdowne Road, the first up to date footage of Neil in many a year, the DVD would also show Neil backstage with his band, and the preparations undertaken for such a show. The collection was a fan's dream.
It was during a lull in 2003 that Neil Diamond met producer extraordinaire Rick Rubin. The producer had expressed an interest in working with Diamond, and was with that in mind that the first seeds of ‘12 Songs’ were planted.
During this period it was noticeable that a number of movies were using
Neil Diamond songs, ‘Pulp Fiction' had used ‘Girl You’ll Be A Woman Soon’ performed by grunge band Urge Overkill, Neil’s mega hit, ‘Sweet Caroline’ was used in the Matt Damon movie ‘Beautiful Girls’ and the Al Pacino and
Johnny Depp movie, Donnie Brasco served up ‘Love On the Rocks’.
It appeared that into the late nineties, Neil Diamond was hip, and the go to man for a tune to fit into your movie.
It was quite fitting that Neil Diamond songs were being used in various movies, as Neil had always proclaimed a love of the cinema, and it was with that in mind he was to work on and record his next album, simply called,
‘The Movie Album’, it would include songs from some of the most famous films, ‘Moon River’ from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, starring Audrey Hepburn, ‘Secret Love’ the Doris Day classic from Calamity Jane, it would also include a tribute to the then recently departed Frank Sinatra. The album was to be recorded using a full “Live” orchestra, conducted by the legendary Elmer Bernstein. After completing the ‘Movie Album’ Diamond decided it was time for another tour, by the end of the 1998-1999 tour, Amusement Business Magazine declared Neil Diamond the top solo touring artist of the 1990’s. Not bad for a artist who didn’t have one top ten hit in the entire decade.
The enduring superstar and his music played an even bigger role in the 2001 madcap comedy ‘Saving Silverman’ (outside North America, the film was titled ‘Evil Woman’) about a Neil Diamond tribute act called “Diamonds in the Rough", and how the girlfriend of one of the guys forces him to quit the band and burn all his Diamond discs, and memorabilia. Neil Diamond was to make a cameo appearance in the movie, playing himself, opposite Jack Black, Steve Zahn, Jason Biggs, and Amanda Peet, with guest appearance by R. Lee Ermey of Full Metal Jacket fame.
Neil had written a couple of songs for the film, and in doing so had opened a block that had held him back, “It was like I had opened up a faucet inside me,” he would state, which led to him to continue to write, one thing led to another, and before he knew it, he had the making of an album. It wasn’t just any album, ‘Three Chord Opera’ was the first time that Diamond had written an entire project himself since ‘Serenade’ in 1974, it was also his first album of original material since ‘Lovescape’ in 1991. The fans responded, as the album
‘Three Chord Opera’ opened at number five on the chart, the highest
first week showing in Diamond’s career to date.
As usual with the release of a new album, Diamond booked an extensive tour, 120 concerts in 90 cities for 2001-2002, Neil was excited about the tour and where he was at, both in his life and career, but the real world was to intervene with the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington D.C. On September 11 2001, the world had changed forever, Diamond, like the rest of America would not be deterred, at every show that fall, his song ‘America’ would stand as a rousing anthem of defiance that resonated with renewed patriotic fervour.
The album contained a recent “Live” show from Las Vegas MGM Grand taking up the first two discs, disc three contains live cuts from many of his tours throughout his career, and a surprising cover of Elton John’s ‘Rocket Man’. The collection wasn’t so much a career retrospective, but more a celebration of Neil Diamond’s “Live” career.
The remainder of 2003 and the first half of 2004 were relatively quiet for Neil, In June 2004, Neil would perform at the John Kerry fundraiser at the
“Walt Disney Concert Hall” California, the surprise of the evening was that he would sing with former high school attendee and world renown singer and friend Barbra Streisand, where they would perform ‘You Don’t Bring Me Flowers’ for the first time in twenty four years.
In August 2004, it was announced Neil Diamond would take his all new tour to Australia and New Zealand, his first shows on the continent in six years. The tour would then move across America and Europe.
Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand - 2004
This album was far removed from the usual overblown Neil Diamond sound, there would be no full orchestras, just Neil and the barest of instrumentation, another aspect of the album was that Rubin wanted Diamond to play acoustic guitar, the idea was to bring Neil Diamond up front and centre.
There were a few upheavals regarding the release of the album, regarding spyware on the CD so as to prevent copying, it caused an amount of damage to sales, and Neil was furious, and vowed never to record an album for Columbia again. All troubles aside, the album ‘12 Songs’ ended up being one of Neil’s most successful and critically acclaimed studio albums in years, reaching number four on the billboard chart. The influence of Rick Rubin went beyond the recording studio, as the subsequent tour behind the album found Diamond using tougher sounding arrangements of his classic songs with his long standing backing band, and playing more guitar onstage than he had done since the “Hot August Night” era.
Rubin himself spoke effusively of Neil. “When Neil would play and sing it changed his relationship to the song, by playing guitar, Neil controls the rhythm and feel of the songs, it also changes the way he sings them, and it becomes a more pure musical act.” The songs are classic Neil Diamond songs, Rubin continued, “Nobody else could have possibly written them. The sound of the album is very personal, intimate and honest.”
Diamond would go on to say, Rubin got him “to focus on the songwriting, and harkens back to my old days of song-writing, he brought back my focus on song-writing, and playing guitar.”
Rubin countered with high praise for Diamond. “He may work harder than any artist I’ve worked with, and is very hard on himself, saying he’s driven doesn’t come close, maybe devoted is a good word.”
After the flurry of activity of the last two years, 2006 was relatively quiet for Neil, appearing on various TV shows promoting his 12 Songs album released in September the previous year. Neil Diamond was suddenly hip, although he never shared that concept of himself. The goal is artistic achievement, and the best work we can do with no limitations.
In 2007 Neil Diamond would start writing new songs for a second collaboration with Rick Rubin.
There was no need to worry about Columbia records messing up Diamond’s next album. He now had friends in very high places. Rick Rubin had become co-head of Columbia records and won the Grammy for producer of the year in 2007. Diamond spent a year working on this album to be called
‘Home before Dark’.
Diamond stated he was pretty alone whilst writing the songs for
’Home Before Dark’ mostly due to the difficulties his then girlfriend, Rachel Farley was experiencing, due to a spinal condition she was suffering with. What happened though was to bring the best out of Neil on an emotional level. To me, the songs on ‘Home before Dark’ are some of the very best songs he has ever written. His fans and the record buying public thought so too, as the album reached number one on the album chart, giving Neil his first ever number one album.
To reach such a level Diamond’s new manager Irving Azoff set up an aggressive promotional campaign, which included among other things an appearance on 'American Idol' America’s most watched television programme.
What surprised Neil was the fact it was indeed his first ever number one album, Neil thought ‘Hot August Night’ had reached number one. "I enjoyed being number one, but what surprised me more was the fact that people became aware that it was my first number one album, and they were somewhat amazed at that."
Neil Diamond’s American Idol appearance introduced him to an all new army of fans, young people who may have been aware of Neil via their parents, but noticed him more through his new music. Diamond had also undergone a total image transformation, gone were the gaudy cabaret shirts, in came a new designed look, mainly black attire with minimal appliqué, jacket and a clean cut image, but with a more rock star presentation.
Neil’s new look and approach was never more evident than highlighted on the DVD of his Madison Square Garden show in 2008. Neil looked leaner than he had for many a year, and was every inch the rock star.
The show received high acclaim, where many reviewers were agreed that Neil Diamond could still rock with the best of them.
“The power of Neil Diamond cannot be denied, a living legend, and a must see for all avid concert goers, one of the best entertainers in
Rock and Roll his show was everything I wanted to see from the man" – Heartfelt Classics, 'Crowd-pleasers, and soul stirring epics in a two hour plus show.”
Aside from the immense concert tour Neil was in the middle of, the biggest highlight was an invitation to play the legendary spot on the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury. Neil accepted the invitation and delivered one of the most memorable sets ever seen at the famous music event, even stealing the headlines and plaudits from the supposed headliner of that year Jay Z.
It was a very busy year for Neil, taking in a television special whilst in England, as part of ITV’s (Independent Television) “An Audience With” series, the show would be filmed live in front of a celebrity audience where Neil, aside from performing would field questions from the celebrity attendees. Neil was as humble as ever, answering the questions with real sincerity, one particular question posed by choreographer and dancer Craig Revel-Horwood, asked what Princess Diana was like, Neil’s reply was sincere and touching.
“She was extraordinary, she was an extraordinary person to begin with, she was a real human being , she was sensitive, and it was an honour, of course, and she asked me, I never would have had the nerve to ask that lady to dance, or speak to me, or even look at me. She turned out to be a fan, and she asked was if it proper in the United States for a lady to ask a gentleman to dance, and I said, of course, and we danced, it was like holding a feather, and moving to the music of the gods, and I don’t think she will ever be forgotten, certainly not by me."
Neil Diamond’s stock had not been as high for a long time, it appeared he was enjoying something of a renaissance, not that he had ever gone away, but the often private star had become hot property again, releasing hit albums, and garnering a new group of young fans.
In 2009 Neil Diamond was named Music Cares person of the year for his work for the victims of Hurricane Ike, where he paid for the homes of many of the victims to be rebuilt.
In August 2009 Neil Diamond’s TV special aired on CBS and was centred around his recent “Live” concert at Madison Square garden, ‘Hot August Night/NYC’ the special also showed Neil revisiting his former Brooklyn home, and meeting locals.
In November of 2009 Neil released a new Christmas album, entitled
‘A Cherry Cherry Christmas’ it was essentially a reworking of his previous Christmas albums but included two new compositions. Aside from that the
year ended rather quietly for Neil, far removed from the hectic events of 2008.
2010 would arrive and Neil would get busy working on an album of covers, which he claimed were many of his favourite songs, the album was called ‘Dreams’ it included covers of songs by luminaries such as Paul McCartney,
Bill Withers, Gladys Knight, Leonard Cohen, and a surprising cover from British singer and composer, Gilbert O’Sullivan, his classic heart-breaker, ‘Alone Again Naturally’.
The year continued apace with Ace Records releasing an album of many of Neil’s unheard recordings performed by artists that Neil presented the songs to in his early song-writing days as part of the labels songwriter series.
In November 2010, Neil was the subject of one of the Electric Proms series of concerts for the BBC, he would perform at London’s Roundhouse Theatre with orchestra in front of a lively crowd, where he would practically be amongst the audience. Neil would announce another tour for 2011, taking his show around the world once again.
This new tour presented a new invigorated Neil, basking in the glow of his new found popularity, he was at ease with himself, and genuinely appeared to be enjoying himself. He had toured many times over, but the new shows were a kind of thank you to the fans who had stuck with him through thick and thin.
Neil was also riding high after his life-long ambition was realised, he was finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a recognition at last of his career and contribution to music and the rock era. Many thought it was twenty years too late, but Neil was finally in, which served as some kind of justification of his immense body of work.
In December 2011 Neil Diamond was honoured (34th Kennedy Centre Honours) at the White House, it was recognition for his contribution to defining American culture through the arts, similar to a Knighthood in Britain.
In February 2012, Neil Diamond began a tour of the US which would run until September, In November 2012 Neil would travel to London to make a headline appearance at the 100th Royal Variety Show, which coincided with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, surprisingly this was Neil Diamond’s first ever appearance at a Royal variety show. Neil Diamond also moved from Columbia records to sign for Capitol in 2012, Sony quickly released a career retrospective, ‘The Very Best of Neil Diamond’, which included tracks from his highly acclaimed ‘12 Songs’ and ‘Home before Dark’.
2012 also saw the release of the 40th anniversary of his ‘Hot August Night’ album, a neat package, with booklet showing stills, and comments from Neil, the
re-release also included previously omitted tracks from the original release, which filled out and further enhanced an already impressive experience.
The biggest event in 2012 for Neil was his marriage to Katie McNeil, Neil claimed he had waited seventy years for happiness.
Aside from the occasional appearance to perform at events and support for the victims of the Boston terrorist attack, 2013 was a rather quiet year for Neil, however much to the ire of his new wife, Neil would spend time on their honeymoon writing songs for a new album, it wasn’t another Rick Rubin produced album as many thought, Neil had hired the services of Don Was, and Jacknife Lee to produce the album, it was to be entitled ‘Melody Road’ and much of it was a tribute to love and his wife and new found happiness.
What the album revealed was a new look Neil Diamond, sporting a beard which seems to be the trend these days, one commenter likened Neil to Sean Connery.
As was the norm for Neil, the album release would instigate a world tour.
Neil looked every inch the elder statesman of music, neat greying hair, with an equally grey but wholly distinguished beard and tache. The performances were none the worse, although Neil had lost much of the vitality that was a hallmark of his greatest performances, the voice was still strong, his rich smooth baritone coating his classic songs with a warmth and style we have come to know of
Once again Neil played the usual big arenas but included newer venues, most notably at Lancashire seaside resort Blackpool, staged at Blackpool Football Stadium, Neil likened the resort to a smaller Las Vegas, but claimed he was having great fun.
Neil Diamond would take the tour to Australia, a country that has had a long standing love affair with the superstar performer.
Prior to the 2015 tour, in September 2014 Neil Diamond would make an emotional return to his old school Erasmus Hall High School, and perform a free show on a first come first served basis, extracts from the show would feature on a British TV special called ‘One Night Only’ hosted by life-long Neil Diamond fan, comedian Rob Brydon, he accompanied Neil on his return to his boyhood haunts, as well as take part in the show by singing a couple of songs with Neil, it showed a side to Neil that could laugh at himself, and not be too serious.
2016 wasn’t a particularly eventful year for Neil Diamond, the last few years had been a hive of activity, recording, touring, television appearances, now he would take a break from such a hectic schedule, and spend time with his wife, Neil would release an all new acoustic Christmas album, a new twist on classic Christmas songs. He would make an appearance on James Corden’s late show to promote the album, and also do a wholly tongue in cheek version of ‘Sweet Caroline’ with a total lyric change, based around an office party scenario, it was pure fun , little did anyone know at the time was that Neil was planning something to celebrate his fifty years as a hit maker, Capitol Records would release a three CD set to commemorate Neil’s landmark anniversary.
Neil would also announce a world tour to celebrate the milestone. It was a bold move considering he had only finished a tour two years previous. He needn’t have worried, as at the time of compiling this article, Neil Diamond is playing to sold out arenas throughout the States, and is soon to visit Europe and the UK.
Neil Diamond had triumphed once again. He had overcome adversity in a fickle industry. Throughout his career Neil Diamond has stayed loyal to what he believes in, a trait which has endeared him to his legions of loyal fans.
Neil Diamond is a phenomenon, a true icon, legend, and entrenched superstar, a man who has created a legacy that can stand equally alongside music’s most favoured idols, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, and stands head and shoulders above most.
He is an enduring idol, and one of music’s defining artist of all time, he has created a body of work that is largely unmatched, and provided us with timeless music that we can revisit time and again. His legend will thrive long after he is gone for such is the breadth of his work, he is an icon of our time, and of all time, and reason why he is so beloved.
Thanks and appreciation to Dave Radstock for his invaluable and informative contributions