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Neil Leslie Diamond (born January 24, 1941) is an American singer-songwriter. As a successful pop music performer, Diamond scored a number of hits worldwide in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. According to David Wild, common themes in Diamond's songs are "a deep sense of isolation and an equal desire for connection. A yearning for home – and at the same time, the allure of greater freedom. The good, the bad and the ugly about a crazy little thing called love."
As of 2001 Diamond has sold 115 million records worldwide, including 48 million records in the U.S. In terms of Billboard chart success, he is the third most successful Adult Contemporary artist ever, ranking behind only Barbra Streisand and Elton John.
Though his record sales declined somewhat after the 1980s, Diamond continues to tour successfully, and maintains a very loyal following. Diamond's songs have been recorded by a vast array of performers from many different musical genres.
Diamond was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1984, and in 2000 he received the Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award.
On Monday, March 14, 2011, Neil Diamond was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Neil Diamond was born in Brooklyn, New York, to a Jewish family descended from Russian and Polish immigrants. His father, Akeeba Diamond, was a dry-goods merchant. Diamond grew up in several homes in Brooklyn, attending Abraham Lincoln High School.
At Lincoln, the school from which he received his high school diploma, he was a member of the fencing team. He later attended NYU on a fencing scholarship, specializing in epee, and was a member of the 1960 NCAA men's championship team; into his adult life he maintained his swordsmanship skills and continued to warm up with fencing exercises before his concerts. In a live interview with TV talk show host Larry King, Diamond explained his decision to study medicine by pointing out: "I actually wanted to be a laboratory biologist. I wanted to study. And I really wanted to find a cure for cancer. My grandmother had died of cancer. And I was always very good at the sciences. And I thought I would go and try and discover the cure for cancer." However, during his senior year in NYU, a music publishing company made him an offer he could not refuse: an offer to write songs for $50 a week. This started him on the road to stardom.
Diamond’s first recording contract was billed as "Neil and Jack", an Everly Brothers-type duo comprising Diamond and high school friend Jack Packer *(Jack Parker). They recorded two unsuccessful singles, "You Are My Love At Last" b/w "What Will I Do" and "I'm Afraid" b/w "Till You've Tried Love", both released in 1962. Later in 1962, Diamond signed with the Columbia Records label as a solo performer. Columbia Records released the single "At Night" b/w "Clown Town" in July, 1963. Despite a tour of radio stations, the single failed to make the music charts. Billboard gave an excellent review to "Clown Town" in their July 13, 1963, issue, predicting it would be a hit. However, sales were disappointing, and Columbia dropped Diamond. Soon after, Diamond was back to writing songs on an upright piano above the Birdland Club in New York City.
Diamond spent his early career as a songwriter in the Brill Building. His first success as a songwriter came in November, 1965, with "Sunday and Me", a Top 20 hit for Jay and the Americans on the Billboard Charts. Greater success as a writer followed with "I'm a Believer", "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You", "Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)", and "Love to Love," all by the Monkees. There is a popular misconception that Diamond wrote and composed these songs specifically for the made-for-TV quartet. In reality, Diamond had written and recorded these songs for himself, but the cover versions were released before his own. The unintended, but happy, consequence was that Diamond began to gain fame not only as a singer and performer, but also as a songwriter. "I'm a Believer" was the Popular Music Song of the Year in 1966. Other notable artists who recorded early Neil Diamond songs were Elvis Presley, who interpreted “Sweet Caroline” as well as “And The Grass Won’t Pay No Mind”; Mark Lindsay, former lead singer for Paul Revere & the Raiders, who covered "And the Grass Won't Pay No Mind"; the English hard-rock band Deep Purple, which interpreted “Kentucky Woman”; Lulu, who covered “The Boat That I Row”, and Cliff Richard, who released versions of “I’ll Come Running”, “Solitary Man”, "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon", “I Got The Feelin’ (Oh No No)”, and “Just Another Guy.”
In 1966 Diamond signed a deal with Bert Berns's Bang Records, then a subsidiary of Atlantic Records. His first release on that label, "Solitary Man", became his first hit. Prior to the release of "Solitary Man," Neil had considered using a stage name; he came up with two possibilities, "Noah Kaminsky" and "Eice Charry." But when asked by Bang Records which name he should use, Noah, Eice, or Neil, he thought of his grandmother, who died prior to the release of "Solitary Man". Thus he told Bang, "...go with Neil Diamond and I'll figure it out later". Diamond later followed with "Cherry, Cherry", "Kentucky Woman", "Thank the Lord for the Night Time", "Do It", and others. Diamond's Bang recordings were produced by legendary Brill Building songwriters Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, both of whom can be heard singing background on many of the tracks.
His first concerts saw him as a "special guest" of, or opening for, everyone from Herman's Hermits to, on one occasion, The Who, which he confirmed on an installment of VH1's documentary series program Behind The Music.
Diamond began to feel restricted by Bang Records, wanting to record more ambitious, introspective music. Finding a loophole in his contract, Diamond tried to sign with a new label, but the result was a series of lawsuits that coincided with a dip in his professional success. Diamond eventually triumphed in court, and secured ownership of his Bang-era master recordings in 1977.
After Diamond had signed a deal with MCA Records, whose label at the time was Uni (after MCA's parent company, Universal Pictures), he moved to Los Angeles in 1970. His sound mellowed, with such songs as "Sweet Caroline", "Holly Holy", "'Cracklin' Rosie" and "Song Sung Blue", the last two reaching No. 1 on the Hot 100. "Sweet Caroline" was Diamond's first major hit after his slump. Diamond admitted in 2007 that he had written "Sweet Caroline" for Caroline Kennedy after seeing her on the cover of Life Magazine in an equestrian riding outfit. It took him just one hour, in a Memphis hotel, to write and compose it. The 1971 release "I Am...I Said" was a Top 5 hit in both the U.S. and UK, and was his most intensely personal effort to date, taking upwards of four months to complete.
In 1972, Diamond played 10 sold-out concerts at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. The August 24 performance was recorded and released as the live double album Hot August Night (the title being the opening words of Diamond's song "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show"). That fall, he appeared over 20 consecutive nights at the Winter Garden Theater in New York City; the small (approximately 1,600-seat) Broadway venue provided an intimate concert setting not common at the time. Reportedly, every performance was a sellout.
Hot August Night demonstrates Diamond's skills as a performer and showman, as he reinvigorated his back catalogue of hits with new energy. Many consider it his best work; critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine calls Hot August Night “the ultimate Neil Diamond record ... [which] shows Diamond the icon in full glory.”
The album has become a classic. It was remastered in 2000 with three additional selections: “Walk on Water”, “Kentucky Woman” and “Stones”. In Australia, the album spent a remarkable 29 weeks at No. 1; in 2006, it was voted #16 in a poll of favourite albums of all time in Australia. Also, Diamond's final concert of his 1976 Australian Tour (The "Thank You Australia" Concert) was broadcast to 36 television outlets nationwide on March 6 and remains the country's most-watched music event. It also set a record for the largest attendance at the Sydney Sports Ground. The 1977 concert Love At The Greek, a return to the Greek Theatre, includes a version of "Song Sung Blue" with duets with Helen Reddy and Henry Winkler, a.k.a. Arthur "The Fonz" Fonzarelli of Happy Days.
In 1973, Diamond hopped labels again, returning to the Columbia Records for a lucrative million-dollar-advance-per-album contract. His first project, released as a solo album, was the soundtrack to Hall Bartlett's film version of Jonathan Livingston Seagull. The film received hostile reviews and did poorly at the box office. The album grossed more than the film did. Richard Bach, author of the best-selling source story, disowned the film. Both Bach and Diamond sued the film’s producer. Diamond felt the film butchered his score. Despite the shortcomings of the film, the soundtrack was a success, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard albums chart. Diamond would also garner a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score and a Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture. From there, Diamond would often include a Jonathan Livingston Seagull suite in his live performances, as he did in his 1977 "Love at The Greek" concert. In 1974, Diamond released the album Serenade, from which "Longfellow Serenade" and "I've Been This Way Before" were issued as singles. The latter had been intended for the Jonathan Livingston Seagull score, but was completed too late for inclusion.
In 1976, he released Beautiful Noise, produced by Robbie Robertson of The Band. On Thanksgiving night, 1976, Neil made an appearance at The Band's farewell concert, The Last Waltz, performing "Dry Your Eyes", which he had written with Robertson, and which had appeared on Beautiful Noise. He also joined the rest of the performers onstage at the end in a rendition of Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released".
In 1977, Diamond released I'm Glad You're Here With Me Tonight, including "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," for which he composed the music and collaborated with Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman on lyrics. Barbara Streisand covered the song on her Songbird album, and later, a Diamond-Streisand duet, spurred by the success of radio mash-ups, was recorded. That version hit No. 1 in 1978, his third song to top the Hot 100. His last 1970s album was September Morn, which included a new version of I'm a Believer. It and Red Red Wine are his best-known original songs made more famous by other artists.
In February 1979, the up-tempo "Forever in Blue Jeans," co-written with his guitarist, Richard Bennett, was released as a single from You Don't Bring Me Flowers, Diamond's album from the previous year.
According to Cotton Incorporated, "Neil Diamond might have been right when he named his 1979 #1 hit 'Forever in Blue Jeans:' 81% of women are planning their next jeans purchase to be some shade of blue." The song has been used to promote the sale of blue jeans, most notably via Will Ferrell, impersonating Neil Diamond singing, for The Gap. Ironically, Diamond himself had performed in radio ads for H.I.S. brand jeans in the 1960s, more than a decade before he and Bennett jointly wrote and composed, and he originated, the selection.
A planned film version of "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" to star Diamond and Streisand fell through when Diamond instead starred in a 1980 remake of the Al Jolson classic, The Jazz Singer, opposite Laurence Olivier and Lucie Arnaz. Though the movie was not a hit, the soundtrack spawned three Top 10 singles, "Love on the Rocks", "Hello Again" and "America". For his role in the film, Diamond became the first-ever winner of a Worst Actor Razzie Award, even though he was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for the same role.
Another Top 10 selection, "Heartlight", was inspired by the blockbuster 1982 movie E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Though the film's title character is never mentioned in the lyrics, Universal Pictures, which had released E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and was the parent company of the Uni Records label, by then referred to as the MCA Records label, for which Diamond had recorded for years, briefly threatened legal action against both Diamond and Columbia Records.
Diamond’s record sales slumped somewhat in the 1980s and 1990s, his last single to make the Billboard’s Pop Singles chart coming in 1986. However, his concert tours continued to be big draws. Billboard Magazine ranked Diamond as the most profitable solo performer of 1986. In January 1987, Diamond sang the national anthem at the Super Bowl. His "America" became the theme song for the Michael Dukakis 1988 presidential campaign. That same year, UB40’s reggae interpretation of Diamond’s ballad Red Red Wine would top the Billboard’s Pop Singles chart and, like the Monkees' version of “I’m a Believer”, become better known than Diamond’s original version.
During the 1990s Diamond would produce six studio albums. He would cover many classics from the movies and from famous Brill Building-era songwriters. He also released two Christmas albums, the first peaking at No. 8 on the Billboard’s Album chart. Keeping his songwriting skills honed, Diamond also recorded two albums of mostly new material during this period. In 1992, he performed for President George H.W. Bush's final Christmas in Washington NBC special. In 1993, Diamond opened the Mark of the Quad Cities (now the iWireless Center) with two shows on May 27 and 28 to a crowd of 27,000-plus.
The 1990s and 2000s saw a resurgence in Diamond’s popularity. “Sweet Caroline” became a popular sing-along at sporting events, starting with Boston College football and basketball games. Most notably it is the theme song for Red Sox Nation, the fans of the Boston Red Sox, although Diamond noted that he has been a lifelong fan of the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers. The song is also played during the 8th inning of every New York Mets home game and at Washington Nationals home games. The New York Rangers have also adapted it as their own, and play it when they are winning at the end of the 3rd period. The Pitt Panthers football team also plays it after the third quarter of all home games, with the crowd cheering, "Let's go Pitt". Urge Overkill recorded a memorable version of Diamond’s “Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" for Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, released in 1994. In 2000, Johnny Cash recorded the album Solitary Man, which included that Diamond classic. Smash Mouth covered Diamond’s “I’m a Believer” for their 2001 self-titled album. In the 2001 comedy film Saving Silverman, the main characters play in a Neil Diamond cover band, and Diamond made an extended cameo appearance as himself. During this period, Will Ferrell did a recurring Diamond impersonation on Saturday Night Live, with Diamond himself appearing alongside Ferrell on Ferrell's final show as a "Not Ready For Prime Time Player" in May 2002. “America” was used in promotional ads for the 2002 Winter Olympics. The Finnish band HIM covered “Solitary Man” on their album, And Love Said No: The Greatest Hits.
Diamond has always had a somewhat polarizing effect, best exemplified by the 1991 film What About Bob? There the protagonist posits, "There are two types of people in the world: those who like Neil Diamond and those who don't". The character of Bob attributes the failure of his marriage to his fiancée’s fondness for Diamond. Another example of this love/hate relationship: the Becker episode "It had to be Ew" is largely devoted to ridiculing Diamond and his fans.
Diamond continues to tour and record. 12 Songs, produced by Rick Rubin, was released on November 8, 2005, in two editions: a standard 12-song release, and a special edition with two bonus tracks, including one featuring backing vocals by Brian Wilson. The album debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard chart, and has received generally positive reviews; Earliwine describes the album, as "inarguably Neil Diamond's best set of songs in a long, long time". 12 Songs also became noteworthy as one of the last albums to be pressed and released by Sony BMG with the infamous Extended Copy Protection software embedded in the disc.
On December 31, 2005 Diamond appeared on Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve 2006.
In 2007, Diamond was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame.
In December 2007, a 2008 UK tour was announced, calling at Manchester on June 7 and 8, Birmingham on June 10 and 11, and London on June 21, 23 and 24. A month later, further UK dates were added, including Hampden Park in Glasgow on the 5th of June, Rose Bowl, Southampton on the 17th of June, and the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on the 19th of June.
On March 19, 2008, it was announced on the TV show American Idol that Diamond would be a guest mentor to the remaining Idol contestants who would be singing Diamond songs broadcasts of April 29 and 30, 2008. On April 8, 2008, Diamond made a surprise announcement in a big-screen broadcast at Fenway Park, that he would be appearing there "live in concert" on August 23, 2008 as part of his World Tour. The announcement, which marked the first official confirmation of any 2008 concert dates in the U.S., came during the traditional eighth-inning sing-along of his "Sweet Caroline," which has become an anthem for Boston fans.
On April 28, 2008, Diamond appeared on the roof of the Jimmy Kimmel building to sing "Sweet Caroline" after Kimmel was jokingly arrested trying to sing the song. This was followed on April 30, 2008, with an appearance on American Idol when he sang "Pretty Amazing Grace" from his new album, Home Before Dark. On May 2, 2008, Sirius Satellite Radio started Neil Diamond Radio.
Diamond's album Home Before Dark was released on May 6, 2008. On May 15, 2008, the Billboard Hot 200 listed the album at No. 1. This marked the first chart-topping album of Diamond's storied career. On May 18, 2008, "Home Before Dark" also entered the UK charts at No. 1, his second British No. 1 album, after hitting the summit in 1992 with a compilation album. His 2008 tour was the most successful of any of his previous tours since 1966
On August 25, 2008, Diamond performed at Ohio State University while suffering from laryngitis. The result disappointed him as well as his fans and on August 26 he offered refunds to anyone who applied by September 5.
Diamond was honored as the MusiCares Person of the Year on February 6, 2009, two nights prior to the 51st Annual Grammy Awards.
According to posts on Neil's Twitter page, he is currently working on a new album, his third with Rick Rubin. He says he plans to play electric guitar on the album, a first for him. In 2009, Diamond stated that he prefers Gibson and Martin acoustic guitars and confirmed that recently he had been playing Gibson electric guitars.
Long-loved in Boston, Diamond was invited to sing at the July 4 holiday celebration.
Through his Diamond Music Company, Diamond now belongs to that small group of performers whose names are listed as copyright owners on their recordings.
In August 2008, Neil Diamond allowed cameras to record his entire four-night run at New York's Madison Square Garden and released it in the United States on August 14, 2009, on DVD, one year to the day of the first concert. 'Hot August Night/NYC' debuted at No. 2 on the charts and is exclusively available at Wal-Mart and has sold out at many locations all over the country. Also on the same day the DVD was released, CBS (the former parent of his label, Columbia Records) aired an edited version of the DVD, which won the ratings hour with 13 million viewers. The next day, the sales of the DVD surged and prompted Sony to order more copies to meet the high demand.
On October 13, 2009, he released A Cherry Cherry Christmas, his third album of holiday music.
On September 28, 2010, Diamond was nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
On November 2, 2010, he released the album 'Dreams', a collection of 14 interpretations of his favorite songs by other artists from the rock era.
On December 14, 2010, it was leaked by numerous sites that Diamond had been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, along with Alice Cooper, Darlene Love, Dr. John, and Tom Waits. The induction ceremony will be March 14, 2011 at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City.
On December 20, 2010, Diamond made an appearance on NBC's 'The Sing-Off', performing "Ain't No Sunshine" along with the A Cappella groups featured on the show.
On May 27th, 2011, he appeared on Irish Television in a live recording in front of a celebrity audience.
Diamond married high school sweetheart, school teacher Jayne "Posey" Posner, in 1963. They had two daughters, Marjorie and Elyn, before they divorced in 1969. In December 1969, Diamond married Marcia Murphey, a production assistant; they also had two children, both sons, Jesse and Micah. Diamond's second marriage ended in 1995. Diamond was in a relationship with Australian Rachel Farley, whom he met while she handled marketing during his 1996 Australian tour, until 2008. The album Home Before Dark is largely based on Farley's struggles with severe chronic pain from a back injury she suffered (very similar to Diamond's own in 1979), surgery and ongoing recovery. Diamond said that "She had back surgery and it wasn’t going well. She was in extreme pain for a year and the surgery did not really work. If anything, it made it worse. And I never left her side. I was within 20ft of her for the entire year that I took writing this album."
In 1979 Diamond had a tumor surgically removed from his spine and underwent a long rehabilitation process just prior to beginning principal photography for his 1980 film The Jazz Singer. Diamond still suffers from chronic, and often severe, back pain.
Diamond is known for wearing colourful sequin-adorned shirts in concert. Diamond has said that this was originally done out of necessity, so everyone in the audience could see him without the aid of binoculars. The Bill Whitten-designed and made shirts cost approximately US$5,000 each. Whitten designed and made the shirts for Diamond from the 1970s until 2007. Diamond told UK chat show host Jonathan Ross that he had a new designer for his less colourful stage wear for his tour of 2008.