In November, 1965, a little known artist scored his first success as a song writer with the song “Sunday and Me” performed by Jay and the Americans. Few knew then that the unknown and struggling talent would go on to become one of the greatest and most celebrated artists of all time. After first attempting his own singing success as part of the duet, Neil and Jack, with high school friend Jack Packer, fame was not yet ready for the husky voiced New Yorker. Diamond was determined, however and eventually wrote the tune for Jay and the Americas. The song was the artist’s first top twenty hit. Further success came a while later with songs recorded for “The Monkees”. Those songs, including, “Look Out Here Comes Tomorrow”, “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” and what would go on to be the classic, “I’m A Believer”, which would go on to be named Popular Music Song of the Year in 1966.
Diamond’s respect as a song writer continued to grow and other artists including Elvis Presley went on to record his lyrics. Few know that Elvis’s cover of “And the Grass Won’t Pay Me No Mind” was actually written by Neil himself. Although Diamond was happy with the success he had achieved as a song writer for others, he had a yearning to reach an audience of his own. His perseverance led to a recording contract in 1966, with an affiliate label of Atlantic Records. His first release as a solo artist, “Solitary Man” was also his first hit and threw him into the spotlight. He continued to belt out hit after hit including “Cherry Cherry”, “Thank The Lord For The Night Time” and “Kentucky Woman”.
Although Neil Diamond is actually his real given name, Diamond considered following the lead of other artists of the day and creating a stage name. When he asked his grandmother for advice on her ideas for a name to use, she replied, “I don’t know. Go with Neil Diamond for now and I’ll figure it out later.” His grandmother, sadly, passed away before the success of “Solitary Man” and Diamond left his name just as it was. Diamond went on to record with some of the most famous names in music including the heart wrenching “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” with Barbara Streisand. Diamond had originally planned on making a film with Streisand based on the ballad, but plans for the film fell through when Diamond agreed to make his acting debut in the remake of the Al Jolson film, “The Jazz Singer”, in 1980 starring with no other than the most celebrated and admired actor of his time, Sir Lawrence Olivier. The film was a success and was nominated for three Golden Globe nominations. Diamond had displayed himself as an actor as well as a talented song writer and recording artist. The film spawned a hugely successful soundtrack album which included hits from the movie such as “Hello Again”, “Love On The Rocks”, and “America”.
With all that he had already accomplished, Diamond went on to reach even further success with tracks such as “Forever In Blue Jeans” and “Heart Light” which was inspired by the blockbuster 1982 film “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial”. Diamond continued to record and tour while selling out concerts all over the world. In August of 2008, Diamond performed in concert at Ohio State University. Despite a nasty case of laryngitis, Diamond played through much to the excitement of the crowd. After the concert, however, Diamond announced to the fans that since he felt that he had not been able to give them his best due to his illness, he would offer ticket price refunds. Just another example of the kind of true artist he has proven himself to be over the years. His talent is matched only by his charitable work and contributions to causes that he believes in. On February 6, 2009, Diamond was honored as the MusiCares Person Of The Year. From the haunting “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon” to his performance as an actor and his contributions as a humanitarian, Diamond continues to show why he is still not only relevant, but a vital part of the entertainment industry and an icon for many. Not too bad for a kid from New York who started off at fifty dollars a week to write lyrics for others. If one reporter’s opinion matters I have comprised a list of my top ten favorite Neil Diamond songs of all time in case the nostalgia gets to you and you have to make a run for the record store… Let me say, picking the number one was tough, but here is how they stacked up…
10.) “I Am I Said” Deep and really soulful…
9.) “Forever In Blue Jeans”…Impossible to attend a Neil Diamond concert and not clap along.
8.) “Heart Light” How can anyone hear that and not want to run out and rent ET???
7.) “Sweet Caroline”…A little trivia here….Few know that this song is actually about Caroline Kennedy!
6.) “September Morn”…Doesn’t get any more classic than that.
5.) “Love On The Rocks”…Does that one even need explaining?
4.) “Hello Again” Do you know how many times I longed to be Lucy Arnaz after seeing that one???
3.)” Kentucky Woman” Being from Kentucky I can pretend he is singing right to me…
2.) “Solitary Man” Hmmmmmm…Somehow I find that hard to believe…
And without further adu, drum roll please…….
1.) “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon” I don’t care how many others have covered it, Neil is the only version that matters.
So there it is…One reporter’s take on a legend, for what it’s worth. It was an honor to write about someone with such talent who’s work I truly admire, although I wasn’t even born when a lot of his work was recorded. That is the sparkle that is truly Diamond.
Neil Diamond Official Web Site www.neildiamond.com