Born Neil Leslie Diamond on January 24, 1941, in Brooklyn, NY; son of Kieve (a dry goods store proprietor) and Rose Diamond; married; first wife's name, Jaye Posner, second wife's name, Marcia Murphy; children: (first marriage) Marjorie, Elyn; (second marriage) Jesse, Micah. Education: Attended New York University on a fencing scholarship. Addresses: Record company--Columbia Records, 1801 Century Park W., Los Angeles, CA 90067, website: http://www.columbiarecords.com. Website--Neil Diamond Official Website: http://www.neildiamond.com.
Neil Diamond is a pop music singer-songwriter with a devoted international following. In The Best of the Music Makers, George T. Simon called Diamond "a balance between sexy superstar and nice boy from Brooklyn," who "has a broad appeal to an audience that cuts across age levels, sophistication levels, and the traditional musical-preference categories." Diamond has been performing his own compositions since 1966, and his long list of hits---from "Cherry, Cherry" to "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" and "Heart Light"---has spanned some 35-40 years. While Simon described the singer's work as "rock domesticated for everyone," Time magazine contributor Jay Cocks saw Diamond otherwise. "Neil Diamond is ... fronting a big sound," Cocks wrote. "He has written and sung some of the smoothest and best contemporary pop, yet he remains a performer in search of a tradition, a megabucks pilgrim looking for roots he never had and a place in which to settle." Rock, even soft rock, has never been Diamond's milieu; it is equally wrong to categorize him as a club singer in the Frank Sinatra/Wayne Newton vein. In fact, Cocks concluded that Diamond "is revealed as a rouser, a showman, a kind of bandmaster of the American mainstream." According to Robert Christgau in the New York Daily News, Diamond's singing "combines rawness and control in a way that can please both rock fans ... and stylish young adults."
Started as a Songwriter
Some of Diamond's best lyrics reflect a certain confusion about identity and disillusionment that is overcome only by immersing oneself in song. The adult personality who writes such unconventional pop verses can be traced to Neil Leslie Diamond, an insecure Jewish boy who grew up in Brooklyn, New York. Diamond changed schools nine times as a child, and as he was intensely shy, he had great difficulty making friends. Instead, he immersed himself in a fantasy world populated by imaginary characters, and idolized the singing cowboys he saw in movies.
When Diamond was 16 he bought a second-hand guitar, learned some chord progressions, and began to compose songs. He also began to sing with the Erasmus Hall High School chorus group, a 100-member glee club that included Barbra Streisand. Diamond was a good student, and after high school he enrolled in pre-medical studies at New York University (NYU). He was in his senior year at NYU when the Sunbeam Music Company, a Tin Pan Alley songwriting mill, offered him a 16-week contract. He dropped out of college and never looked back.
Teaming with friend Jack Parker and billed as Neil & Jack, Diamond cut two Everly Brothers-influenced discs for the tiny New York label Duel Records, but they received little notice on their release in 1960 and 1961. Encouraged by legendary Brill Building songwriters Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, Diamond worked at a number of Tin Pan Alley companies and composed songs for the likes of Jay & the Americans, Cliff Richard, Jimmy Clanton, Bobby Vinton, and the Angels. Finally, in 1965 he decided to begin writing songs to sing himself. He performed his work at the Bitter End, a Greenwich Village nightclub, where he attracted the attention of Bert Berns, a producer who was beginning a new label, Bang Records.
A Major Hit Maker
In 1966, Diamond cut three hit singles for Bang: "Solitary Man," "Cherry, Cherry," and "I Got a Feelin'." Through publisher Don Kirschner he also contributed a song, "I'm a Believer," to the Monkees, who propelled it to a ten-million-selling, number one hit. In 1967 Diamond went on to release several more bestselling songs, including "Kentucky Woman" and "You Get to Me." His sound imbued both folk and gospel with an erotic edge, and were catchy enough to garner heavy airplay on Top 40 AM radio.
The young artist was not satisfied with Bang Records, however, so in 1968 he moved to the Uni label (a division of MCA's Universal Studios) in Los Angeles. With greater control over his own material and more artistic latitude, Diamond blossomed into an unusual mainstream singer whose work reflected irony, inner turmoil, and psychological depth. He made the Billboard Top Ten with songs as diverse as the jaunty "Cracklin' Rosie," the satirical "Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show," and the cryptic "I Am, I Said." Meanwhile, Bang Records continued to lease material he had left behind, scoring Top 40 hits with "Shiloh," "Solitary Man" (first released in 1966), and "Do It."
By 1972, Diamond was a major force in pop music. He became the first pop-rock artist to headline a musical performance on Broadway at the prestigious Winter Garden Theatre with his One Man Show, and he also traveled widely, giving concerts in every major American city. However, the strain of constant touring caught up with Diamond after his Winter Garden engagement, and he went into temporary retirement. The hiatus lasted more than three years; he spent the time undergoing intense psychotherapy, regaining his family ties, and studying music theory. Ironically, his few recordings during this period were among his most successful. His 1973 soundtrack for the film Jonathan Livingston Seagull won a Grammy Award and a Golden Globe Award, and garnered an Oscar nomination. Simon noted that at the time "some predicted that [Diamond] would be forgotten if he stayed out of the tour circuit for long."
A Major Concert Attraction
Diamond surprised the doubters when he returned to a full schedule in 1976. He played to sellout crowds in New Zealand and Australia, then returned for a three-performance, $500,000 stint at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas. Simultaneously, his concept album Beautiful Noise---and its single "If You Know What I Mean"---went gold. The following year Diamond starred in two television specials on NBC, "The Neil Diamond Special," and "I'm Glad You're Here with Me Tonight." He was also working under a million dollar advance per album contract with Columbia records.
Such continued success had its drawbacks. Diamond's work had generally received mixed-to-negative reviews; critics were particularly savage about his starring role in the 1980 film "The Jazz Singer." An album reviewer for the Rolling Stone Record Guide voiced the disdain some rock critics felt for Diamond. "Diamond was writing potboilers, and his thirst was for Pulitzer-level poesy," the critic contended. "Unfortunately, his imagination and the very blandness of his voice condemned him to setting a model for the radical-[middle-of-the-road] singer/songwriter style of the Seventies. ... Like so many of his pop predecessors, his talent is greatest when he reaches for less, not more."
Revived Artistic Passion
Diamond himself had admitted in People magazine that he had struggled with doubts about his songs. "After years of working with a psychiatrist," he said, "I have finally forgiven myself for not being Beethoven." Diamond may not be Beethoven, but the emotions he stirs among his millions of fans cannot be minimized---he has endured too long. People quoted screenwriter Stephen Foreman on Diamond's talent: "When you see a crowd of paunchy, middle-aged auto executives in Detroit get up and start dancing in the aisles, you realize something pretty unusual is going on." That "something unusual" is a bond created between Diamond and his audience by his meaningful lyrics, his soulful performances, and his comfortable, catchy tunes. "My music says what I am," Diamond told the New York Post. "It speaks about what I feel as a person, what I dream about, what I hope to be."
Boasting a fanatically loyal worldwide audience, Diamond's status as a music legend was certainly secure. Yet by 2003 he felt the need to once again be challenged as an artist. Aided by producer Rick Rubin, who had resuscitated Johnny Cash's faded artistic glory, Diamond recaptured the love of his craft. "I told Rick that I'd call when I had some new things to play," the singer said in the liner notes to 12 Songs, released in 2005. "Before long, song ideas, dummy lyrics, and melodic sketches began to pile up." Diamond further noted, "It was difficult but what a blast!" Rubin made the artist constantly rewrite, sing, and play live in the studio with limited back-up instrumentation. The resulting album contained some of the catchiest, most heartfelt music Diamond had made since the early 1970s. Even the oft-critical Rolling Stone lauded the effort. "He's as direct as he's ever been with his lyrics, which give them an extra poignancy," observed Stone reviewer Barry Walters, before concluding, "Diamond pleads for mercy and understanding, attaining a simple profundity---something both hard-core rock fans and your great aunt can understand."
by Anne Janette Johnson and Ken Burke
Neil Diamond's Career
Songwriter for Sunbeam Music Company and other songwriting shops, 1962-65; songwriter, singer, musician, and recording artist, 1965--; appeared on several network television programs including The Ed Sullivan Show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, and Mannix; composer of soundtracks for films Jonathan Livingston Seagull, 1973, Every Which Way But Loose, 1978, and The Jazz Singer, 1980; actor in film The Jazz Singer, 1980; host of television variety specials "The Neil Diamond Special," 1977, and "I'm Glad You're Here with Me Tonight," 1977, both NBC; released albums including 2005's 12 Songs; renowned international concert performer and entertainer.
Neil Diamond's Awards
More than 20 gold and platinum records; Grammy Award and Golden Globe Award, for "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" soundtrack, both 1974; ASCAP Award, Most Performed Feature Film Standard, for "America" from The Jazz Singer, 1980; inducted into Songwriters Hall of Fame, and presented with the Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award, 2000.
- Selected discography
- "Solitary Man," Bang, 1966; rereleased, 1970.
- "Cherry, Cherry," Band, 1966.
- "I Got the Feelin' (Oh No No)," Bang, 1966.
- "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon," Bang, 1967.
- "I Thank the Lord for the Night Time," Bang, 1967.
- "Kentucky Woman," Bang, 1967.
- "You Got to Me," Bang, 1967.
- "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show," Uni, 1969.
- "Sweet Caroline (Good Times Never Seemed So Good)," Uni, 1969.
- "Holly Holy," Uni, 1969.
- "Shilo," Bang, 1970.
- "Soolaimon (African Trilogy II)," Uni, 1970.
- "Cracklin' Rosie," Uni, 1970.
- "He Ain't Heavy ... He's My Brother," Uni, 1970.
- "Do It," Bang, 1970.
- "I Am ... I Said," Uni, 1971.
- "Stones/Crunchy Granola Suite," Uni, 1971.
- "Song Sung Blue," Uni, 1972.
- "Play Me," Uni, 1972.
- "Walk On Water," Uni, 1972.
- "Cherry, Cherry" (from Hot August Night ), MCA, 1973.
- "Be," Columbia, 1973.
- "Longfellow Serenade," Columbia, 1974.
- "I've Been This Way Before," Columbia, 1975.
- "If You Know What I Mean," Columbia, 1976.
- "Desiree," Columbia, 1977.
- (With Barbara Streisand) "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," Columbia, 1978.
- "Forever in Blue Jeans," Columbia, 1979.
- "September Morn'," Columbia, 1980.
- "Love on the Rocks," Capitol, 1980.
- "Hello Again," Capitol, 1981.
- "America," Capitol, 1981.
- "Yesterday's Songs," Columbia, 1981.
- "On the Way to the Sky," Columbia, 1982.
- "Be Mine Tonight," Columbia, 1982.
- "Heartlight," Columbia, 1982.
- "Yesterday's Songs," Columbia, 1983.
- "Front Page Story," Columbia, 1983.
- "I'm Alive," Columbia, 1983.
- "Turn Around," Columbia, 1984.
- "Headed for the Future," Columbia, 1986.
- "Story of my Life," Columbia, 1986.
- "I Dreamed a Dream," Columbia, 1987.
- "The Best Years of Our Lives," Columbia, 1989.
- "This Time," Columbia, 1989.
- "Don't Turn Around," Columbia, 1992.
- "Hooked on the Memory of You," Columbia, 1992.
- "You Are the Best Part of Me," Columbia, 2001.
- "Delirious Love," Columbia, 2005.
- The Feel of Neil Diamond Bang, 1966.
- Shilo Bang, 1968.
- Velvet Gloves & Spit Uni, 1969.
- Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show Uni, 1969.
- Touching Me, Touching You Uni, 1969.
- Gold Uni, 1970.
- Tap Root Manuscript Uni, 1970.
- Stones Uni, 1971.
- Moods Uni, 1972.
- Hot August Night MCA, 1972.
- Rainbow MCA, 1973.
- Jonathan Livingston Seagull Columbia, 1973.
- Serenade Columbia, 1974.
- Beautiful Noise Columbia, 1976.
- Live at the Greek Columbia, 1977.
- I'm Glad You're Here with Me Tonight Columbia, 1977.
- You Don't Bring Me Flowers Columbia, 1978.
- September Morn Columbia, 1980.
- The Jazz Singer Capitol, 1980.
- Best of Neil Diamond World, 1981.
- On the Way to the Sky Columbia, 1981.
- Love Songs MCA, 1981.
- Song Sung Blue Columbia, 1982.
- Heart Light Columbia, 1982.
- Neil Diamond's Twelve Greatest Hits Columbia, 1982.
- Primitive Columbia, 1984.
- Classics of the Early Years Columbia, 1984.
- Headed for the Future Columbia, 1986.
- Neil Diamond Columbia, 1986.
- Hot August Night II (Live) Columbia, 1987.
- The Best Years of Our Lives Columbia, 1988.
- Lovescape Columbia, 1991.
- The Christmas Album Columbia, 1992.
- Up On the Roof: Songs from the Brill Building Columbia, 1993.
- The Christmas Album, Vol. 2 Columbia, 1994.
- Live in America Columbia, 1995.
- Tennessee Moon Columbia, 1996.
- The Movie Album: As Time Goes By Columbia, 1998.
- Three Chord Opera Sony, 2001.
- Play Me: the Complete Uni Studio Sessions MCA, 2001.
- Stages: Performances 1970-2002 Columbia, 2003.
- The Essential Neil Diamond Sony, 2005.
- 12 Songs Columbia, 2005.
- Legends Universal, 2006.
- The Rolling Stone Record Guide, Random House, 1979.
- Simon, George T., The Best of the Music Makers, Doubleday, 1979.
- Chicago Tribune, December 14, 1980.
- Daily News (New York, NY), October 6, 1972.
- New York Post, October 30, 1972.
- New York Times, October 1, 1972.
- People, January 22, 1979; April 5, 1982.
- Rolling Stone, September 23, 1976.
- Time, January 26, 1981.
- "Neil Diamond," Rolling Stone, http://www.rollingstone.com (November 3, 2005).
- "Neil Diamond," Songwriters Hall of Fame, http://www.songwriterhalloffame.org (March 1, 2006).
- Additional information was obtained from the liner notes to 12 Songs, from which a quotation used in this entry was drawn.