"There are two types of people. Those who like Neil Diamond and those who don’t."
Bob Wiley (Bill Murray in the movie “What About Bob”)
The many legions of Neil Diamond fans were no doubt saddened by the recent news that due to Parkinson’s Disease, Diamond had to cancel the last leg of his 50th Anniversary tour.
The 77-year-old Diamond has truly been a pop music legend, selling more than 100 million records worldwide, with 38 songs on the Billboard Adult Contemporary Music Chart top ten. Diamond's accolades include induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (2011) and the Songwriter Hall of Fame (1984).
What many may not know is that before becoming a hit maker in his own right, Diamond wrote a number of hits for other groups, including three of the most popular Monkees songs - ”A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You," "Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)” and the number one song of 1966, “I’m a Believer."
Clearly, Diamond has come a long way from his college days where he took a 16-week job writing songs for $50 a week for Sun Beam Music Publishing.
With all due respect to “baby steps” Bob Wiley, I was an early Neil Diamond fan and remained one well into the mid-'70s. Early Diamond songs were the best. "Kentucky Woman," "Solitary Man," "Cherry Cherry" and "Thank The Lord For The Night Time" had a lot of soul and even a little bit of grit. Actually, my favorite Neil Diamond song is the 1970 hit “Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show.” I remember buying the 45 rpm at a tiny record store on Morningside Avenue called the “Record Roost” owned by Jerry O’Sullivan. I just love the way the song builds to a crescendo just like a street preacher’s revival. “Pack up the babies and grab the old ladies,” what a great line. Diamond’s songwriting continued to evolve in the early '70s. "Shilo" is a beautiful song, autobiographical, about a lonely child creating an imaginary friend to play with.
Around this time Diamond was on top 10 fire, rolling out hits like "Holly Holy" (another one of my favorites), "Sweet Caroline," "Cracklin' Rosie," "Song Sung Blue" and the introspective “I am ... I said.”
Diamond lost me at “Forever In Blue Jeans,” “You Don’t Bring me Flowers,” etc. Obviously, Diamond’s musical style had evolved into something more akin to Barry Manilow (sorry, Manilow fans). His concerts began to have more of a lounge lizard ambience.
But hey, we all look at music through a different prism, based in large part on what was going on in our lives at the time. And, we all change when we get older. The clash weren’t performing “London Calling” at age 50 and something tells me if James Morrison was still alive he would not be closing his concerts with “The End.”
I had some hesitation writing a column about Neil Diamond since some of his fans have been described as rabid, not tolerant to any criticism of their idol. His fan base is phenomenal. Concerts at huge venues constantly sold out.
No doubt Diamond will continue to create even though his touring days are over. He will leave an indelible mark on the music world. And no performer ever gave more back to his fans than Diamond. Good luck, Neil.
Next week: Katie Colling