Neil Leslie Diamond was born on 24 January 1941, in Brooklyn, New York. For his sixteenth birthday, he was given a guitar and began composing music for fun.
His interest and ability grew and, while studying at NYU (he won his place on a fencing scholarship) he dropped out to work as a professional songwriter for $50 a week. He struggled along for a few years before being rewarded with work at Bang Records, in 1965.
With Bang behind him, Diamond wrote the hits Cherry Cherry, Solitary Man and I’m A Believer – the song that took The Monkees to the top of the US charts. His own debut album, The Feel of Neil Diamond, did not enjoy the same success.
Diamond moved to work at MCA and produced a series of pop hits – Sweet Caroline, Cracklin’ Rosie, Song Sung Blue – that won him a more loyal audience. Hot August Night (1972) established him as a major performer in adult pop, both as a recording artist and as a live performer.
Columbia signed him to a controversial multi-million dollar deal, and his first album for them, Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1973), went double-platinum and won him a Grammy.
Ducking out to be with his family for a few years, Diamond again went on tour in 1976. His shows sold out and several albums went platinum in a row. Diamond remained a top concert draw for years.
His 1996 album, Tennessee Moon, departed from Diamond’s usual pop style into country territory, reaching Number 3 in the country charts.
Over two decades, Neil Diamond songs have also become hits for UB40 (with Red Red Wine) and Urge Overkill (Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon). Some songs didn’t make much sense (I am I Said), some were mushy (Forever In Blue Jeans, You Don’t Bring Me Flowers) and a few were just rubbish (most of The Jazz Singer – the awful remake of which he starred in).
Yet although he’s always had a weakness for rhymes so obvious you know them in advance (eg: marry me/carry me), he can be agreeably cynical, as when asking you to pour him a drink so he can tell you some lies (Love On The Rocks).
In his heart, Diamond may see himself as a wandering troubadour in the grand tradition of Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams, but he’s too schlocky to be a real folkie and too city-boy to be country. And even though the aforementioned Urge Overkill cover graced Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994) he’s still unfashionable.