Neil Diamond was born on January 24, 1941 in Brooklyn, New York, a child of Russian and Polish immigrants. He attended Abraham Lincoln High School and sang in the All City Choir with a young Barbra Streisand.
Neil once told Larry King, "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 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.
"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 with Bang Records, a subsidiary of Atlantic Records. His first release on that label, "Solitary Man", became his first hit. Diamond later followed with "Cherry, Cherry", "Kentucky Woman", "Thank the Lord for the Night Time", "Do It", and others.
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.
In 1972, Diamond played 10 sold-out concerts at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. During the performance on Thursday, August 24, which was recorded and released as the live double album Hot August Night. A few weeks later, in the fall of 1972, Diamond performed a series of concerts on 20 consecutive nights at the Winter Garden Theater in New York. Every one of these reportedly sold out, and the small (approximately 1,600-seat) Broadway theater provided an intimate concert setting not common at the time.
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 what was then his most recent album, Beautiful Noise. In addition, he 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 the album I'm Glad You're Here With Me Tonight, which included "You Don't Bring Me Flowers". He had composed its music and collaborated on its lyrics with Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman. The song was covered on Barbra Streisand's Songbird, and a duet, spurred by the success of virtual radio mash-ups, was recorded. The song hit No. 1 in 1978 and became his third song to top the Hot 100 to date. His last 1970s album was September Morn, which included a new version of I'm a Believer. It and Red Red Wine are the two best-known Diamond original songs to have had other artists make more famous than his own versions.
In February 1979, the uptempo "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.
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.
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 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".
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.
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. The album Home Before Dark is largely based on Farley's struggles with severe chronic pain from a back injury she suffered, 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. Despite the fact that Diamond still suffers from back pain he still performs regularly much to the thrill of his millions of fans.
Happy 69th Birthday Neil. Thank you for 45 years of great music. May your best years be ahead of you.