WASHINGTON, February 3, 2014 – Neil Diamond has sold over 125 million records worldwide. Way past retirement age, he embarked on a huge world tour in 2011-2012. Even so, Diamond has never been the critics’ darling: probably something to do with those flashy and spectacularly garish shirts. He was always a little older and squarer than the rockers of his generation, but he certainly wrote some classic and unforgettable songs.
In celebration of his 73rd birthday (Jan. 24), the List of Ten takes a look at Diamond’s top ten songs.
10. I’m Believer (1966) – Neil Diamond wrote the song when he was still a struggling songwriter. The Monkees had a huge No. 1 hit with the tune, with drummer Micky Dolenz stepping up as the lead vocalist. It sold over 10 million copies and was the biggest-selling song of 1967. Diamond recorded the song before the Monkees did, and it appears on his “September Morn” album along with additional lyrics. He sang the song live at the 2008 Glastonbury Festival in England.
9. “Love on The Rocks” (1980) – This powerful and moving ballad appeared on the soundtrack to the film the “Jazz Singer,” a remake of the 1927 film, in which Diamond played the lead role alongside Laurence Olivier and Lucie Arnaz. The single reached No. 2 on the Billboard Top 40 chart and No. 17 in the U.K. The critics panned the movie, but the film produced some great songs including “Hello, Again” and “America.”
8. “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” (1978) – Diamond scored a No. 1 with this melodramatic duet with Barbra Streisand, which stayed 15 weeks in the Top 40. Diamond and Streisand actually sang in a school choir together. While on tour, he sings this tune with Linda Press, who belts out her part in perfect harmony with Diamond.
7. “Girl You’ll be a Woman Soon” (1967) – “I was playing mostly to teenagers, teenage girls when I first started, and ‘Girl You’ll Be A Woman Soon’ was something I wrote for them and I recorded it myself,” Diamond told NPR in an interview. The song reached No. 10 on the charts and earned a second life when the Urge Overkill version was used by Quentin Tarantino in “Pulp Fiction.”
6. “Cracklin’ Rose” (1970) – This was Diamond’s first No. 1 hit in the U.S. and it spent 14 weeks in the Top 40. It appeared on his “Tap Root Manuscript” album. While he refers to a woman in the lyrics, the song is actually about wine.
5. “Stones” (1971) – A beautiful, poetic and soulful song. Diamond has called it a “desperate love song” about the pain of broken relationships. It appeared on the successful “Stones” album, which was one of his biggest selling vinyl platters and included his hit “I Am…I Said,” and also covers of songs from Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Tom Paxton, Roger Miller and Randy Newman.
4. “I Am…I Said” (1971) – Diamond said it took him four months to compose this song, which reached No. 4 on the U.S. charts. The Daily Telegraph referred to the song as a “raging existential angst.” Overdramatic? You bet, but classic Diamond.
3. “Play Me” – (1972) – This heartfelt and beautiful love song, with Diamond’s smoky baritone, is often milked for all its emotional worth at concerts and is still a huge audience favorite. The second verse of the song has been criticized for Diamond’s use of the word “brang” instead of “brought.” The song peaked at No. 11.
2. “Song Sung Blue” (1972) – This melancholy, solitary and sullen inflection earned Diamond his second No. 1 hit in the U.S. The tune is largely based on Mozart’s Piano Concerto #21 and appeared on Diamond’s “Moods” album. The song reached No. 14 on the U.K. singles chart. “ I never expected anyone to react to ‘Song Sung Blue’ the way they did. I just like it, the message and the way a few words said so many things,” wrote Diamond in the in the liner notes to his 1996 compilation album, “In My Lifetime.”
1. “Sweet Caroline (Good Times Never Seemed So Good)” (1969) – An infectious song and a classic that reached No. 4 on the Billboard charts and No. 8 in the U.K. The song is played at Red Sox home game in the 8th inning. In recent years Diamond revealed that he wrote the song about Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of President John F. Kennedy, after seeing a photo of her on the cover of a magazine riding a horse when she was 11 years old. He sang the song via satellite at Caroline’s 50th birthday.
Trivia fans: Did you know? Neil Diamond was a skilled swordsman, earning a fencing scholarship to New York University. No kidding.
Best of the rest: “Love on the Rocks,” “Hello, Again,” “Love on The Rocks,” “Forever in Blue Jeans,” “Holly Holy,” and “America.”
Compiled by John Haydon
Sources: The Daily Telegraph, NPR, The Washington Times, Songfacts.com and Wikipedia