Neil Diamond is one of those fortunate songwriters to have enjoyed sustained success with a music catalog of major proportions, despite a time in music that saw amazing and often complex changes in the popular taste. Early in those mid-‘60s years, he was seen as an increasingly important figure in the composing and recording spectrum.
Yet, now more than 30 years later into a new century and millennium. Diamond and his songs continue to uplift audiences from their seats in auditoriums and arenas throughout the United States as well as in many international settings.
Brooklyn born, Diamond commenced his career in music at age 16, when he was given a guitar for his birthday. Intrigued at the notion of making music, he signed up for lessons at once and soon developed a basic skill as a musician. Playing the guitar also led to an interest in song-writing and in no time he had begun creating melodies and lyrics that would lead, one day, to a lifetime career. At this early moment, however, there were other strong interests also on his agenda. Graduating from Brooklyn’s Abraham Lincoln High School, he attended New York University on a fencing scholarship. His major? Medicine!
With a growing interest and skill in making music, Diamond elected to leave college only six months, a mere semester, before graduation, throwing aside his formal studies at NYU for a small office near the fabled pop music headquarters in New York, the Brill Building. The job was with a small music publishing firm, where, in addition to a mini-weekly paycheck. he learned a year’s worth of music business savvy. Still later, he leased his own office in the same neighborhood for $35 a month, where he devoted entire days to what had become a passion, songwriting. In 1965, as his work was beginning to be recognized, he was approached by songwriters/producers Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, at the time an extremely hot songwriting duo. This new association soon led to Diamond’s first recording contract with Bang Records.
A year later. Diamond was celebrating his first three hit single records with his songs, “Solitary Man,” “Cherry Cherry” and “I Got The Feeling (Oh No, No).” At almost the same time, he scored his first number one chart single with “I’m A Believer.” by The Monkees.
In 1968, he moved to Uni Records where new hits, including “Sweet I Caroline,” “Holly Holy” and “Cracklin’ Rosie” soon began ; finding their way to the top of the charts. His albums too, were showing signs of increasing favor and with 1969’s “Touching You, Touching Me,” began consistently hitting the gold record sales level.
The year 1973 brought a major change for Diamond when he signed what turned out to be a long-term recording deal with Columbia Records, which commenced with his soundtrack to the film, “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” Three years later, a new association with producer Robbie Robertson of the vaunted group, The Band, resulted in the album “Beautiful Noise,” his first to reach platinum status. In 1980, Diamond made his screen debut in the film remake of “The Jazz Singer,” with the soundtrack album becoming another multi-million-seller for him.
The Columbia Records involvement also led, in a curious way, to a highly successful duet recording of his song classic, “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” with Barbra Streisand. Diamond had already recorded the song for an album and Streisand, having heard the rendition, loved the tune and soon recorded it herself. Interest was expressed in combining the two versions into a duet, triggering Neil and Barbra to record their own single duet version.
His albums sell extraordinarily well and his songs live on through both his own live performances as well as those of other stars. Overall, Diamond has accounted for more than a score of major chart songs, a fact reflected in his induction into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in 1984.
With his dynamic and sold-out personal concert appearances (he was named one of the top five concert artists of the decade in 1999 by Amusement Business Magazine), he is extremely qualified for the award he receives this evening, the coveted Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award, making him one of a select few composers to be honored twice by the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame!