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Neil Diamond

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In a career that began in the 1960s, Neil Diamond became a major recording artist, an internationally successful touring act, and a songwriter whose compositions produced hits for himself and others. His earliest recognition, in fact, came as a songwriter associated with the Brill Building era of Tin Pan Alley in the early '60s. But he soon branched out into recording and performing, and by the early '70s was topping the charts with the self-written singles "Cracklin' Rosie" and "Song Sung Blue." This enabled him to be one of the more noticeable figures in the singer/songwriter movement of the period, as he made a transition to more of an album artist and those albums began to earn gold and platinum certifications. He also developed into a dynamic concert performer, as demonstrated on his 1972 album Hot August Night. At the same time, however, his music became generally softer, which broadened his appeal while earning him opprobrium, when he was considered at all, by the rock critics who dominated pop music journalism. But his millions of fans didn't care about that, and they flocked to his shows and bought his albums in big numbers until well into the '80s. After that, while his concert tours continued to post high grosses, his record sales became more modest. Still, as of 2001, he claimed worldwide record sales of 115 million copies, and early in the 21st century, he ranked third, behind only Elton John and Barbra Streisand, on the list of the most successful adult contemporary artists in the history of the Billboard chart. Neil Leslie Diamond was born January 24, 1941, in Brooklyn, New York, the first of two sons born to Akeeba Diamond (known as Kieve), who operated and owned a series of dry goods stores in the New York City borough, and Rose (Rapoport) Diamond. Except for two years in the mid-'40s that the family spent in Wyoming while Akeeba Diamond served in the military, Diamond grew up in Brooklyn, albeit in changing locations as his father moved from store to store; he later claimed to have attended nine different schools and to have suffered socially as a result. He showed an early interest in music and took up singing and playing the guitar after seeing Pete Seeger perform at a camp he was attending as a teenager. In June 1958, he graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School, and that fall he enrolled at New York University, where he had won a fencing scholarship, as a premed student. But he seems to have spent much of his time writing songs and trying to place them at music publishing companies. He also formed a duo with Jack Packer, a friend of his younger brother's, and as Neil & Jack they signed a publishing contract with Allied Entertainment Corporation of America and a recording contract with its subsidiary, Duel Records. This resulted in the release of two singles, "You Are My Love"/"What Will I Do" in 1960 and "I'm Afraid"/"Till You've Tried Love" in 1961, Diamond's first commercially released recordings. (In 1996, he reissued "What Will I Do" on his box set In My Lifetime.) The discs were not successful, and Neil & Jack broke up when Packer enrolled at the Manhattan School of Music in January 1961. Diamond, meanwhile, had stopped attending NYU in 1960, but in 1961 he enrolled in the university's School of Commerce, where he maintained his student status until 1965. (Although many accounts of his life repeat the erroneous story that he dropped out of NYU in 1962 just short of earning an undergraduate degree, biographer Rich Wiseman learned the truth by consulting the university's records.) On his own, Diamond continued trying to break into the music business as a songwriter. In 1962, he briefly had a deal at Sunbeam Music, which published some of his songs, followed by a stint at Roosevelt Music. While he was there, an assignment came in from Dot Records to submit a follow-up to Pat Boone's novelty hit "Speedy Gonzales." Ten of the firm's writers eventually collaborated on a song, appropriately called "Ten Lonely Guys," which Boone recorded, and which reached number 45 in the Billboard Hot 100 in October 1962. Diamond, one of the ten, was credited under the pseudonym Mark Lewis, but this was his first appearance in the charts. Also in 1962, his composition "Santa Santa" was recorded by the Rocky Fellers and released by Scepter Records. But his next career development involved his own performing. In early 1963, he was signed to a singles deal by Columbia Records, and on January 24, his 22nd birthday, had his first solo recording session, followed by a second session three months later. The results emerged on July 2 as Columbia single 42809, "Clown Town"/"At Night," his first solo release. Unfortunately, the record flopped, and he was dropped by the label. Recently married to schoolteacher Jay Posner (with whom he had two daughters), Diamond kept plugging away, even opening his own tiny office above the jazz club Birdland in midtown Manhattan. In early 1965, his song "Just Another Guy" was recorded in the U.K. by Cliff Richard and placed on the B-side of the number one single "The Minute You're Gone," released on the British Columbia label. In February 1965, he met the successful writers and producers Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, who took an interest in him and got him signed to songwriter/producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller's Trio Music publishing company for three months. This association was over by the time Leiber and Stoller had one of their clients, Jay & the Americans, record "Sunday and Me," a song Diamond had written at Trio. Released as a single in the fall of 1965, the song peaked at number 18 in December, giving him his first real hit as a songwriter. By then, he had made other progress in his career. On June 25, he signed a deal with Barry and Greenwich for publishing and recording, the three forming Tallyrand Music with Diamond as president. (This appears to have prompted his decision finally to drop out of NYU.) Tallyrand shopped both Diamond's songs and Diamond as a recording artist, and on January 6, 1966, it signed a contract with WEB IV, the company controlling the independent Bang Records label. Soon after, Diamond was back in a recording studio, and on April 4, Bang released his label debut single, "Solitary Man," produced, as all his subsequent Bang discs would be, by Barry and Greenwich. "Solitary Man" gave him his first chart entry as a recording artist, peaking at number 55 on the Hot 100 in July. Diamond quickly followed "Solitary Man" with his second Bang single, "Cherry, Cherry," released in July 1966, which gave him his first substantial hit, peaking at number six in October. The single's B-side, "I'll Come Running," was covered by Cliff Richard, who scored a Top 40 hit with it in 1967. When song publisher Don Kirshner heard "Cherry, Cherry," he called Diamond into his office and asked if the songwriter had a similarly upbeat tune that could be used by the Monkees, a group put together for an upcoming TV series. Diamond played him "I'm a Believer," a song intended for his debut album. Kirshner liked it, and Diamond, Barry, and Greenwich recorded a backing track that Kirshner took to California and had the Monkees sing over. By the time "I'm a Believer" was released as the Monkees' second single in the fall of 1966, the group was a teenybopper phenomenon, and the disc had advance orders of over one million copies. It shot to number one, where it stayed seven weeks, becoming the biggest single of 1967. Diamond's debut LP, The Feel of Neil Diamond, released in August 1966, was a rush job, featuring "Cherry, Cherry" and "Solitary Man" along with his covers of hits like "La Bamba" and "Monday, Monday." It barely charted. Also featured, however, was "I Got the Feelin' (Oh No No)," an original composition that would be his next single in October. It reached number 16 in December, but the 45 was also significant for its Diamond-penned B-side, "The Boat That I Row." British singer Lulu quickly covered the song, and her version became a Top Ten U.K. hit in the spring of 1967. Diamond's fourth Bang single, "You Got to Me," was released in December 1966 and peaked at number 18 in March 1967. In February, his song "Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)" was featured on the Monkees' chart-topping second album, More of the Monkees. The following month, "A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You," the Diamond-penned follow-up to "I'm a Believer," entered the singles chart for the Monkees; it peaked at number two in April. Also in March, Bang released its fifth Diamond single, "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon," which became his second Top Ten hit in May. In April, Ronnie Dove entered the charts with "My Babe," written and produced for him by Diamond; it peaked at number 50 in May. Bang's sixth Diamond single, "Thank the Lord for the Night Time," appeared in June, peaking at number 13 in August. That month saw the release of Diamond's second LP, Just for You, which peaked at number 80. Diamond's sixth Bang single, "Kentucky Woman," followed in September, and it reached number 22 in November, giving him his sixth consecutive Top 40 hit. After nearly two years of hit recording and songwriting, Diamond had a falling-out with his producers and his record label. As popular music turned more serious in the late '60s, he became less satisfied writing simple pop songs, and, instead of "Kentucky Woman," he had proposed that his sixth Bang single be "Shilo," an introspective ballad not about the Civil War battle, but about an imaginary childhood friend, that he had written and recorded. Bang, thinking the song less commercial than "Kentucky Woman," used it as an LP track on Just for You instead, and Diamond, who was also dissatisfied with his royalties, found a loophole in his contract, which, it turned out, failed to bind him exclusively to WEB IV and Tallyrand. He therefore declared himself free to sign a recording contract with another company. Soon, lawsuits were flying. On March 12, 1968, a judge denied WEB IV's request for a temporary injunction preventing Diamond from signing to another record label while his contract dispute was making its way through the courts. It was a key decision; the lawsuits would continue for another nine years until Diamond settled them on February 18, 1977, when he purchased his Bang master recordings. But on March 18, 1968, he signed a five-year contract with Uni Records, a division of the MCA entertainment company. The first product of the deal was another introspective, autobiographical ballad, "Brooklyn Roads," released in April. Diamond followed with the more uptempo "Two-Bit Manchild" that month, but neither that single nor its follow-up, "Sunday Sun," which appeared in September, restored him to the Top 40, and Velvet Gloves and Spit, Diamond's debut album for Uni, failed to chart. Meanwhile, there was more upheaval in his life. Now romantically involved with TV production assistant Marcia Kay Murphey, he left his wife and moved to California. After their divorce was final in November 1969, he married Murphey one month later. Professionally, Diamond tried to stem the tide of his career decline by recording at American Sound Studio in Memphis, beginning on January 8, 1969. Working with producers Tommy Cogbill and Chips Moman, he took more of a gospel-tinged, country-rock approach, starting with the single "Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show," quickly released as a single, which peaked at number 22 in April, his best chart showing in 18 months. He quickly returned to Memphis and cut an album also called Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show that was released in April and peaked at number 82. The song that finally sealed Diamond's commercial comeback was his next single, "Sweet Caroline (Good Times Never Seemed So Good)," a catchy tune that peaked at number four in August, the same month it earned a gold record certification for sales of one million singles. Diamond followed "Sweet Caroline" with the gospel-tinged "Holly Holy," released in October 1969, and scored another big hit, the track peaking at number six in December. It was his second gold (and eventually platinum) single, and the song earned a cover by Junior Walker & the All-Stars that made the R&B Top 40 in 1971. The Diamond recording was included in his fifth LP, Touching You Touching Me, released in November 1969; the disc was his most successful so far, peaking at number 30 and going gold in a little over a year. Meanwhile, Diamond's career resurgence was not going unnoticed at his former label, Bang Records, which hired American Sound Studio musicians to record a new musical track for "Shilo" under Diamond's vocal. With a sound more like his current records, the single reached number 24 in April 1970. Diamond responded by returning to Memphis himself and cutting a new recording of "Shilo," which was added to later editions of Velvet Gloves and Spit. A more ambitious effort was "Soolaimón (African Trilogy II)," released in April, an excerpt from the side-long "folk ballet" of African-styled songs to be featured on his next album, Tap Root Manuscript, in the fall. The single reached number 30 in May. Diamond's next new single, "Cracklin' Rosie" (famously referring to the cheap wine Cracklin' Rosé), appeared in July and became his biggest hit yet, topping the charts in October. Also released in July 1970 was the live album Gold, which had been recorded in March at the Troubadour nightclub in Los Angeles. Another major commercial success, it peaked at number ten in September. As the result of "Cracklin' Rosie" and Gold, by the fall of 1970 Diamond had graduated to the theater and arena circuit as a live act. For his next single, he made the odd choice of releasing a cover of "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother," a song that had been a Top Ten hit for the Hollies the previous spring. Competing with Bang's release of the former B-side "Do It," it still managed to peak at number 20 in December and, along with "Soolaimón" and "Cracklin' Rosie," served as a good calling card for Tap Root Manuscript, which appeared in November. Consistent with Diamond's current status, the album peaked at number 13. Reportedly, Diamond worked months on the lyric of his next single, the autobiographical "I Am...I Said," released in March 1971. An impassioned statement of emotional turmoil, the song was very much in tune with the confessional singer/songwriter movement of the time, and it became a major hit, peaking at number four in May, with even its B-side, "Done Too Soon" (previously released on Tap Root Manuscript), earning a chart placing. "I Am...I Said" earned Diamond his first Grammy nomination, for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male. Diamond returned to the record racks in the fall with the ballad "Stones," released in October, followed by an album of the same name in November. The single reached number 14, while the LP stopped just short of the Top Ten and went gold in two months. Diamond's next album, Moods, was prefaced by another of his standards. "Song Sung Blue," released in April 1972, became his second number one hit on the Hot 100 in July, also becoming his fourth gold single and earning Grammy nominations for Record of the Year and Song of the Year. In August, Diamond performed ten shows at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, recording them for a live album. The double-LP set Hot August Night, which appeared in November, cemented his status as a concert attraction by hitting number five and going gold in a month. (It was later certified double platinum.) A single of "Cherry, Cherry" was excerpted from the release and made number 31. Hot August Night marked Diamond's ascension to superstar status, and it also marked the end of a phase of his career. After three weeks of shows at the Winter Garden on Broadway in October, he temporarily retired from live performing. At the same time, he had completed his recording contract, and he signed a new, lucrative one with Columbia Records. His first project for the new label was a song score for the film version of the best-selling novel Jonathan Livingston Seagull. It was a troubled project, and by the time the movie was released in October 1973, both Diamond and Richard Bach, the book's author, were suing the film producer. Reviews were awful, and the picture bombed. But Diamond's score, released as a solo album by him, was a hit. The single "Be" only grazed the Top 40, yet the LP reached number two in December. It also won Diamond the 1973 Grammy Award for Best Album of Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or TV Special. Even after completing Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Diamond continued