Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Neil Diamond, The #16 Artist of the Seventies*

Neil Diamond was on the fencing team at Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, New York.  He must have been pretty good, because Neil earned a fencing scholarship to New York University, and was a member of the 1960 NCAA men's national championship team.  Diamond's ambition was to find a cure for cancer as a laboratory biologist, but during his senior year, a music publishing company offered Neil $50 a week to write songs, which was his passion.

As Diamond hoped, this songwriting experience led to a recording contract with high school friend Jack Parker as the duo Neil and Jack.  After two unsuccessful singles, Neil then signed a solo recording contract with Columbia Records.

Diamond released his first single "At Night" in 1963.  But Columbia gave up on him when the one song didn't become a hit, and Neil went back to writing songs above the Birdland Club in New York City.  Diamond wrote a Top 20 hit for Jay and the Americans ("Sunday And Me"), then wrote both the smash "I'm A Believer" and "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You" for the Monkees.

"I'm A Believer" was one of the biggest songs of 1966, and people began to realize that Diamond was not only a great singer and performer, but an accomplished songwriter as well.  Other artists which recorded Diamond tunes in this period were Elvis Presley, Deep Purple ("Kentucky Woman", Cliff Richard, Mark Lindsay (former lead singer of Paul Revere & the Raiders), and Lulu.

In 1966, Diamond signed a contract with Bang Records, then a subsidiary of Atlantic.  The single "Solitary Man" became his first hit.  He opened for acts such as the Who and Herman's Hermits, and the hits kept coming--"Cherry, Cherry", "Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon", "I Thank The Lord For The Night Time", "Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show", "Sweet Caroline", and "Holly Holy", just to name a few.

Diamond ended the 60's as one of the most successful artists of the decade, and he continued in the Seventies with more great songs.   Neil had signed a deal with Uni, a division of MCA Records, and moved to Los Angeles in 1970.  Diamond released the album Tap Root Manuscript, and his fan base continued to grow, sending the album to Platinum status.

1970 was a great year for Neil--he released the single "Shilo", which rose to #8 on the Adult chart and #24 overall.

He scored again with a #5 Adult song in Soolaimón".

Neil then re-released the single "Solitary Man".  At a peak of #21, it is one of The Top Unknown/Underrated Songs of the Rock Era*.

Diamond turned to the Tap Root Manuscript album to release the single "Cracklin' Rosie".  The song sold over two million copies and went Top 10 in every major country in the world, including #1 in the United States and New Zealand, #2 in Australia and Belgium, and #3 in the U.K.

Another good track on the album is "Coldwater Morning".

Diamond was a hot item in concert, and he released the album Gold:  Recorded Live at the Troubadour, which went to #10 on the Album chart and has sold over two million copies.

In 1971, Neil released the album Stones, which went Gold.  The single "I Am...I Said" peaked at #1 in New Zealand and Ireland, #2 in Switzerland, #3 in Germany, #4 in the United States and the U.K., #6 in the Netherlands and #10 in Australia.  Diamond received a Grammy nomination for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.

The title song landed at #2 on the Adult chart and #14 overall.

In 1972, Neil unleashed another album that would go Platinum, Moods.  "Song Sung Blue" topped charts in the U.S., New Zealand, and Switzerland, and reached #3 in the Netherlands, #5 in Australia, and #6 in Germany.  It was nominated for Song of the Year and Record of the Year at the Grammy Awards, and Moods was nominated for Album of the Year.  "Song Sung Blue" sold over one million copies and is still a solid member of The Top 500 Songs of the Rock Era* club.

The follow-up, "Play Me", raced to #3 on the Adult chart and #11 on the Popular chart.

Neil pulled another hit from the album with "Walk On Water", a #2 Adult smash.

"Captain Sunshine" is another example of Neil's excellent work.

Diamond performed ten sold-out concerts at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.  The August 24 performance was recorded and released as the double live album Hot August Night, which went to #5 on the Album chart and sold over one million copies.  In 2006, Australians chose Hot August Night as their 16th-favorite album of all-time in a nationwide poll.

In the fall of 1972, Diamond performed 20 nights at the Winter Garden Theater in New York City.  In 1973, Diamond was called upon to record the music for the "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" Soundtrack, which has now sold over two million copies in the United States alone.  The music was much better than the film, with the Soundtrack peaking at #2 on the Album chart.  Neil collected a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score and a Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, and he was nominated for Best Original Song at the Golden Globes for "Lonely Looking Sky".

Diamond released a compilation album, Diamond, in 1973, which went Gold.  Neil also released the compilation His 12 Greatest Hits, which has gone over the four million mark in sales.  Since over half of the songs are from the Seventies, Diamond gets considerable credit for that album in computation of these rankings.

Columbia Records, the label which had dropped Neil after just one release at the beginning of his career, now had decided that he was a pretty good artist, and offered him a $1 million advance per album contract to come back.  Neil had let bygones be bygones, and agreed.

In 1974, Neil released the album Serenade.  He ended a skid of five single releases without a hit when "Longfellow Serenade" led the way on the U.S. Adult chart and made it to #5 overall; it also reached #1 in Switzerland, #2 in Germany, #7 in Australia, and #9 in the Netherlands.

Serenade went Platinum, and was #1 on the Album charts in Australia and New Zealand and went to #3 in the United States.  The single "I've Been This Way Before" gave Neil his third #1 Adult song of the decade.

Two years later, Diamond released the album Beautiful Noise, produced by Robbie Robertson of the Band.  "If You Know What I Mean" also charted at #1 on the Adult chart and #11 overall, and peaked at #5 in the Netherlands and #8 in New Zealand.

Beautiful Noise also sold over a million copies, becoming his eighth consecutive Gold album, and his fourth straight Platinum release.  Diamond topped the Album charts in both Australia and New Zealand and reached #4 in the United States.  The singles "Don't Think...Feel" and the title track also landed in the Top 10 on the Adult chart. 

Diamond also shines on the title track.

Diamond played at the grand opening of the $10 million Theater for the Performing Arts at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Diamond's shows drew sold-out crowds and a virtual "Who's Who" of Hollywood, from Elizabeth Taylor to Chevy Chase, attended on opening night. 

In 1977, Neil released the album I'm Glad You're Here With Me Tonight, which topped the Album chart in New Zealand and went all the way to #5 in the U.S.  The release garnered over two million in sales, and yielded the smash "Desiree".  The song topped the Adult chart and reached #15 on the Popular chart in the United States, and went to #5 in New Zealand and #6 in Ireland.

Diamond's show at the Greek Theatre was recorded and released as his third live album, Love at the Greek.  That album has now sold over two million in the U.S. alone.  Neil also hosted The Neil Diamond Special:  I'm Glad You're Here with Me Tonight in 1977, earning an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Special--Comedy, Variety or Music.

Diamond returned in 1978 with the album You Don't Bring Me Flowers.  He recorded the title song, also being recorded by Barbra Streisand for her album that year.  A disc jockey, aware of the two versions, went into the studio and mixed the two versions, then playing the "duet" on the radio.  Listener response went through the roof, and when Columbia Records heard about it, they suggested that Barbra and Neil record the song as an official duet, since both were employed by Columbia.

"You Don't Bring Me Flowers" went straight to #1 in the United States, #3 in New Zealand, #4 in Australia, and #5 in the U.K., and sold over two million copies.

Barbra and Neil were nominated for Record of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group at the Grammy Awards, and Neil also shared a Grammy nomination for Song of the Year.  The smash hit helped Diamond's album go Double Platinum, and it roared to #2 on the Album chart in New Zealand and #4 in the United States.

Diamond released the single "Forever In Blue Jeans", a #2 smash on the Adult Contemporary chart that peaked at #20 overall in the United States and #4 in Ireland.

The single "Say Maybe" also reached the upper echelon of the AC chart--#3.

Another song on the album describes why we love the Rock Era--"American Popular Song".

Neil played on a timeless melody for this Top Track*--"The Dancing Bumblebee/Bumble Boogie".

Neil released the album September Morn as a follow-up, giving him an incredible seven straight Platinum albums, and eleven Gold albums in a row.  In the 80's, Diamond would extend that Gold streak to an unbelievable 26 studio albums in a row, one of the most successful runs in music history.  The title song from September Morn stopped just short of #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart at #2, and gave Neil another Top 20 hit overall at #17.

September Morn closed an incredible decade for Diamond by peaking at #10 on the Album chart.  In 1979, Diamond underwent a twelve-hour operation to remove what turned out to be a tumor on his spine after collapsing on stage in San Francisco.  That put him out of commission for a while, but Diamond enjoyed one of his most successful periods in 1980 starring in and recording the music for The Jazz Singer.  Neil continued to be successful in the 80's, and he still writes music, records, and performs today.

In 1990, Neil received the Award of Merit at the American Music Awards.  The following year, he received an ASCAP Film and Television Music Award for Most Performed Feature Film Standards (from The Jazz Singer).  In 2000, Diamond was honored with the special Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame. 

In 2009, Diamond was honored as the MusiCares Person of the Year.  In 2011, the superstar received Kennedy Center Honors in a ceremony in Washington, D.C., earned an Icon Award at the Billboard Music Awards, and he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in New York City.  The following year, Neil received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. 

Diamond sold over 21.5 million albums that featured his material in the Seventies.  He generated no less than 29 overall hits, with five Top 10's and three #1 songs.  Among adults, Neil soared in the decade, with 31 hits, an incredible 21 Top 10 songs, and five #1's. 

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