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Neil Diamond

Neil Diamond Biography

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 a**ociated 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 1980s. 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 as of 2002 he was 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. Meanwhile, having been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and given its lifetime achievement award, he could cite an amazingly broad range of pop, rock, R&B, folk, country, jazz, reggae, punk, heavy metal, alternative, easy listening, and new age performers who had recorded his songs, among them Altered Images, Gene Ammons, Chet Atkins, Michael Ball, Shirley Ba**ey, Les Baxter, Harry Belafonte, Acker Bilk, the Box Tops, the Brothers Four, Glen Campbell, Vikki Carr, Johnny Cash, Petula Clark, Ray Conniff, Floyd Cramer, Michael Crawford, Bobby Darin, the Spencer Davis Group, Joey Dee & the Starliters, Deep Purple, the Drifters, David Ess**, Percy Faith, Jose Feliciano, Ferrante & Teicher, the Four Tops, Dizzy Gillespie, Bobby Goldsboro, Marcia Griffiths, the Heptones, Engelbert Humperdinck, Julio Iglesias, Chris Isaak, Millie Jackson, Wanda Jackson, Jay & the Americans, Waylon Jennings, Tom Jones, Bert Kaempfert, Andre Kostelanetz, Patti LaBelle, David Lanz, James Last, Peggy Lee, Liberace, Enoch Light, Mark Lindsay, Lulu, Arthur Lyman, Mantovani, Johnny Mathis, Ronnie Milsap, the Monkees, the Music Machine, Wayne Newton, Jane Olivor, Roy Orbison, Johnny Paycheck, Elvis Presley, Boots Randolph, Cliff Richard, Billy Joe Royal, Frank Sinatra, Smash Mouth, the Specials, Barbra Streisand, Third World, B.J. Thomas, Tin Huey, Tina Turner, UB40, Gary Puckett & the Union Gap, Urge Overk**, Billy Vaughn, the Ventures, Bobby Vinton, Junior Walker & the All-Stars, Scott Walker, Roger Whittaker, Andy Williams, Bobby Womack, and Robert /br /Neil Leslie Diamond was born January 24, 1941, in Brooklyn, NY, 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.)br /br /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 a**ignment 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. (He also sang lead on the demo, and it has been suggested that the Diamond Records single of "Ten Lonely Guys," credited to Ten Broken Hearts, features his vocals. In 1993, he placed a new recording of the song on his album Up on the Roof: Songs from the Brill Building.) 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 24th, 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. (Both tracks appeared on In My Lifetime.) Unfortunately, the record flopped, and he was dropped by the /br /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 a**ociation 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. (In 1970, T.G. Sheppard revived it for a number 14 country hit. Among numerous other covers over the years, the song has been placed on chart albums by the Sidewinders, Chris Isaak, and Johnny Cash, appearing as the title song on Cash's 2000 release American III: Solitary Man.)br /br /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 many covers of the song include one quickly cut by the hard rock group the Music Machine for its chart LP [Turn On] The Music Machine.) 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. (Among many covers, "I'm a Believer" appeared on chart albums by the Four Tops and the Ventures in 1967. Tommy Overstreet revived it for a number nine country hit in 1974, the same year Robert Wyatt took it into the U.K. Top 40. EMF and Reeves and Mortimer hit the British Top Ten with it in 1995. In 2001, it was revived by Smash Mouth in the movie Shrek and reached number 25 in the U.S.)br /br /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. (Among the many covers of this dark ballad, the most famous was the one by Urge Overk**, which the band recorded for its Stull EP, after which it was used in the film Pulp Fiction and released as a single, reaching number 59 in 1994.) 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. ~ William Ruhlmann, All Music Guide

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