Leeza Gibbons (12-92)
This is the Neil Diamond Music Special, brought to you by Pepsi and your local Pepsi Bottlers coast to coast, and by Hanes, its what the lady prefers. [Music]
Hi everybody, I’m Leeza Gibbons from entertainment tonight, and over the next couple of hours we’ll spend some time with one of music’s biggest stars. At the age of fourteen Kieve and Rose Diamond gave their son a second hand guitar for his birthday and from that day on, there was no looking back. From his first hit, Solitary Man, back in 1966, to his just released, first-ever Christmas album, Neil Diamond has remained a perennially popular pop star, while so many of his contemporaries have become “golden oldies”. I sat down with him the other day and asked him if he ever tries to figure out the secret to his success.
Neil: [laughs] I do think about it a lot! Ummm… but I’ tell you Leeza if I did know why I probably would bottle it and sell it and really get to be a billionaire or something. Ummm… I have a relationship with an audience that I’m very lucky to have; They’re a very loyal group of fans, and uh, as my friend Bob Dylan told me, ah, he said: “You’re probably the biggest word of mouth artist in the world.” because I have never really gotten all that much support from the, ah, the reviewers, and the publicity hype and all of that, and I think Bob may be right.
Leeza: Well, the other thing is that you have always managed to not be thrown into a pigeon hole or a niche-
Neil: Ah, I don’t fit into a- any particular niche, I don’t think, ah…I like all the kinds of music, that I’ve heard, everything, that’s good and bad, but um, I like to write, based on the mood of the song, based on the content, of the lyric, that’s- so I’m not going to limit my self to ah, one type of song. I like to sing ballads, but I also like to rock, and Uh, I wanna do both, if I can.
Leeza: Recorded live just a few months ago, in Minneapolis, MN. Neil, what’s the story behind that song?
Neil: Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show came, I think, ah, directly because I was heading down to Memphis to record, Uh, I had a song, which was a rhythm song, and it had a real nice melody, and it was called Mo Getta Mo, and uh, my wife hated it, she hated the words, and uh, she wouldn’t get off my back about it, on the airplane trip down there I wrote new words, and it was ah, originally Brother Love was supposed to be an album concept, and, uh, I put it all into that one song, ah, it just somehow worked, uh, by the time I landed in Memphis, I had the entire work, and we recorded it the next day.
Leeza: No kidding! And it of course, became a mega-hit in March of 1969. Neil, lets talk a little bit about your brand new album. Alright, first up, now how does a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn come to record a Christmas album anyway?
Neil: Yeah, well, you know I always quote my mother on that, I called and said: “Mom, Columbia ready to do some, let me do a Christmas album with real Christian Holy songs and fun songs too, but some Holy songs.” She thought for a minute and said: “Well listen, Jesus was a nice Jewish boy once too, so just sing good.”
Leeza: [Laughs] Did you have a specific idea for the album?
Neil: Well, what I really wanted to do is recreate a Christmas concert that I did when I was sixteen years old and singing in the high school chorus; we did a Christmas concert, and we included all kinds of songs, and different sized choirs, large choirs down to small groups and even soloist, that’s what I did to try to capture the fun of it, and some of the majesty of it, and uh, try to make it as beautiful as I remember, give me as many goose bumps as I remember getting, and ah– So that was a goal; THAT’S why there’s an 80-piece choir on one of the cuts and there’s a barbershop quartet singing one of the songs, so it goes from the large to the tiny and everything in between.
[Song – Santa’s coming to town]
Neil: But, “You make it feel like Christmas” is my one little contribution to the album. IT’S A nice warm song, I like it very much, and um… I like to sing it and I was very pleased that it got into the album. The producer actually suggested it.
[Song – You Make It Feel Like Christmas, Break, Song Cherry Cherry]
Leeza: Thanks for being here, Im Leeza Gibbons and this is the Neil Diamond Music Special. Columbia Records, earlier this year, released an awesome compilation titled: “Neil Diamond: The Greatest Hits, 1966 – 1992”. The package contained 37 songs and it really represents a staggering body of work. Get this, 28 of the 37 tracks, charted on the top 40. Thirteen of them were Top 10 hits, including 8 that reached the Top 5 and three that went all the way to Number One. Neil, when you look back over your career, one of the things that really stands out, is your song writing, what and amazing catalogue, is it easy for you?
Neil: Song writing never came easy for me; No, because you’re ah, really starting from nothing, and you’re supposed to create a few minutes of something beautiful. Ah, its not easy to do. If you make up your mind what you wanna do good and you work hard and you have a little talent, and you’re lucky, you’re liable to come up with some thing very beautiful, and that’s what we hope for. That’s what a song writer hopes for; This is the perfect song, and that it will move people.
[Song – You don’t bring me Flowers anymore]
Neil: I’m not a prolific songwriter; no, I suppose if I had a year or two off just to write, I could write everyday, because that would be fun, but um, no, it takes time, every song takes its own amount of time to write, but you can’t really push it, some of them come in couple of hours and some take months, and some take years.
[Song – Heartlight.]
Leeza: Inspired by the film “ET: The extra-terrestrial”, that’s, of course, Neil Diamond- heartlight, from 10 years ago. Neil, you told me one time, that “I am…I said” took you four months to write, everyday all day long, is that the toughest thing you have ever written?
Neil: That was the hardest song I have ever written because I had to really find out what I was, what I was and what I was talking about, I had to dig inside of my self, some how, it wasn’t talking about somebody else. So, that was hard to write, and to say that, and to say it as beautifully as you can, to make each word count, cause, lets face it, you’re only dealing with a hundred or a hundred and fifty words in a song, and still to convey the message and, the point and the emotional content of the thing. I think its very — uh, you know you’re lucky when your are able to do all of those things. And this song, from the beginning, sounded like it was worth pursuing, I went into battle with it everyday and I don’t know who won, but we got it finished.
[Song – I am… I said.]
Leeza: That’s I am … I said. When we come back, we are going to hear Neil Diamond live on stage, so stay right here!
… From coast to coast and around the world, you’re listening to the Neil Diamond Music Special, I’m Leeza Gibbons. You can’t spend any time looking at the career of Neil Diamond without focusing in on his live concerts. For over 20 years, now, Neil has been one of music’s biggest live attractions– selling out everywhere he goes. Every year he tours, Billboard magazine regularly sites him as the Number One concert attraction in the world. And this year alone, he set attendance records in America, Australia, England and Ireland. Now-days, Neil travels with his very own 46′ revolving aluminum stage and he always plays in the ’round. Neil, do you still love it?
Neil: Yes. I do get itchy to get back on the road, if I’ve been writing for a year, a year and a half, I wanna get back on the road and I wanna start traveling and I wanna sing live, and I wanna see the audience and I see if the new songs are any good.
[Song – Sweet Caroline live with audience clapping along.]
Neil: I don’t like stadium concerts. I think that goes past that very fine limit where you can have contact, some kind of intimate contact with the audience. Ah… I have played stadiums, I will play stadiums when I have to. But, I avoid them at all costs, …as much as I can.
[Song – Thank the Lord for the Nighttime, live in a small venue. AWESOME!!!!]
Leeza: One of the biggest live albums in music history captured Neil Diamond live on stage, at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles, from his multi-platinum “Hot August Night” album, here is “Cherry Cherry”.
[Song- Cherry Cherry]
Leeza: Neil, I know your oldest son Jesse is playing guitar in your band that’s gotta be great fun for you.
Neil: I like having Jesse on stage with me. Its nice to have someone in your family that’s close to you and supporting you, because Jesse can come over to say things to me that not many people will say to me, I mean, he’s my kid, so he can come over and say “hey dad, you shouldn’t be wearing that shirt because, you look like a jerk in it” or something, maybe somebody else should have said it but they didn’t want to hurt my feelings or whatever, but– so, its nice in that regard, you know, and uh, he’s a beautiful kid, and uh, he’s very dedicated. He’s always the first one there at practice, he’s a talented kid, so lets hope he continues to make music his life. I think it’s a gift.
Leeza: Alright! We’re talking with Neil Diamond on the Neil Diamond Music Special. [Break]
On the satellite from Hollywood, this is the Neil Diamond Music Special, thanks a lot for being here with us. I’m Leeza Gibbons. At 51 years old, Neil Leslie Diamond looks and feels terrific. He and his wife Marcia live on a beautiful estate surrounded by gardens in Los Angeles, and when he’s not on the road, you can usually find Neil hard at work in his home recording studio, writing what’s likely to be, yet another, in a long string of hits. Neil, the people who work for you tell me that you’re a man without vices, you even gave up a lifelong cigarette habit.
Neil: Yeah, that’s true. I stopped smoking about two and a half years ago, or three years ago, and somehow my endurance has increased. Ah, and I have been able to add more music to the show because of it.
Leeza: Well, I know that you have always been interested in medicine. Do you think if this music thing hadn’t worked out you would be Dr. Diamond.
Neil: Hmmmm… I don’t think so. I was never really good enough in school to make it through medical school, but that was my dream, somehow help people and you know do something that my parents would be proud of, ah… I loved sciences, I still read science books, but I don’t think I would have made it to become a doctor, I probably would have become some kind of a business tycoon or something.
[Song – Solitary Man]
Leeza: Neil, back in 1980, you starred in something that was very significant for you: The Jazz Singer, any more interest in acting?
Neil: Ahh… I do, but its not all-consuming, ah, I wanna get Beautiful Noise made as a movie, and if I have to make it first as a Broadway show, I will but, I like it ultimately to get it made as a movie. I’d have one of a number of parts in the movie, and uh, there are one or two other little things I’d like to do. But, uh, these things take time. It may or may not happen. I hope it does. I think there’s something very worth while in this story Beautiful Noise.
[Song – Beautiful Noise.]
Leeza: From 1976, that’s “Beautiful Noise” on the Neil Diamond Music Special. [break] Direct from Hollywood… thanks for joining us. From his first recording session back in 1966, Neil Diamond has sold well over 20 million albums, and his latest effort is the Christmas Album and it’s a 14-song collection of traditional holiday favorites and classic Christmas tunes. One of the most interesting is a cover version of John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas: War Is Over”. Interesting choice, Neil, Why that song?
Neil: Well, I think “Happy Christmas: War Is Over” is the true meaning of Christmas. And I think, its probably right on. IT should be a regular Christmas reminder and message: Happy Christmas, war is over. And John Lennon was right on and those words should be repeated every Christmas.
[Song- Happy Christmas: War Is Over, Neil’s version, of course!]
Leeza: Neil, you’ve had so many hits in ’66, do you still feel that same drive to get on the music charts?
Neil: Honestly, I don’t have any drive or passion for a hit record, and I never really did. Ah, I am trying to write great songs, I would much rather have a great song than a hit record– any day, and that’s where the pride it. Hit records that’s so much dependent on what radio will play at a particular time and the certain age groups, if you’re in a majority or a minority at a particular point. I can’t keep up with that and its not my job. My job is to try and write beautiful music and let time and people over that period of time decide whether its something worth while… or something beautiful or something they can tack on to their lives, that’s meaningful to them.
[Song – September Morn]
Neil: “Kentucky Woman” was written in the back of limousine outside of Paducah, Kentucky in 1966. I was on tour, ah my organ player was driving and uh, I was writing songs in the back of the car.
[Song- Kentucky Woman – Forever in Blue Jeans]
Leeza: We’re back now, this is the Neil Diamond Music Special on the satellite from Hollywood. I’m Leeza Gibbons. Neil, you’ve been doing this stuff for almost 30 years now, but, hey, this month Frank Sinatra celebrated his 77th birthday by performing on stage, can you see yourself getting up there for another 25 years or so?
Neil: No. no. Ah, I wouldn’t be able to do it. Ah, Frank Sinatra is, I think, much more of a crooner than I am. I’m a belter, and uh, belters lives are much shorter. But I’ll do it as long as I can do it.
Leeza: Yeah but you can turn all your stuff into ballads.
Neil: [laughs] Actually ballads are harder to sing than the ah– some of the rhythm things.
Leeza: Neil, we’re about to play a great ballad for 1980, tell us a little bit, if you will, about “Love On The Rocks”.
Neil: “Love On The Rocks” was written with my friend Gilbert Beceaud, who’s a wonderfully talented French Composer, and songwriter and uh, we wrote it in LA at my studio. Originally it was– the dummy title for it was “Scotch On The Rocks” and it started more reggae than anything else, but it became serious because we liked the chord changes and uh, it became one of my top dramatic ballads anyway.
[Song – Love On The Rocks]
Neil: “Cracklin’ Rosie” is based on a folk story, yeah, in Canada, there’s a bunch of Indian Reservations that have more men than women, and saturday nights the men would just go down to the local bar, and buy a bottle of Cracking Rose wine, and that’d be their woman for the night and they would call it Cracklin Rosie.
[Song- Cracklin Rosie – Song Sung Blue]
Neil: “Song Sung Blue” was kind of a strange song, I uh, it was just a very simple, basic message and uh, its probably one of my better lyrics; its so concise. I uh, never realized it would become such a known song. It was just such a nice little idea of my own, and it came from somewhere inside me.
Leeza: And everybody knows the words to it. We got a lot more for you on the Neil Diamond Music Special, we will continue… Neil, back in 1969, you put together the “Touching You Touching Me” album and on it was a gospel flavored pop song, that then became a top ten single for you, talk to us a little bit now about “Holly Holy”.
Neil: “Holly Holy” is still a mystery to me. Ah, I love it. It gives me chills. And it inspires me, and it’s a thrill to sing, but ah, I’m not exactly sure what it means. Please have anyone send in suggestions… [laughter]
[Song – Holly Holy]
Neil: “Hello Again” was written by Alan Lindgren and myself. Alan is my synthesizer player in my band on stage and he has been for 20 years, and he’s a friend, and he’s a very talented writer. We wrote “Hello Again” on Malibu Co. road, in a rented house overlooking ocean, it didn’t take too long, it just came out. We were just fooling around we were trying to write a song. But, ah, there it was.
[Song – Hello Again]
Leeza: Ooh, what a beautiful song. Neil lets just keep going with this: What about “Play Me”?
Neil: “Play Me” was just a beautiful little thing, that came out that I liked, that was so nice and neatly wrapped up in a package, in a tight little – and about “you are the sun/ I am the moon”, and that was it, and my friend Richie, who was my guitar player came up with a beautiful guitar lick to play behind it, and um, the record came very easily. Its still one of my favorites.
[Song – Play Me]
Leeza: Neil, from your song writing days back in New York to now, with more sellouts than ever, you’ve seen the music business change an awful lot, has it changed for the better?
Neil: Uh, I kinda miss the fun of it, of the ah, the old days, when there were independent record companies and little tiny record companies, and people with dreams, and starting in music, recording in their garages and building companies from that. I miss that, ah, now its very, very big business, very, corporate, all of the record companies for the most part, are owned by giant international corporations, and ah, its not like you can hang out with the president of Sony and have a drink on Friday night like you did when you were with a small label, a tiny label and you knew all the guys and you hung out, and you had records like “Holly Holy” and “Brother Love” and “Sweet Caroline” and “Cracklin Rosie”, just because everybody was close and pointed and I think everything has just become big over the past ten or fifteen years.
Leeza: Yeah different world, no doubt. There’s one song, Neil, that you never leave out of your live act. You first released it back in 1980 I think, tell us a little bit, if you will, about “America”.
Neil: “America” is obviously one of my favorite songs, because it’s the story of my grand parents, and ah, I think they would have been happy to hear that song, of course its not only my grandparents, its millions of American’s grandparents ah, and parents, and even themselves. Ah, its one of my favorite songs to perform and its one I think I am proudest of writing it.
Leeza: “America” wrapping up our time with Neil Diamond. THE new album is called the Christmas album, and you can see Neil all this month. He’s gonna be on HBO with his very own Christmas Special. Neil, thanks so much for doing this with us, and happy holidays!
Neil: Thanks very very much Leeza I appreciate it, and uh, keep up the good work.