Diamond enjoys view from top of the charts

Diamond enjoys view from top of the charts

July 25, 2008
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BY MIRIAM DI NUNZIO mdinunzio@suntimes.com

Some 40 years into his recording career, singer-songwriter, Grammy winner and Golden Globe winner Neil Diamond finally snagged that which has eluded him: A No. 1 album on the Billboard charts.

Seems hard to believe considering the treasure trove of pop hits (“Solitary Man,” “Sweet Caroline,” “Cracklin’ Rosie,” “Cherry Cherry”) he’s amassed over the years.

But that’s what happened in May when his new album, “Home Before Dark,” debuted atop the Billboard 200. Partnered once again with producer Rick Rubin, who helmed Diamond’s “12 Songs” in 2005, the singer is just flabergasted that his music never snagged the top spot.

“Well, I didn’t actually think it was my first No. 1,” the 67-year-old Diamond said with a chuckle during a recent teleconference interview.

“Somehow in my mind, I don’t know what the opposite of a state of denial was, but I thought for sure I had a No. 1 album somewhere along the way. I thought ‘Hot August Night’ (1972) was No. 1, but then I was told it only went to No. 2, so I was crestfallen.”

He may have been crestfallen, but he had complete faith in Rubin following the success of “12 Songs,” which debuted at No. 4 on the charts.

“I think, as a producer, really the best thing that [Rubin] does and the wisest thing he does is to stay out of the way as much as possible,” Diamond said. “He leaves it to the musicians and the engineers and the artists, and he will drop comments along the way, some spoken to the group as a whole out in the studio, and some directed quietly to each individual person if he has something to say. I think his strongest attribute is knowing when not to say anything and let the music take its own course and develop and grow of its own natural power. He lets it happen, and that, to me, is a great talent.”

Diamond employed “great talent” at every turn for “Home,” from guitarists Smokey Hormel, Mike Campbell and Matt Sweeney, to country star Natalie Maines, who duets with Diamond on “Another Day (That Time Forgot).”

When asked if he’s deliberately trying to reach a younger audience with his music, given the very contemporary feel to his last two albums, Diamond promptly dismisses the idea.

“No, I like the way I was invented originally,” he says. “This is just another step, that’s all. I’m not reaching out for anybody but the audience that wants to listen. I’m not pre-planning anything. Maybe I would have had a better career if I had and thought it out, but it was all based on how well I could write the songs, and how good the songs would be, and how the audience took it to their hearts, or not. And it’s still exactly that way.”

And as for his chart-topping accomplishment, Diamond in part credits his, uh, staying power.

“I’m told that I’m also the oldest performer on Billboard charts ever to have a No. 1 album, which amazes me,” he says. “I don’t feel that old. It’s nice to feel that in this [music] market that’s filled with young people, or seems to be aimed at young people, that an old geezer can come along and knock a few of them off their perches and say, ‘Hey, here’s one for the senior citizens. We can kick a little butt, too!'”

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