Neil Diamond Really Is More Than A Solitary Man


Neil Diamond Really Is More Than A Solitary Man Michael Richman
Tue Mar 13, 7:00 PM ET

Neil Diamond takes his songs personally. Because if they don’t mirror his feelings and emotions, he says, they won’t be any good.

“The main objective in any song I write has always been that it reflects the way I feel,” he told IBD. “That it touches me when I’m finished with it, that it moves me along with it and involves me in what it’s saying. And that’s really the only rule that I use when writing.”

Consider some of the pop singer-songwriter’s greatest hits: “Solitary Man” and “I Am … I Said.” Diamond said he was feeling lonely when he wrote “Solitary Man,” which was “an outgrowth of my despair” and “struck a very sympathetic chord inside.” “I Am … I Said” also told of a disconsolate man.

“‘I Am … I Said’ was a very difficult song because I really had to spend a lot of time thinking about what I was before the song was written,” he said. “It’s a very complicated song, probably because my feelings were very complicated when I wrote it. It tells of feeling lost and full of need to go back home, to go back to the roots, to go back to that original security that you feel in life, and realizing that you can never go back home.”

Diamond (who turned 66 in 2007) wrote and vocalized his way to the top of the charts with other songs personal to him, including “Love on the Rocks,” “Song Sung Blue” and “Holly Holy.”

More of his hits climbed high on the Billboard charts, such as “Sweet Caroline” and “Cracklin’ Rosie.” His 1978 duet ballad with Barbra Streisand, “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” reached No. 1.

Overall, Diamond has 31 gold albums, making him second in that category only to Elvis Presley for male solo artists. He’s won a series of Grammys and Golden Globe awards. He also wrote “I’m a Believer,” a 1967 hit sung by the Monkees that reached the top of the charts.

Diamond knows he has to be genuine on stage to involve the audience. He puts his all into performances, drumming up the feelings he had when he wrote the songs, so he performs them sincerely.

“When fans flock to Diamond’s concerts to see that solitary man, the guy who’s experienced love on the rocks yet is still a believer, they feel he’s one of them up there, giving voice to the things they feel themselves,” Mark Brown wrote for the Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service in 1996.

Away from the stage, Diamond remains modest. He doesn’t try to draw attention to himself.

“One refreshing aspect of Neil Diamond is his lack of concern about his image, his disdain of supercool,” Joan Levine wrote in Pacific magazine in 1976. “He is free from the restrictions imposed on traditional rock artists by their management as well as their audiences. He decided to call his own shots and he seems to have succeeded.”

When performing, Diamond plays to his strengths. He knows he will be most entertaining by staying within his talents.

“I’ve basically stayed my own course because I’ve just tried to stay as natural and close to myself as possible,” he said. “I just find that’s where my best work comes from.”

Diamond takes just as much pride in his songwriting as singing. Any writer, he says, writes for his or her own voice. And he gets inspired by everything around him.

“Writing a song can begin anywhere,” he said. “It never happens the same way. It can begin just by the sound of two words together, which is the whole beginning of ‘Holly Holy’: the sounds of the words and the feelings that I wanted to get across.”

Diamond has long had the dream, determination and passion for music. Born in 1941 in Brooklyn, N.Y., he lived for a few years in Wyoming before returning to Brooklyn in 1946. He retained memories of the West, particularly the country music. His brush with country songs triggered his love of music.

But Diamond nearly didn’t make it in the music business. After writing songs through high school and college, he achieved his first copyright in 1960 for a song called “What Will I Do?”

His next few years, though, were like a roller coaster. He hooked on with several publishers, including Columbia Records, but couldn’t sustain a long-term relationship.

Diamond was frustrated, but didn’t give up. Looking at what he’d been doing, he decided he was trying too hard to write songs for other people’s tastes. So he set out to compose and sing songs that satisfied his feelings and desires.

In late 1964, he rented a storage closet for $35 a month in a building that housed a jazz club. He converted it into his office, bringing in a secondhand piano he acquired at a junk show. The room became his second home for the next year.

“I began, for the first time, to write songs that I wanted to write, that I felt, that moved me, that I cared about,” he said. “And for the first time, I just felt the inklings of a little blossoming of ‘Ooh, yes, that lyric says what I feel.’ And it became exciting again to me, and I felt that now there was no more necessity for me to fail, that I could do what I wanted.”

That fierce work ethic paid off and industry folks began to take notice of his work. In 1965, his song “Sunday and Me” was recorded by the group Jay and the Americans. It reached No. 18 on the charts, putting Diamond on his way to fame.

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