One Hall of Fame vote for Diamond

One Hall of Fame vote for Diamond
By KEN HOFFMAN Copyright 2010 Houston Chronicle
Oct. 25, 2010, 4:58PM
Share Del.icio.usDiggTwitterYahoo! BuzzFacebookStumbleUponEmail Close [X]Neil Diamond has been nominated — finally – for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Here is the only reason that he may not get in.

As my friend the former heavyweight boxer Lou Savarese likes to say, “true story.”

One day a few years ago, I was sitting at my desk, and, against my better judgment, asked the rock critic at the time what he was working on. Every time I talked to him, I wound up shaking my head, and waving his smoke out of my face. He said he was ranking the Top 50 rock ‘ n’ roll songwriters of all time.

Again, against my better judgment, I asked, “Do you have John Lennon and Paul McCartney at No. 1?

He said, “They’re not on my list.”

I thought, why do I even talk to this guy? He’s soooo hip and cool.

And when you get right down to it … just plain wrong. I know, art is subjective, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But Forrest Gump’s momma was right, too, “stupid is as stupid does.” And the country comedian Ron White adds, “You can’t fix stupid.”

Here’s why I’m a Believer that Neil Diamond belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

We’ll do the easy stuff first. Diamond has sold 200 million records around the world. He’s had 38 Top 40 hits, and he wrote most of them. He’s not just some pop singer from yesteryear taking songs from other writers and playing Vegas and Branson.

It’s the other way around. He’s a singer and a songwriter. He wrote the Monkees’ biggest-selling hit, I’m a Believer, and UB40’s No. 1 smash, Red Red Wine. Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Barbra Streisand, Urge Overkill, Smashmouth, Deep Purple and even Donkey from Shrek have performed songs written by Neil Diamond.

Here’s the argument against Diamond’s inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that boggles me.

“Neil Diamond isn’t rock ‘ n’ roll.”

And Madonna is?

ABBA, Louis Armstrong, Chet Atkins, Leonard Cohen, Nat King Cole, Woody Guthrie, the Ink Spots and Brenda Lee are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and they have nothing to do with rock ‘ n’ roll. Guthrie’s song This Land Is Your Land is one of my favorites, but I’m guessing there’s a good chance that Guthrie hated rock ‘ n’ roll. He was a pure folkie, and back in Guthrie’s day, folkies didn’t appreciate folk singers like Bob Dylan picking up electric guitars.

I’m not saying the above list isn’t full of talented performers (OK, maybe Madonna). They’re hugely talented and important in their own way. They’re just not rock ‘ n’ rollers. I love Jimmy Cliff. I watch his movie The Harder They Come at least once a year. But he’s a reggae singer, not a rock ‘ n’ roller.

One of my biggest thrills was meeting Bob Marley. He’s one of my heroes. His bodyguard blindfolded me in the car so I wouldn’t know where he lived. Marley smoked a joint the size of Rush Limbaugh’s cigar right in front of me. But he was not rock ‘ n’ roll. He was reggae, too.

The thing is, Neil Diamond is a rocker. Or he was when he hit the charts in 1966 with Cherry Cherry. That is a hard-charging, straight-out rock ‘ n’ roll song. That was what rock ‘ n’ roll sounded like in 1966. Over the next 10 years, he had 25 hit singles. He was a monster hitmaker and concert attraction around the world. One of his albums, Hot August Night, was No. 1 in Australia for 29 weeks.

I’m not saying that commercial success should get Diamond in the Hall of Fame. It shouldn’t hurt, though.

Let’s look at his importance and impact. Today (well, not today because the Red Sox didn’t make the World Series – ha ha) if you go to a baseball game at Fenway Park, you will hear Diamond’s song Sweet Caroline in the seventh inning. The whole crowd stands and sings along.

Songs in films
Diamond’s songs are in the movies. He starred in a remake of The Jazz Singer. He’s part of Saving Silverman, Pulp Fiction and Shrek. He did the soundtrack to Jonathan Livingston Seagull. His soundtrack grossed more money than the movie. It was the biggest soundtrack before Saturday Night Fever, and we all know what that album unleashed on America – disco. The Bee Gees are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, by the way.

The 1996 Olympics and the 2002 Winter Games used Diamond songs as their theme music. He sang the National Anthem at the Super Bowl in 1987. He’s won a Grammy Award. He’s in the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Is his music innovative? In 1970, long before Paul Simon went to Africa and brought back African sounds and instruments for his Graceland album, Neil Diamond was in Kenya writing The African Trilogy for his Tap Root Manuscript album. His song Soolaimon (which means “peace be with you”) made the U.S. Top 30.

How’s this for rock credentials? In 1968, Diamond was part of a celebrity group called “Performers Against Drugs” and recorded an anti-drug tune, The Pot Smokers Song.

Eight years later, Diamond was busted for … pot.

Now that’s rock ‘ n’ roll.

In the movie What About Bob?, Bill Murray says, “”There are two types of people in the world: those who like Neil Diamond and those who don’t.”

A lot of people do like him. Especially in Texas.

In 2008, Bill White told Diamond about a Houston-area fishing village that was virtually wiped out by Hurricane Ike. The next day, Diamond toured the area and was so struck by the devastation that he donated the money from T-shirts sales for the rest of his 2008 tour to Hurricane Ike relief. His $1.8 million donation built homes for 14 fishermen’s families in Oak Island.

How many T-shirts is this guy selling?

OK, Diamond donated some of his own money to the $1.8 million gift.

Dedicated fans
True story. I once knew a woman who had multiple sclerosis bad. I never met her, but she knew that I was a Neil Diamond fan and she would call me while she did her daily walking on a treadmill.

One year she was too ill to attend his concert at The Summit, but she called me the next day and invited me to dinner. She had heard that Diamond had dinner before his concert at Rao’s restaurant on the Southwest Freeway and talked the owner into re-creating the exact meal that Diamond ate.

She asked me to join her and her husband. You kidding? I wouldn’t have missed that dinner for anything.

A friend of mine, who’s heard my Neil Diamond screaming for years, finally saw his first Diamond concert last year. He said, “He doesn’t do the fast songs enough. It wasn’t rock ‘ n’ rolly enough.”

I told him, “He’s 69 years old now. What do you expect, Cirque du Soleil?”

Carole King is one of the great songwriters in pop history. She’s in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I went to her show a couple of years ago at the Woodlands Pavilion. It was like visiting my Aunt Blanche’s house for Passover seder.

In 2008, Diamond recorded an album called Home Before Dark, and for the first time in his amazing career, he had the No. 1 album on the Billboard charts.

So he’s still important, just different. He’s going on a worldwide tour again in 2011, right after he turns 70 in January.

If you want to see what Diamond looked and sounded like in the mid-‘ 70s, and why he belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, go to YouTube and click on “Neil Diamond Thank You Australia.” The whole concert is there in bits and pieces. It’s pretty great.

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