Neil Diamond will always be a classic gem in the rock business.
With over 130 million albums sold, multiple Grammy wins and a spot in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, the 76-year old singer is currently celebrating more than half a century in the music industry with his 50th Anniversary tour. To join in his festivities, here are the stories behind some of Diamond’s biggest hits.
1. “Red Red Wine” (1967)
Though the song was first recorded by Diamond, UB40 recorded this song as a cover of the Tony Tribe 1969 reggae version.
UB40 didn’t realize until after it topped the charts in the UK that Diamond wrote it and originally recorded it. In the book 1000 UK Number One Hits, the band’s lead singer Ali Campbell recalled,”The funny thing about the song is we only knew it as a reggae song. We had no idea that Neil Diamond wrote it.” Her bandmate, Terence “Astro” Wilson, confirmed, “Even when we saw the writing credit which said N. Diamond, we thought it was a Jamaican artist called Negus Diamond or something.”
2. “I’m a Believer” (1967)
Though the Monkees recorded a popular version of this song, Diamond is the songwriter behind “I’m a Believer” and made a deal so that he could also record a version.
In a 2008 interview with Mojo Magazine, Diamond said he was “thrilled” that the Monkees found success with the song — but record company brass had a different response.
“The head of my record company freaked,” Diamond said. “He went through the roof because he felt that I had given No. 1 records away to another group. I couldn’t have cared less because I had to pay the rent and the Monkees were selling records, and I wasn’t being paid for my records.”
3. “Sweet Caroline” (1969)
In a 2007 interview with the Associated Press, Diamond said he was a “young, broke songwriter” when a photo of the then 11-year old Caroline in a news magazine caught his eye. “It was such an innocent, wonderful picture,” he said. “I immediately felt there was a song in there.”
But then in 2014, Diamond explained that the story is only partly true.
“I was writing a song in Memphis, Tennessee, for a session. I needed a three-syllable name,” he said during an appearance on Today. “The song was about my wife at the time — her name was Marcia [Murphy] — and I couldn’t get a ‘Marcia’ rhyme.”
4. “Cracklin’ Rosie” (1970)
No, ‘Rosie’ is not a girl — she’s a bottle of wine. Diamond was inspired to write the song after hearing a story about a native Canadian tribe while doing an interview in Toronto, Canada. The tribe had more men than women, so the lonely men of the tribe would sit around the fire and drink their wine together.
And the use of cracklin’ is wordplay, since “Crackling” is used in the wine world to describe a wine that’s lightly sparkling. There’s even such a thing as crackling rosé.
5. “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” (1967)
This one goes out to Diamond’s female fanbase.
In He Is…I Say: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Neil Diamond, author David Wild writes, “Diamond has said that the song was written for all those teenaged girls who would show up at his earliest tour dates and vocally express their tremendous support.”
A cover by alternative rock band Urge Overkill appeared prominently in Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 movie Pulp Fiction.
6. “America” (1980)
This classic patriotic tune is a tribute to immigration in America, where people come from all over the world for an opportunity. Growing up in Brooklyn, Diamond was exposed to people from all different backgrounds; his grandparents were immigrants from Poland and Russia.
“To me, it is the story of my grandparents — it’s my gift to them, and it’s very real for me,” Diamond has said. “Maybe that’s why it became so popular. It wasn’t thought out or intellectualized, just sheer emotion. In a way, it speaks to the immigrant in all of us. That’s what makes it so easy to empathize with the song.”
Diamond wrote the song for the 1980 movie The Jazz Singer, where he starred as a young Jewish man who must defy his father to follow his dreams of becoming a singer.
7. “Cherry, Cherry” (1966)
The track often considered Diamond’s first massive hit got some help from songwriters Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich.
It started out as just a guitar lick that Diamond came up with that caught Barry’s ear, and he and Greenwich encouraged him to finish the song.
In an interview with England’s Melody Maker, Barry said that this song was originally titled “Money, Money,” but that he and Bang Records owner Bert Berns convinced Diamond to make it lighter and more teen-friendly.
Since the song was intended to be a demo, there are no drums in the song but handclaps providing the drum beat instead.