Neil Diamond, one of the most versatile and dynamic entertainers of the past 50 years, will celebrate his 73rd birthday on Friday. The classy crooner has sold more than 125 million records and he is the third most successful adult contemporary singer, trailing only Barbra Streisand and Sir Elton John.
Still doing concerts at sold-out venues throughout the country, Diamond first hit the charts in 1966 when “Cherry, Cherry” rose to No. 6.
Since that point, the Brooklyn-born performer has had 39 Top 40 hits, 11 of which reached the Top 10.
Diamond also had three No. 1 hits, “Cracklin’ Rosie” in 1970, “Song Sung Blue” in 1972 and “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” in 1978, which was sung with Streisand.
He also starred in and composed the music for the remake of “The Jazz Singer” in 1980. The original was made in 1927 and starred Al Jolson.
Diamond played Yussel Rabinovitch and Jess Robin, his stage name in the film, and it co-starred Laurence Olivier as Cantor Rabinovitch, his father, and Lucie Arnaz as his agent, Molly Bell.
Although the movie did not generate critical acclaim, it did gross $28 million and the soundtrack was extremely successful reaching multiplatinum status, selling more than 5 million copies.
The album was the most successful of Diamond’s glittering career and the movie produced three Top 10 hits: “Love on the Rocks,” No. 2 in 1980; “Hello Again,” No. 6 in 1981; and “America,” No. 8 in 1981. It is one of the few movies to produce three original songs that reached the Top 10.
He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1984 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. He also was a Kennedy Center honoree in 2011.
But Diamond is more than a singer and an actor. He is a Hall of Fame philanthropist.
He became an inspirational figure in Boston’s recovery from the bombings at the Boston Marathon in April. “Sweet Caroline,” Diamond’s Top 5 hit in 1969, is an eighth-inning staple at the Red Sox’s games at Fenway Park. On the Saturday following the deadly bombings, he was a surprise guest at Fenway to lead the crowd in a rousing rendition of the song at the team’s first home game since the tragedy.
Not only did he donate his services to sing at the game, he took a red-eye flight from California at his expense in order to perform.
Diamond arrived unannounced 30 minutes before the start of the game and called the control room to ask if he could sing “Sweet Caroline” in the middle of the eighth inning.
In an era when performers require appearance fees and make outrageous demands, Diamond asked for nothing.
On July 4, he performed his first live version of “Freedom Song (They’ll Never Take Us Down)” at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., during the Milwaukee Brewers- Washington Nationals game.
All of the single’s proceeds benefit the Boston One Fund and the Wounded Warriors Project.
Diamond revealed he was motivated by the deadly incidents in Colorado, Connecticut and Boston to write “Freedom Song.” He described the tune as a love song between a man, his country and his fellow citizens.
Maybe some of Diamond’s young counterparts in the entertainment business should follow his lead and exhibit his class and sincere concern for others instead of acting like immature children.
The mailman cometh:
Dear Old Rocker:
Your article on Elvis Presley was fantastic. I have one correction to make. The publication who first called Presley the “King of Rock and Roll” was the weekly “Variety,” who called him that in mid-November of 1956, not as a comparison to anyone in particular, let alone Belafonte, but because in the period of 11 months, he’d amassed five No. 1 singles, two No. 1 albums, sold 10 million records for RCA, then the world’s largest music conglomerate, played 256 sold-out concerts, taking some 500,000 teenagers to theaters and even stadiums, attracted some 260 million cumulative TV viewers in his 11 presentations in that same period. In the same 11-month period, he also was responsible for the sale of $22 million for apparel and all sorts of articles bearing his name. Lastly, he took some 7 million teenagers to theatres for his first movie, which opened that month in New York.
Dear Old Rocker:
I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy your musical history columns. My hobbies are music AND history, so your pieces fill my need for both. Your “Doo-Wop Quiz” was a lot of fun. I think I missed three or four, but I learned a lot.
In Keith Fletcher’s letter, he noted that “World Without Love” was recorded by Peter and Gordon. No doubt, Keith knows that “Peter” was Peter Asher, the brother of long-time McCartney girlfriend Jane Asher. In the same article or perhaps another, you mentioned “Bad to Me” by Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas. This was also a Lennon/McCartney song, and Kramer and crew were managed by Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein.
Retired teacher, amateur musician and historian, music lover
Barry Levine is an entertainment writer for The Albany Herald. He can be reached at email@example.com.