You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

As Neil Diamond Is Honored at Songwriters Hall of Fame, Six of His Greatest Hits

The artist will receive the Johnny Mercer Award at a June 14 gala event in New York City.

He’s a receiver — Neil Diamond, that is, who’s already been handed trophies like the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (earlier this year), a Kennedy Center Honor (2011), membership in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (also 2011) and induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame (1984). That latter organization decided it’d been long enough since their last salute, so on June 14 in New York they’ll be presenting him with their ultimate honor, the Johnny Mercer Award.

He’s a good match for that prize’s namesake. Mercer had “Days of Wine and Roses”; Diamond has “Red Red Wine.” The elder writer experienced “Blues in the Night” while the king of ‘70s pop sang a “Song Sung Blue.” Mercer’s “Laura” and “Desiree” had nothing on “Sweet Caroline.” One difference is in the length of their songwriting careers: Mercer’s 40-year run was cut short by death in 1976 while Diamond has written for more than five decades — and counting, promising to keep at it even though a Parkinson’s diagnosis this year forced him to call it quits as a touring artist.

In 2014 Diamond told the Telegraph that songwriting is “hard work… I hate it. I hate it. But all right, nobody told me it was gonna be easy. And so what? I’m a ditch-digger when I’m writing songs.” Perhaps the man did protest too much, but in any case, he was mining for gold, not troughs, and when it comes to greatest hits, Diamond’s are forever. In honor of the crowning achievement a tunesmith can put on the mantle, a closer look at six of his most indelible singles:

When it comes to greatest hits — as with these six seminal songs — Diamond’s are forever.

“I’m a Believer”
As one of the most Brill of the Brill Building song farmers, Diamond had his first chart-topper when the Monkees took this to No. 1 at the end of 1966 (he later released his own version). Diamond has a knack for a kind of bubblegum-gospel song and no hymn to the eternal Her could ever better capture the religious epiphany of the soul-stirring moment when a young man sees the face that changes everything forever — or at least for two minutes and 49 seconds.

“Solitary Man”
The verses of “I’m a Believer” sure sounded like the confessions of a depressive — (“Disappointment haunted all my dreams”!) and Diamond went whole-hog lonesome with his first solo single, also in ’66. “ ‘Solitary Man’ was my first song where I tried to really raise the level of my songwriting,” he told Mojo. “I don’t think I’d ever written a song in a minor key before.” Naturally, the song’s ’60s existential dilemma is all a lover’s fault. “I thought it was just a nice idea to write a song about a solitary guy,” Diamond told the Los Angeles Times’ Robert Hilburn in 1992. “It wasn’t until years later, when I went into Freudian analysis, that I understood that it was always me.”

“Sweet Caroline”
Diamond has claimed this was inspired by seeing a picture of Caroline Kennedy as a child. In the more commonly told version, he wrote it for his second wife, Marcia, but couldn’t figure out how to make her name three syllables. Maybe, as with the conflicting gospels, both accounts could be true. What’s not up for question is its remarkable afterlife, not just as a karaoke perennial but, improbably, a sports and civic anthem: the Red Sox play it  in the middle of the eighth inning of every game.

“I Am, I Said”
“Without any question, it came from my sessions with the analyst,” Diamond told Mojo, while explaining to Hilburn that its genesis came during a bad screen test for “Lenny”: “I felt really down and depressed. I had my guitar in the dressing room, and I wrote the melody and the title that day. But I spent the next four months trying to finish it. It was by far the most difficult song I have ever written — and probably the best song I have ever written.” Dustin Hoffman got the part, and the world got the song.

“You Don’t Bring Me Flowers”
Hilariously, this began as a 45-second theme song commissioned for a sitcom, Norman Lear’s failed “All That Glitters.” Good thing it got nixed, because when Diamond got a good reaction playing an instrumentally padded out version on the road, he and Alan and Marilyn Bergman realized maybe they should write the missing two-and-a-half minutes necessary for a pop song. Then radio stations began mashing up his version with Barbra Streisand’s cover, before Ken Ehrlich secretly arranged a real duet for the 1980 Grammys… and the rest is Beloved Divorce Anthem history.

“To me, it is the story of my grandparents,” Diamond told Hilburn about the “Jazz Singer” soundtrack tune. “It wasn’t thought out or intellectualized, just sheer emotion… It speaks to the immigrant in all of us.” If you attend a fireworks show this July, there’s a 99% chance you will hear this song… and at least a 10% chance that someone, amid the oohs and aahs, will be reawakened to the thought that it is not just a patriotic but a pro-border-crossing song.

More Music

  • Neyla Pekarek

    Watch Neyla Pekarek's Michel Gondry-Inspired Cardboard Kitsch Video (EXCLUSIVE)

    Neyla Pekarek’s post-Lumineers solo career is off to a strong start with a show at the Opry at the Ryman on Saturday night and the Monday release of her new video for the song “Train.” The clip was directed by Los Angeles’ Liza Nelson and features Pekarek riding a cardboard constructed locomotive in a look reminiscent [...]

  • Benny Andersson, Anni Frid Lyngstad, Agnetha

    Abba’s New Music Delayed Until Later This Year

    Abba fans rejoiced last April when the group, which split up 35 years ago, announced that they had recorded two new songs for a “Virtual Abba” experience in collaboration with “American Idol” creator Simon Fuller. The project first announced in 2016, and was scheduled to premiere, via digital versions of band members, on NBC and ABC [...]

  • Erykah Badu Attempts to Clarify Her ‘Prayer’

    Erykah Badu Attempts to Clarify Her ‘Prayer’ for R. Kelly

    Erykah Badu took to Twitter Sunday night in an attempt to clarify her “prayer” for R. Kelly, which she spoke about during a Saturday concert in Chicago. “I don’t know how everybody else feels about it but I’m putting up a prayer right now for R.,” she said to the crowd before referencing the longstanding [...]

  • Harry Connick Jr.

    Harry Connick Jr. Swears Off Super Bowl After Saints Defeat

    Tempers flared during today’s NFC championship game between the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams at the Super Dome after a controversial non-call on a potential pass interference penalty and head-to-head hit by L.A. defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman, who slammed into Saints pass receiver  Tommylee Lewis on a crucial third-down play. The ref’s decision [...]

  • Editorial use only. No merchandising.Mandatory Credit:

    Lady Gaga Slams Government Shutdown, Mike Pence at Vegas Residency

    Lady Gaga took a short break from singing “Million Reasons” at her Saturday performance of “Enigma” in Las Vegas to slam the president for the continued government shutdown. While sitting at the piano for her performance, Gaga broke into a takedown of the government shutdown and Vice President Mike Pence, who has been in the [...]

  • maggie rogers

    Album Review: Maggie Rogers' 'Heard It in a Past Life'

    Maggie Rogers earned one of those very rare “Saturday Night Live” slots in which a musical guest is booked onto the show well in advance of her major label debut album’s release — two and a half months prior, in this case. And the scrutiny of such an appearance is not always pretty. Rogers’ “SNL” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content