Neil Diamond is revered as one of the most prolific and successful songwriters to emerge in the 1960s. He was just establishing himself as a recording artist in his own right in 1966 when publishing kingpin Don Kirshner got the Monkees to record Diamond’s “I’m a Believer,” only the group’s second hit, but one that spent seven weeks at the top of the charts.
His own music was shaped by such songwriters as Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller (who hired him briefly as a staff writer at the celebrated Brill Building in New York), Mort Shuman and Doc Pomus and even folk music giant Woody Guthrie. Diamond showed himself to be a master of the three-minute pop song form through early hits such as “Cherry Cherry,” “Solitary Man” and “Thank the Lord for the Night Time.”
In some corners, though, his music wasn’t taken as seriously as that of Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Paul McCartney or Paul Simon because of its strong commercial appeal. But as the ‘70s unfolded, Diamond demonstrated he could be as artistically ambitious as many of his peers in albums such as “Tap Root Manuscript” in 1970 and 1976’s “Beautiful Noise,” produced by the Band’s Robbie Robertson.
After his acclaimed run of concerts at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles in 1972, which were the basis of his hit live album “Hot August Night,” Diamond became one of the most dependable showmen in pop music, consistently selling out concerts in amphitheaters and arenas around the world.
He garnered a Grammy Award as composer of the score for the 1973 TV special “Jonathan Livingston Seagull.” And he teamed with Barbra Streisand for an iconic romantic pop duet in 1977, “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” which took him to the No. 1 slot on the Billboard pop chart for a third time, having landed there in 1970 with “Cracklin’ Rosie” and again two years later with “Song Sung Blue.”
In 2005, he gained new career traction in connecting with superstar producer Rick Rubin for the well-received “12 Songs,” a stripped-down collection with Diamond and his guitar and only minimal signs of the expansive orchestral arrangements that had adorned so many of his recordings over the years.
He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011 and the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 1984, and is a recipient of the Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award.
“I’m an imperfect emotional being trying to figure out some way to give some kind of substance and meaning to my life,” he once told Rolling Stone magazine. “I write these little songs and go and sing them in a recording studio and, later, in front of a lot of people. It seems an odd way to gain an inner sense of acceptance of the self. But it’s what I do.”