When I was six years old, my grandmother took me to see Neil Diamond in the 1980 remake of The Jazz Singer. Falling about midway between my bris and my bar mitzvah, chronologically; while certainly less important from a religious perspective, that outing was (to that point) the most culturally relevant Jewish happening I’d experienced.
It’s easy, now, to categorize Neil Diamond as an iconic performer for whom the label “legend” is accurate without being hyperbolic. But forty years ago, making it big involved more than a well-hyped hit backed by a catchy video and a good marketing team.
By 1980, Diamond had already been a bona fide star for the better part of two decades, having written and released a number of songs that would stand the test of time (and make him a favorite of music supervisors in film and television), including “Solitary Man” [covered by Johnny Cash (whose version won the 2001 GRAMMY Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance) and Chris Isaak], “Cherry, Cherry,” “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” [Urge Overkill’s cover of which appeared on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, in 1994] “Thank the Lord for the Night Time,” Red, Red Wine” [a hit for UB40 in 1983], “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show” [my favorite Neil Diamond song, it was covered by Peggy Lee, Dolly Parton, and Sonny & Cher, and appeared in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, in 2019], “Sweet Caroline” [to which we’ll return, shortly], and “Holly Holy” (1960s); as well as “Cracklin’ Rosie” [Diamond’s first song to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart], “I Am… I Said” [which garnered Diamond his first GRAMMY nomination], “I’m a Believer” [recorded by The Monkees, it ranks on Billboard’s All Time Top 100; covers by Smash Mouth and Weezer respectively appeared in Shrek (2001) and Shrek Forever After (2010); while a German cover by Jack White, “Mit All Deiner Liebe” appeared in the trailer for Jojo Rabbit (2019)], “Song Sung Blue” [nominated for two GRAMMYs in 1973 (Record of the Year and Song of the Year), and covered by Andy Williams, Sacha Distel, Bobby Darin, and Frank Sinatra], “Play Me” [covered by Jose Feliciano, U2, and Josh Groban], “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” [original penned as the theme to the short-lived Norman Lear sitcom All That Glitters, then released by Diamond, it was covered by Barbra Streisand, after which DJs began splicing the two versions, leading the label to record the epic duet], “Forever in Blue Jeans” [hilariously covered by Will Farrell in an SNL commercial for The Gap], and “September Morn” (1970s). And those were just the really big hits!
And then, with the new decade, came The Jazz Singer. Was it a great movie? It wasn’t bad.* But it did have an incredible soundtrack—including three more Diamond gems that hit the Billboard Top 10, “America” [#1, Adult Contemporary] “Love on the Rocks” [#2, Hot 100], and “Hello, Again” [#6, Hot 100]—that was certified 5x Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.
Fast forward a couple of decades, and I’m living in Las Vegas, where—clad, no doubt, in an open-to-the-waist bedazzled blouson and tight pants—Neil Diamond performed each year over the New Years Weekend in the MGM Grand Garden Arena. As a sign of just how woven into the cultural vernacular Diamond and his oeuvre had become, The Big Bang Theory had an episode [S7, Ep3 - "The Scavenger Vortex" ] where Amy (Mayim Bialik) and Howard (Simon Helberg) sing along to “Sweet Caroline,” “America,” “Love on the Rocks,” and do an energized karaoke performance of “Cherry, Cherry” (see video, below).
Meanwhile, as many locals are wont to do, I took it for granted that he’d always be there (much like many of us did with acts ranging from Kristine W at the Las Vegas Hilton to Celine Dion at Caesars Palace). And then, a couple of years ago (upon being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease), he wasn’t.
Come back for Part 2, in which you can read all about Diamond’s incredible one-night-only performance at Keep Memory Alive’s recent Power of Love® gala, including video of the performance. TTFN!
Keep Memory Alive’s 24th annual Power of Love® gala
MGM Grand Garden Arena
Saturday, March 07
Click HERE for info
Get into it!
[Editor’s Note: Only two artists have been nominated for both a Golden Globe Award (from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association) and a Razzie Award (from the Golden Raspberry Award Foundation) for the same role; Neil Diamond, in 1980 for The Jazz Singer (nominated for Best Actor – Musical or Comedy, and Worst Actor, respectively; he won the latter), and Pia Zadora, in 1982 (nominated respectively for Best Female Newcomer and both Worst Actress and Worst New Star; she won all three). Zadora would also go on to win the Razzie Award for Worst Actress, the following year (for The Lonely Lady), as well. She would eventually win the Razzie Award for Worst Star of the Decade, and while nominated for Worst Star of the Century, would eventually lose out to Madonna.]