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01:00 Mon 22nd Apr 2002 |

I heard a Neil Diamond song on the radio, but I know little about him ' can you enlighten me < xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

Neil Diamond was born Noah Kaminsky in January 1941 in Brooklyn New York. In common with most teenagers, Noah received a guitar at the age of sixteen, but unlike most teenagers, his dream was to be a songwriter first and foremost, and a musician second.

Throughout his education, Noah continued to write songs, and having enrolled on a premed course on a fencing scholarship, he quit college six months before graduation to take up an offer of a song writing job with a music publisher, for $50 per week, eventually leasing an office on Broadway for $35 dollars a month where he 'worked at the office' honing his song writing craft.

Wasn't it a bit strange to simply start writing songs like that

Less so than you might think. In those days, a number of songwriters worked turning out material, which they sold to publishers, who then sold them on again to record companies and individual artists. This virtual factory production of songs was encapsulated in The Brill Building, a New York Office block where legends such as Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill, Carole King and Gerry Goffin and others toiled away creating hits for others. In Diamond's case, he was not to remain a faceless songwriter for long.

What happened

Neil Diamond, as he was by then, having dropped his Jewish name for a more pan-American identity, was signed by producers Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich to the Bang Records label as a recording artist. Diamond recorded three singles which were all hits ' Solitary Man, Cherry Cherry, and I Got The Feeling (Oh No No), as well as recording his first hit as a writer, Diamond penned The Monkees' I'm A Believer, a Number One hit.

So he was off on the trail of fame and fortune

He was, and he never looked back. Neil Diamond is one of the most prolific, as well as one of the most successful songwriters and performers, although major success as a chart star has eluded him in the UK, he has a massive fan base here.

What's his style

Although Diamond's versatility as a writer, The Monkees and UB40 owe him a debt for hit singles ' the reggae chestnut Red Red Wine recorded originally by Toby Tribe and covered by the Birmingham band is apparent; he has trodden a familiar and highly successful path in his own recording career. Diamond was quick to see the potential of mixing gospel and pop influences ' the fervour and passion of one, with the hook lines and melodies of the other, as hits like Sweet Caroline and Cracklin' Rosie demonstrate. Diamond is master of the emotional ballad ' I Am ' I Said being another example of his mastery of the genre.

What about as a live performer

This is probably where Neil Diamond is most popular, and certainly where he puts the majority of his energies. His live reputation is legendary, and has been captured on numerous TV specials, but his electric stage performances were first captured on the album Hot August Night, recorded at The Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.

After a short sabbatical to spend time with his family, Diamond signed with Columbia Records in 1973, his first project being the soundtrack for the Jonathan Livingston Seagull movie, which gained him a Grammy and a Golden Globe Award. Further milestones came with his Beautiful Noise album, produced by The Band's Robbie Robertson, and a second legendary live album ' Live At The Greek, a triumphant return to one of his favourite venues. It was around this time that an enterprising radio DJ had the idea to synch the separate versions of You Don't Bring Me Flowers, which had been recorded by Diamond and Barbra Streisand. An official release quickly followed, and another hit was secured.

Hasn't Neil Diamond done some acting as well

He has ' he took the lead role in the re-make of The Jazz Singer, the original being the first picture with sound dialogue, making a star of Al Jolson, which paired Diamond with Sir Lawrence Olivier. Diamond turned in a credible performance, no doubt drawing on his considerable personal experience as a Jewish writer and musician. The soundtrack album compiled by Diamond yielded a trio of smash hit singles ' Love On The Rocks, America, and Hello Again.

No sign of slowing down then

None at all. Having long since past the time of his life where he needed to earn money, Neil Diamond continued with a recording and touring schedule that would shame artists half his age. In 1993 he put out Up On The Roof ' Songs From The Brill Building, celebrating classic hits from the classic hit building and paying tribute to his writing peers. 1994 saw Diamond embarking on a two year world tour playing concerts 'in the round' using a stage constructed specially at each venue ' which yielded yet another live album, Live In America, and another success. Versatile as ever, Diamond's next project was the Tennessee Moon album recorded with country legend Waylon Jennings and including contributions from Raul Malo from The Mavericks ' a TV special ensured that this was another in the endless successes of Diamond's recording career.

Is there a good introduction to new listeners

There is - in 1996 Diamond released a massive 70 song collection � In My Lifetime � which includes 37 hit singles, 16 early demos previously unreleased, a 72 page book with photos and biography, and a song-by-song commentary written by Diamond himself. This has to be the finest example of a magnificent career and a must for all serious fans, and potential new ones who are willing to pay out for the package.

So that was the record that drew a line under everything

No, Diamond continued to tour and record at his usual prolific rate. In 1998 he recorded The Movie Album � As Time Goes By, which contains his interpretations of some of the biggest movie songs. In keeping with his talent as a live performer, and his reputation as an interpretative artist, the album was recoded live with orchestra on a Los Angeles sound stage, with the sessions conducted by legendary composer and conductor Elmer Bernstein.

Through 1998 and 1999 Diamond visited most of the world on another gruelling world tour, stopping off to be honoured with a Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award from the Songwriters� Hall Of Fame. Diamond�s latest album release is his Three Chord Opera album, a collection of songs about love and loss, and probably an alternative starting point for new fans who are reluctant to take the plunge with the box set. Unusually, for a writer as prolific as Neil Diamond, this is the first album since 1974�s Serenade where he has written the worlds and music for all the songs on the record.

Any chance to see Neill Diamond in concert

There is � his world tour brings Diamond to the UK in the summer, and interested parties can see what a man who has sold over 155 million albums in his career looks and sounds like. He may never have enjoyed huge success as a singles artist over here � only thirteen hit singles, none of which reached Number One, which does no justice what so ever to his success elsewhere, particularly in the USA, but there is no doubt that Neil Diamond is a towering figure in the world of popular music � maybe he should call his next album Quietly Massive. It�s no less than the truth.

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