#415: Soolaimon by Neil Diamond
Neil Leslie Diamond was born in Brooklyn in 1941. His parents were Russian and Polish immigrants and both Jewish. His dad was a dry-goods merchant. When he was in high school he met Barbra Streisand in a Freshman Chorus and Choral Club. Years later they would become friends. When he was sixteen Diamond was sent to a Jewish summer camp called Surprise Lake Camp in upstate New York. While there he heard folk singer, Pete Seeger, perform in concert. That year Diamond got a guitar and, influenced by Pete Seeger, began to write poems and song lyrics. While he was in his Senior year in high school, Sunbeam Music Publishing gave Neil Diamond an initial four month contract composing songs for $50 a week (US $413 in 2017 dollars). and he dropped out of college to accept it.
In 1962 Diamond teamed up with a high school friend, Jack Parker, and released a song called “You Are My Love At Last.” The next year Neil Diamond released his first song under his name titled “At Night” on the Columbia label. The tune failed to get much attention and Columbia didn’t renew their contract with Diamond. By 1966 Neil Diamond struck gold by charting his first singles onto the Billboard Hot 100 with “Solitary Man” peaking at #55 and “Cherry Cherry” climbing to #6. Later that year his song, “I’m A Believer,” was recorded by The Monkees. The tune became the #5 hit of 1967.
In Vancouver, Neil Diamond generally had more successful chart runs here in Vancouver, Canada, compared to the Billboard Hot 100. “Solitary Man,” stalled at #55 in the USA but climbed to #12 in Vancouver. “I Got The Feelin’ (Oh No No)” stalled at #16 on the USA, but peaked at #4 in Vancouver. “You Got To Me” was also a #4 hit in Vancouver, but barely made the Top 20 on the Billboard charts, cresting at #18. “Thank The Lord For The Nightime” was #13 in the USA, but went up to #6 in Vancouver. Similarly, “Kentucky Woman” met with a better response in Vancouver as it climbed to #10, but stalled at #22 on the Billboard Hot 100. Five of seven charting songs Neil Diamond had on the Vancouver charts did significantly better than in his native America. His first single release in 1968, “Red Red Wine,” followed this familiar pattern, climbing to #7 in contrast to Billboard‘s #62. “Brooklyn Roads” climbed to #13 in Vancouver, but stalled at #58 on the Hot 100.
Diamond began 1969 well with a #4 song in Vancouver titled “Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show”. He ended the year with two international Top Ten hits, “Sweet Caroline” and “Holly Holy”. 1970 saw Diamond continue to chart into the Top 30 with “Shilo” and “Soolaimón”
“Soolaimón” was a track from Neil Diamond’s sixth studio album, Tap Root Manuscript, released in 1970. The album was one of the most experimental he ever recorded. It uniquely showcased African sounds and instruments. The album ended up being a commercial success, with “Done Too Soon”, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” and “Cracklin’ Rosie” among his other Top 40 single releases. The B-side to Tap Root Manuscript was titled The African Trilogy (A Folk Ballet). While world music became a genre in the 1980s and 90s, Neil Diamond was way ahead of the most recording artists. Yes, the Beatles had introduced the sitar on Revolver in 1966. But it was not until the 1979 when Peter Gabriel’s third solo album included tracks like “Biko” that African and Brazilian sounds were woven into a Western recording artists’ album. Others who helped make world music more mainstream were Paul Simon with Graceland and David Byrne and Brian Eno. Tap Root Manuscript was one of the most novel experimental recording projects of its time. The Uni label was initially hesitant to release the album.
“Soolaimón” was a word Neil Diamond learned when he studied African culture at the Kenyon Mission, the United Nations and the African Studies department at UCLA. “Soolaimón” can mean “hello,” “welcome,” “good-bye” and “peace be with you.” The lyrics offer images of the cycles of night and day, and a sense of the sacredness of that cycle: “God of my day… Lord of my night.” There is an abiding trust that the “day shall provide.”
“Soolaimón” peaked at #1 in Tucson (AZ), Edmonton (AB) and Moscow (ID), #3 in Vancouver (BC) and Columbus (OH), #4 in Manchester (NH), #5 in San Bernardino (CA), Reading (PA) and Calgary (AB), #6 in Ottawa (ON) and Victoria (BC), #7 in Rochester (NY), Hilo (HI), Shreveport (LA) and Holland (MI), #8 in Hamilton (ON), and #9 in Atlanta, Syracuse (NY), Orlando (FL) and Allentown (PA).
In the early 70s “I Am I Said”, “Cracklin’ Rosie” and “Song Sung Blue” are among his other smash hits. The latter two were both number one hits on the Billboard Hot 100. Between 1966 and 1977 Neil Diamond charted 19 songs into the Top Ten in Vancouver and 8 songs into the Top Ten on the Billboard Hot 100. Some, like “Done Too Soon“, had a much better chart run in Vancouver then in the USA. His last #1 hit was a duet with Barbra Streisand titled “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore” in December 1978.
Diamond had several major hits on the pop charts into the early 1980s, including “America,” a song with a very positive interpretation of the history of immigration to the United States. Diamond later told a Jon Bream in his book Neil Diamond Is Forever: The Man And His Music, “America” was the story of my grandparents. It’s my gift to them, and it’s very real for me … In a way, it speaks to the immigrant in all of us.” The song became the theme song for the 1988 campaign of Democratic presidential candidate, Michael Dukakis.
About his personal life, in 2008, New Diamond stated: “Personal relationships? I have none. I have no friends, and it is just impossible to have relationships. My closest friend is a fellow I went to school with, and I haven’t seen him in four years. I make this journey, for the most part, alone.” In 2016, Neil Diamond released his 34th studio album. In April, 2017, Neil Diamond began his 50 Year Anniversary World Tour. The tour was scheduled in three legs. The first included 35 concerts in the USA and two in Canada. The second included 15 concerts in Europe and the third 11 dates in New Zealand and Australia, ending in April 2018. However, Rolling Stone magazine reported on January 23, 2018, that Neil Diamond had Parkinson’s disease. Diamond cancelled the third leg of his 50 Year Anniversary World Tour in January, on his doctors advise. He said in a press release, “It is with great reluctance and disappointment that I announce my retirement from concert touring, I have been so honored to bring my shows to the public for the past 50 years. My sincerest apologies to everyone who purchased tickets and were planning to come to the upcoming shows.”
May 20, 2020
Laura Jackson, Neil Diamond: The Biography, (Portrait, London, UK, 2004).
William Langley, “Neil Diamond: the Loves of a Lifelong Mr Lonely,” Telegraph, UK, September 10, 2011.
Lisa Respers, “Neil Diamond reveals story behind ‘Sweet Caroline’,” CNN, October 20, 2014.
Graeme Ross, “Neil Diamond: The top 10 songs from rock’s King of Guilty Pleasures,” Independent, UK, September 28, 2017.
Neil Diamond biography, Jewish Virtual Library.
Daniel Keeps, “Neil Diamond Retires From Touring After Parkinson’s Disease Diagnosis,” Rolling Stone, January 23, 2018.
“Soolaimón” by Neil Diamond,” Songfacts.com.
“Boss 30,” CKLG 730 AM, June 12, 1970
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