As a teenager, Neil wrote his first song for his girlfriend. It was called "Hear Them Bells", and although he never thought about recording it at the time, he did record it many years later. At age 18, Neil composed a tune called "Blue Destiny" and he was sure it was going to be a hit record, but it would take 8 more years before that moment came. In 1962, Neil signed with Columbia Records, and recorded a song called "At Night" which was a complete flop. He later attended NYU as a pre-med student on a fencing scholarship, but songwriting remained his first love. He left college six months before graduating to accept a songwriter's position with a publishing company for $50 a week, later saying that he has never regretted the decision. Diamond eventually leased an office on Broadway for $35 a month where he could devote all his time to writing. His only taste of success came when Jay And The Americans recorded his tune, "Sunday and Me", which went to #18 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1965 and was on the charts for 8 weeks. After several lean years, he was approached by producers Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, a meeting which led to his eventual signing with Bang Records. At his first session in 1966, Neil recorded what would become his debut hit single, "Cherry, Cherry." It rose to number 6 on the Billboard chart and was followed by a string of chart makers, "I Got The Feelin'" (#16 in 1966), "You Got To Me" (#18 in 1967), "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" (#10 in 1967), "Thank The Lord For The Night Time" ((#13 in 1967), and "Kentucky Woman" (#22 in 1967).
Diamond's reputation as a song writer was enhanced when The Monkees recorded his tune, "I'm a Believer", which topped Billboard's Hot 100 for seven weeks. However, his own recordings struggled. His 1968 release of "Red, Red Wine" stalled at #62 and wouldn't be successful until 1988 when a band called 'UB40' recorded it in a Reggae style. Bang records was growing restless over Neil's failure to place more songs on the hit parade, and when they balked at releasing a single called "Shilo", Diamond decided to move on. He signed with UNI records in 1968, and made "Shilo" a #24 hit in 1970. He continued his hit streak with "Soolaimon" (#30 in 1970), and "Solitary Man" (#21 in 1970). In the Summer of that same year Neil achieved his first number one record as a performer with "Cracklin' Rosie", a song that was inspired by trip to an Indian reservation and not wine, as many of his fans first thought. He followed with "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" (#20 in 1970), "Do It" (#36 in 1970), "I Am, I Said" (#4 in 1971) and "Stones" (#14 in 1971). 1972 brought Diamond's second chart topping single, "Song Sung Blue", which enjoyed a twelve week chart run. "Play Me" (#11) and "Walk On Water" (#17) followed that same year. At the height of his touring popularity, Diamond announced a sabbatical from the stage to devote more time to his family, but he soon resumed performing with record breaking tours of Australia and New Zealand.
In 1973, Neil signed with Columbia Records, with which he has enjoyed his greatest successes. His first album for the label, "Jonathan Livingston Seagull", became his #2 all-time best-seller and earned him Grammy and Golden Globe awards. Oddly, only one single came from the L.P., "Be" which peaked at #34 in late 1973. In 1974 he released the album "Serenade", from which the title track rose to #5. 1975 brought only one U.S. Top 40 hit, "I've Been This Way Before", which topped out at #34. In 1976 he recorded the Platinum selling album, "Beautiful Noise", with producer and former member of The Band, Robbie Robertson. A single pulled from that collection, "If You Know What I Mean" climbed to #11.
The late '70s found Diamond on both the radio and TV airwaves. In 1976, he returned to the Greek Theater for eight sold out shows, resulting in his first TV special and his second live LP, 1977's Platinum selling "Love At The Greek". "Desiree" topped the Adult Contemporary chart and rose to #16 on the Hot 100 in early 1978, after which Neil was asked to write the theme song for a TV sit-com. When the show was rejected by the networks, he decided to keep the song for an upcoming album. Months later, a disc jockey brought a home made recording to Neil's attention. A radio station engineer had spliced together Neil's version of his album cut, "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" with a Barbra Streisand rendition of the same song. It was getting such good response that the station had added it to their play list. Neil decided to re-record the song with Streisand herself, and within weeks of its release, the single went to number one in America. Neil followed that with the baby boomer favorite, "Forever In Blue Jeans" (#20 in 1979), and the enchanting "September Morn" (#17 in 1980), to continue his hit streak.
In 1980, Diamond not only starred in the remake of the movie classic The Jazz Singer, but he composed and performed the film's multi-Platinum soundtrack album, which included the hits "Love On The Rocks" (#2), "Hello Again" (#6 in 1981) and "America" (#8 in 1981). The single, "Yesterday's Songs" went to the top of Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart and #11 on the Hot 100, followed by "On The Way To The Sky" (#27) and "Be Mine Tonight" (#35). The album "Heartlight" rose to #5 on the Hot 200 and produced two more Top 40 hits with the title track coming in at #3 and "I'm Alive" reaching #38. In 1986 Neil followed his smash 1972 live double album, "Hot August Night" with "Hot August Night II".
The '90s served to further Diamond's standing as one of his generation's premier performers. A Christmas album spawned Neil Diamond's Christmas Special, which premiered on HBO in 1992 and aired on ABC-TV the following year. According to Amusement Business, he was the top concert draw in the U.S. for the first six months of 1992. A second holiday set, "The Christmas Album Vol II", was issued in 1994 and duplicated the success of the first volume. In 1993 Diamond returned to his roots with the album "Up On The Roof -- Songs From The Brill Building". Featuring 16 of Diamond's favorite Pop songs from the '50s and '60s, the disc showcased classics by such top songwriting teams as Goffin & King, Mann & Weill, Leiber & Stoller, and Bacharach & David, all of whom were closely identified with the Brill Building, the renowned songwriters and publishers headquarters located on Broadway in Midtown Manhattan.
In 1994, he released "Live In America", which documented his record-breaking two-year Love In The Round world tour, in which he performed on a 360-degree stage built in the middle of every arena he played. The Tennessee Moon project followed in 1996, and included a companion TV special and home video. The "Tennessee Moon" album became a hit on the Country charts, peaking at number three and going Gold within six months of its release. Also in 1996 came the extraordinary 70-song "In My Lifetime" boxed-set containing 37 hit singles, 16 previously un-issued early demos, alternative versions of well known classics, the newly written and recorded title track, and a full-color 72-page booklet with extensive liner notes including an interview with Diamond, scores of rare photos, a complete discography, and song-by-song annotations by Diamond. It was a fitting package for the enduring artist who had already sold 110 million records and set box office records at major venues all over the world.
As the new millennium rolled around, Neil Diamond, the interpretive vocalist, returned to the movies as the inspiration for "The Movie Album - As Time Goes By", a two-disc collection of 20 classic songs from the treasure trove of motion picture music. True to the spirit and magic of Hollywood at its best, "The Movie Album -- As Time Goes By" was recorded live on 20th Century Fox's Newman Scoring Stage and conducted by the legendary film composer/conductor Elmer Bernstein. But the eminent singer-songwriter was quick to note that his own songwriting days were far from over. "I'm writing new material all the time," said Diamond, "But I look forward to just going out and singing the songs from "The Movie Album - As Time Goes By" without worrying how the audience will respond to new material, because all these songs are wonderful going in. In 2001, Neil wrote the soundtrack to Saving Silverman, a movie about a Neil Diamond tribute band, and also released a new album called "Three Chord Opera". November 2005 saw the release of "12 Songs", a CD on which Neil played acoustic guitar for the first time in decades. His '05 tour was one of the top grossing of the year.
It took him 42 years to do it, but in the middle of May, 2008, Neil finally achieved his first number one album on the Billboard 200 chart when "Home Before Dark" climbed into the top spot. The CD got a huge boost from his appearance on TV's American Idol two weeks earlier, when he sang "Pretty Amazing Grace". The LP also went to #1 in the UK. On May 2nd of that year, Sirius Satellite Radio started Neil Diamond Radio. On October 13th, 2009, Neil released "A Cherry Cherry Christmas", his third album of holiday music. It included a cover of Adam Sandler's "The Chanukah Song", which Diamond said he recorded because "There are so many beautiful Christmas songs around and so few Hanukkah songs." On November 2nd, he released the LP "Dreams", a collection of fourteen of his favorite songs by other artists from the Rock 'n' Roll era. On December 20th of that year, Diamond made an appearance on NBC's The Sing-Off, performing "Ain't No Sunshine" along with the a cappella groups featured on the show. On March 14th, 2011, Neil was inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame and was also an honoree at the Kennedy Center Honors. On November 24th, he appeared in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, riding on a Mt. Rushmore float, singing "America" and "Sweet Caroline" to promote tourism for the state of South Dakota. "The Very Best of Neil Diamond", a compilation CD of Diamond's 23 studio recordings from the Bang, UNI/MCA, and Columbia catalogs was released on December 6, 2011 on the Columbia / Legacy label.
Diamond continued to record and release new material and maintained an extensive touring schedule as well. For Spring and Summer, 2012, his website, www.NeilDiamond.com listed show dates throughout America. October, 2014 brought a new album, "Melody Road", which was supported by a tour stretching into 2015. Fans were delighted when 74-year-old Neil told the press in early March, 2015 that he planned to keep touring as long as his voice and body would hold out. His current tour had him scheduled to appear in ten countries around the world. In late November, 2016, Neil announced that he would embark on his 50 Year Anniversary World Tour in 2017, beginning with 39 concerts in North American arenas. On December 28th, 2016, he achieved his 38th Top 10 hit on Billboard's Adult Contemporary Radio Airplay chart with "The Christmas Medley" from his recently released album "Acoustic Christmas". It was his first AC Top 10 since "Cherry Cherry Christmas" hit #4 on January 2, 2010.
In January, 2017, Neil announced plans to release "Neil Diamond 50 - The 50th Anniversary Collection", a career-spanning box slated for March 31st. In January, 2018 the Recording Academy, the organization behind the Grammy Awards, revealed that Neil would be presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award the following summer. That was overshadowed a few days later when Neil announced that he was retiring from touring immediately after learning that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Acting on his doctor's advice, he canceled the upcoming Australian and New Zealand legs of his 50th Anniversary tour. A posting on his official website said, "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." Although the diagnosis ended Diamond's career as a live act, the 77-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee said that he hopes to continue making music by writing and recording.