Chances are whether in the produce aisle at the grocery story, having coffee at your favorite café or driving down the road with the windows down, if Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” starts playing you’ll find yourself singing along…especially when it comes time to shout, “So good! So good! So good!”
The 82-year-old singer/songwriter grew up in Brooklyn where he attended Erasmus Hall High School and was in the Freshman Chorus and Choral Club, along with classmate Barbara Streisand. At 16, he received his first guitar further igniting his musical ambitions and setting him on the way to becoming one of the best-selling artists in music history. Diamond has scored 10 No. 1 singles and sold more than 130 million records.
Diamond first gained fame as a songwriter and his credits include such hits as The Monkees “I’m a Believer” and UB40’s “Red Red Wine” as well as songs recorded by Jay and the Americans, Cliff Richard, Lulu and Elvis Presley.
In 1980, he expanded into acting starring in The Jazz Singer, and though the film received less than stellar reviews, the soundtrack spawned three top ten hits for Diamond.
Over the years, the Grammy winner has been honored with numerous accolades including induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1984 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. He received the Kennedy Center Honors in 2011 and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018.
Here we take a look at the 20 best Neil Diamond songs that have shaped the beloved singer’s illustrious career and became the soundtrack of our lives.
1. “Sweet Caroline” (1969)
Diamond recorded this song at American Sound Studio in Memphis, TN, and there seems to be some confusion as to what inspired the catchy anthem. He’s said it was inspired by his wife at the time, Marcia, but he changed the name to something more singable with three syllables that fit the melody.
He’s also been quoted in interviews saying it was inspired by a photo on a magazine cover of a young Caroline Kennedy on her horse. The song rose to No. 4 on the Billboard 100 and has become an enduring hit that was selected by the Library of Congress in 2019 for preservation in the National Recording Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
2. “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” (1977)
Diamond wrote this song with famed songwriters Alan and Marilyn Bergman and it was initially intended to be the theme for a Norman Lear sitcom called All That Glitters. When the concept for the show changed and the song wasn’t used, Diamond expanded it and recorded it solo for his 1977 album I’m Glad You’re Here with Me Tonight.
Barbara Streisand covered it on her album Songbird. Radio stations started doing mashups of their two versions which became popular with fans thus leading the two superstars to record the song as an official duet. The song was produced by Bob Gaudio (who gained fame as a member of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons) and climbed to No. 1 on the Hot 100 for two consecutive weeks in December 1978. Diamond and Streisand closed the 1980 Grammy Awards with the song and it became one of the greatest moments in Grammy history.
3. “America” (1980)
This anthem was culled from the soundtrack of Diamond’s film The Jazz Singer. The song hit No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became Diamond’s sixth No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary chart.
Buoyed by Diamond’s passionate voice and the soaring melody, the song celebrates America as a melting pot built by immigrants. It has become a patriotic anthem that has been used in political campaigns, in promotion of the 1996 Olympics and Diamond sang it at the centennial rededication of the State of Liberty.
4. “Forever in Blue Jeans” (1978)
Co-written with his guitar player Richard Bennett, Diamond has been quoted as saying this song celebrates that “the simple things are really the important things.” The song peaked at No. 20 on the Hot 100 and #2 on the Easy Listening chart. The song was also a country hit for Tommy Overstreet and has been used in blue jean ads, most notably ads for The Gap that featured Will Ferrell impersonating Diamond.
5. “Song Sung Blue” (1972)
This 1972 hit from Diamond’s Moods album became a No. 1 the week of July 1 and spent 12 weeks in the Top 40. It also spent seven weeks at No. 1 on the adult contemporary chart and was nominated for two Grammys that year. (He lost out to Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”).
In his 1996 compilation album, In My Lifetime, as a “very basic message, unadorned. I didn’t even write a bridge to it. I never expected anyone to react to ‘Song Sung Blue’ the way they did. I just like it, the message and the way a few words said so many things.”
6. “Cracklin’ Rosie” (1970)
This song became Diamond’s very first No. 1 hit when it was released in 1970. Diamond wrote the song solo and recorded it on his Tap Root Manuscript album. The song was recorded with backing by the famed Los Angeles session musicians known as The Wrecking Crew including Hal Blaine on drums, Larry Knechtel on keyboards, Joe Osborn on bass, Al Casey on guitar and Gene Estes on percussion.
7. “I Am. . . I Said” (1971)
One of his most intensely personal songs, it took four months for Diamond to write the carefully crafted opus. Diamond told Mojo Magazine in 2008 that the song came from a time he spent in therapy in Los Angeles: “It was consciously an attempt on my part to express what my dreams were about, what my aspirations were about and what I was about. And without any question, it came from my sessions with the analyst.” The song was released in 1971 and rose to No. 4 on the chart and also became a hit in the U.K.
8. “Hello Again” (1980)
This beautiful ballad was featured in The Jazz Singer, the 1980 film in which Diamond starred with Sir Laurence Olivier and Lucie Arnaz. The film’s soundtrack became one of the most successful soundtrack albums of the 80s, selling over five million copies and peaking at No. 3 on the pop albums chart. “Hello Again” is one of three hits singles from the soundtrack, along with “America” and “Love on the Rocks,” which peaked at No. 6, No. 8 and No. 2, respectively.
9. “Solitary Man” (1966)
This is the song that revealed the Brooklyn native’s vocal talents to the world. Diamond had already gained a reputation as a gifted songwriter, but this became his debut single as a singer.
Featured on his first album, The Feel of Neil Diamond, released in 1966, “Solitary Man” is one of Diamond’s most frequently covered songs and has been recorded by Johnny Cash, Chris Isaak, Crooked Fingers, Jay and the Americans, Johnny Rivers, T. G. Sheppard, Cliff Richard, B. J. Thomas and many others.
10. “Love on the Rocks” (1980)
Written by Diamond and Gilbert Bécaud, this tortured ballad is another hit from Diamond’s 1980 film The Jazz Singer. It peaked at No. 2 on the Hot 100 and climbed to No. 3 on the adult contemporary chart. Bécaud recorded a version of the song in French and it has also been covered by Gladys Knight and Millie Jackson.
11. “Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show” (1969)
This song was the title track of Diamond’s fourth studio album. Though it only climbed to No. 22 on the chart, it helped grow his fan base and pave the way for his next release “Sweet Caroline,” which became a blockbuster hit.
With its high energy and singalong chorus, the song became a beloved moment in Diamond’s live show. The song was also used in Quentin Tarantino’s 2019 film “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood,” which starred Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio.
12. “Play Me” (1972)
This sultry ballad has long been a favorite with audiences and over the years it wasn’t uncommon to see women in crowds holding up signs that said “Neil, Play Me.” This 1972 hit first appeared on Diamond’s album Moods, and peaked at #11 on the pop chart.
13. “Longfellow Serenade” (1974)
This hit became Diamond’s second No. 1 on Billboard’s Easy Listening chart and also became a chart-topping hit in Switzerland. The song’s title pays homage to 19th century poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
In the liner notes to his 1996 compilation album, In My Lifetime Diamond wrote: “Occasionally I like using a particular lyrical style which, in this case, lent itself naturally to telling the story of a guy who woos his woman with poetry.”
14. “Cherry, Cherry” (1966)
Diamond has said this song was inspired by an early relationship with an older woman. The song peaked at No. 6 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Thirteen years later, the record company released a live version of the song from Diamond’s live album Hot August Night and it climbed to No. 31 on the Hot 100.
15. “Heartlight” (1982)
Diamond penned this thoughtful ballad with two other legendary songwriters Carole Bayer Sager and Burt Bacharach, drawing inspiration from the film E.T. The title track of his 1982 album, it spent four weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart. It peaked at No. 5 on the Hot 100 becoming his thirteenth and last top ten hit.
16. “Kentucky Woman” (1967)
This song was his last recording for Bang Records. The song peaked at No. 22 on the pop singles chart and No. 6 on the Canadian chart. The song has also been covered by Waylon Jennings, Gary Puckett & the Union Gap and Deep Purple.
17. “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” (1967)
Originally recorded on Diamond’s Just for You album, this song reached No. 10 on the pop charts in 1967. It enjoyed a resurgence when the rock band Urge Overkill recorded it and Quentin Tarantino featured it on the soundtrack of his 1994 film Pulp Fiction.
18. “Holly Holy” (1969)
Writing songs with women’s names in the title has worked well for Diamond over the years from “Cracklin’ Rosie” to “Sweet Caroline” and this gospel-influenced classic. Released as a follow up to “Sweet Caroline,” the song peaked at No. 6 on the pop chart and No. 5 on the Easy Listening chart. Over the years, “Holly Holy” has resurfaced in several films and TV shows, including the Netflix series Midnight Mass and the 2001 film Saving Silverman and 2012 Kevin James comedy Here Comes the Boom.
19. “Delirious Love” (2005)
Diamond recorded this infectious uptempo song on album 12 Songs, which was his 26th studio album. Diamond began writing songs for the project while snowed in his Colorado cabin following an extensive tour. When he met producer Rick Rubin, the two began crafting the album together and it became one of Diamond’s most critically acclaimed records in years. It also saw commercial success, debuting at #4 on Billboard’s all genre Top 200 album chart.
20. “September Morn” (1979)
The title track of his 13th studio album is a quintessential Neil Diamond ballad, filled with emotion and anchored by his passionate vocals. Released in 1979, it became Diamond’s 30th Top 40 hit in the U.S., landing at No. 2 on the U.S. Adult Contemporary chart and No. 1 in Canada. The song became a global phenomenon as well and a highlight during his live shows.
Deborah Evans Price believes everyone has a story to tell and, as a journalist, she considers it a privilege to share those stories with the world. Deborah contributes to Billboard, CMA Close Up, Jesus Calling, First for Women, Woman’s World and Country Top 40 with Fitz, among other media outlets. Author of the CMA Awards Vault and Country Faith, Deborah is the 2013 winner of the Country Music Association’s Media Achievement Award and the 2022 recipient of the Cindy Walker Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Western Artists. Deborah lives on a hill outside Nashville with her husband, Gary, son Trey and cat Toby.