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Smackdown: Neil Diamond: Are You A Believer?

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Neil Diamond's career exhibits all the characteristics of a music icon - numerous hits spanning numerous decades, the charisma and the chest hair-revealing wardrobe to back it up -- but he has yet to be formally recognized by his peers with a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In another Soundcheck Smackdown, we debate the American music icon's career. Our guests include Jon Bream, author of the book, Neil Diamond Is Forever, NPR reporter Mike Pesca and Pulitzer Prize-winning author and columnist Dave Barry.

Tell us: Are you a believer in The Solitary Man? Or have you soured on "Sweet Caroline?" Leave a comment.


Dave Barry, Jon Bream and Mike Pesca

Comments [61]

Jello from Boston

I never understood the fascination with this guy. I'm not talking about his voice of which he has a very nice one. I'm not talking about his image, which , well, to each his own I guess. What I am talking about is his songs. They suck! He is the worst in my opinion. I mean, even as far as cheese goes, this is just sappy sentimental crap. Hell for me would be trapped in a room with a great sound system, and "Love on the Rocks" playing over and over. Screw Neil Diamond, I know that in pop culture he is some kind of cool icon. Listen to his songs though, and I don't mean when they play "Sweet Caroline" at last call. I mean, just give a listen, and ask yourself. "Do I really like this?" My answer, No.

Oct. 17 2009 11:07 PM
Eric from Queens,NY

The 'Smackdown' ignored the Neil Diamond of the 2000's-three great and critically praised rock albums-Three Chord Opera (2001),12 Songs (2005) and Home Before Dark (2008).I believe that the last two will be regarded as acoustic rock classics.From both the grammy winning production of Rick Rubin to Neil's songwriting and vocal performance on them.

Oct. 12 2009 02:58 PM
Eric from Queens,NY

Neil Diamond's performance at the Last Waltz might be a lot of things to a lot of people,but boring?No Way.Mist all the sleepy roots music,Neil D is the only one who bought Brooklyn swag on stage.His performance was big and epic sounding rock n roll.All naked emotion
and big buildups.acoustic guitar that sounded as big and macho as Neil's voice.

Oct. 12 2009 02:48 PM
Eric Laranjo from Orange County, CA

Neil Diamond does belong in the RRHOF - his induction is long overdue. How many artists who became popular in the 60's are top sellers and top concert draws today? All the talk about his songs not being Rock songs is bunk. While his music is very diverse (which is a plus)most Diamond songs are based on Rock. Most Dylan songs are folk, not rock. I love Dylan too. The reason why Diamond is not in the RRHOF is simply political, he does not promote the excesses of rock or the extreme liberal political views (drugs abuse, sex without love) that many rock artists are sympathetic to. In the end, it really does not matter. If Diamond is never inducted in the RRHOF, it is the loss of the RRHOF and proves their bias. How many artists are in the RRHOF with music careers less than 15 years? However, Neil is still going strong. The Neil Diamond legacy will live on regardless, and his undeniable impact of rock music will continue to grow.

Oct. 12 2009 12:01 AM
Phillip Rauden from Solana Beach, CA

I adore Neil Diamond. I am a long time fan and I adore him because:

1. His voice dark and deep and low
2. He writes the most amazing songs
3. His showmanship, his shows are delightful
4. It is so much fun to see him entertain us
all and he does.
5. He is so gorgeous/handsome, he is aging
very well, still very sexy, oh boy is heeee
That is why I adore Neil Diamond and that is why everybody does too.

He has more talent than most groups around spuing rap, and silly songs. Neil is fun, and amazing he is.

May Neil Diamond reign forever......

Oct. 11 2009 11:47 PM
Ginny from Milwaukee, WI

CJ from New York... how dare you accuse Neil Diamond of being a pedophile? It's your right not to like someone's music, but to slander him in such a way is illegal, immoral and cruel. Grow up.

Oct. 11 2009 06:17 PM
Dianne Wong from Ft. Scott, Kansas

If the fans don't care if ND is in the Hall of Fame and minimize it's importance, because they won't consider ND as part of it, they why do his fans become so enraged when he is left out of it...evidently it strikes a raw nerve...evidently u feel snubbed because he is not good enough for that organization? And, really, he isn't

Oct. 11 2009 05:51 PM
Nicky from UK

Hmmm - really not sure how relevant the RRHOF is now. Yes Neil (NOT NEAL!!) should have been in it a long time ago but I now think those in charge are so far up their own rear ends that they diminish the "membership".
Neil rocks and always will!!!

Oct. 11 2009 05:33 PM
NIck from England

I hope Neil doesn't care about the Rock and Roll hall of fame as it hasn't stopped him from selling millions and performing to millions. I would take that level of success over being in the hall of fame any day.

Oct. 11 2009 05:27 PM
Dianne Wong from Ft. Scott, Kansas

The problem really isn't Neil Diamond per is his idiotic fans who diminish taking him seriously...really, come on...he is ok with music, only ok...there are brilliant talented performers and writers out there this man does not hold a candle to...what has kept him going and buying all his houses and all the hoopla, is the idiocy of the people who follow him on a daily far as I am concerned, they make it hard for the rest of us to really take the guy seriously...they are idiots

Oct. 11 2009 04:41 PM
Betty from Oak forest, Illinois

Neil Diamond is the best of the best out there!! he should be definetly in the Rock and Roll Hall of fame!! but I really don't care.. I think he's the best, I don't need that.. and I'm sure after all these years he could care less!! I will be his fan even if they don't!!

Oct. 11 2009 04:03 PM
Dorothy Shanley from Houston, Texas

Neil Diamond is a truly amazing artist and performer. He should definetly be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He has played to sold out audiences for decades and connects in an incredible way with every individual there. He has written songs for over 40 years. I enjoy all his music the classic older songs and the new songs also. I Love Neil Diamond!!!

Oct. 06 2009 10:26 PM
Shannon Geise from Boston, MA

No one starts out their career to stay small, be the underdog and no get recognized for their talents. Neil has been doing this for decades and has humbly remarked that he doesn't have the best voice and had his first hit off an embarrassing campy song; but the man writes and tours religiously to please his fans. I don't know any other musician who has endured the years like he has and consistently written about finding his true self and love. This after having one of the most expensive divorces in HISTORY. Give the man his further due. I am thankful for his gifts and am proud to have my own Sweet Caroline to remind me how life is so good!

Oct. 06 2009 03:12 PM
mgduke from hell's kitchen

Do folks possibly not see that Diamond’s pot song is a put down of its grotesque caricature protagonist? The reason Diamond doesn’t belong in Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame is that he’s anti-rock.

Oct. 06 2009 02:42 PM
Mark from Hoboken

I agree with Bob Dylan's assessment:

At "The Last Waltz" (Diamond only was there because of Robbie Robertson), Neil came off stage and said to Dylan, "you better be good because the audience is mine".

Dylan just said, "What do I have to do? Go onstage and fall asleep?"

Oct. 06 2009 02:41 PM
Julia from Skillman, NJ

I believe that most everybody likes Neil Diamond, but feel it's uncool to admit to it -- kind of like Barry Manilow. I think easy listening people are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Oct. 06 2009 02:39 PM
Sandra from Astoria, Queens

I am unashamed to say that I LOVE Neil Diamond. He so belongs in the Rock Hall. Why is he judged by only his worst songs?

I loved his performance in THE LAST WALTZ, even if most of his fellow performers didn't feel he belonged there (except for Robbie Robertson).

Oct. 06 2009 02:36 PM
danielle jensen from manh

My husband,who is a staunch Yankee fan,best friend is

a staunch Red Sox fan.Now that I know the RSNation's theme song is Sweet Caroline,it's one for the big apple,0
for Boston.And I'm not going to be able to let our friend forget it.

Oct. 06 2009 02:36 PM
JP from The Garden State

What’s the smack down all about? Music is completely subjective. What you like might not be liked by the person sitting next to you. So what? Rock N’ Roll hall of fame? Just anther music nostalgia money making gimmick like the Hard Rock Café….

Oct. 06 2009 02:36 PM
David from Astoria

Girl You'll Be A Woman, Sweet Caroline, Daydream Believer, Solitary Man, I'm a Believer, Cracklin Rose - all ROCK N' ROLL classics.

Oct. 06 2009 02:35 PM
CJ from NY

A musician who is also a pedophile... shocking....

Steven Tyler is in Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.. also a peophile

Jimmy Page... also a pedophile.....

Oct. 06 2009 02:35 PM
Nicholas from Westchester, NY

Although I respect Neil Diamond as a musician and a performer, I could never really get into his music (being the child of Euro "New Wave"/Goth sounds with the likes of Morrissey, Peter Murphy, The Sisters of Mercy, etc.) BUT I will NEVER forget Neil Diamond and LOVE the Neil Diamond song, "Coming to America...."

It was one of the songs that was playing on board a Pan Am flight from London in fall of 1986 through my headset and through the flight entertainment channel while our (parents/brother) flight was about to land into JFK; our first time to America as immigrants (now American citizens). Still love that song!



Oct. 06 2009 02:32 PM
curtis from brooklyn

First of all, the Pot Song??? Genius. Had never heard it before. That song is insane. Now we can wait to see who covers it "ironically" before Cat Power does.

Put him in the Hall of Fame already. He's got plenty of crappy songs, but he's got plenty of cool ones too. Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show anyone? That song kicks ass. Thanks for turning me on to some Neil, Mom.

Oct. 06 2009 02:32 PM

Rolling Stone elite - pretty much white males, right?

Oct. 06 2009 02:31 PM
StatenIslandOptionsguy from Staten Island

Neil Diamond would a king of the bubblegum pop hall of fame should there ever be one.

Oct. 06 2009 02:31 PM
Robots Need 2 Party from NYC

Heart Light is in reference to E.T.'s glowing chest. What!? That's ridiculous. That song was pretty lame before knowing that but now, geez. I thought Neil deserved to be in the Hall of Fame before this smackdown but after that Pot song and all the other insight into his lameness I've changed my mind.

Oct. 06 2009 02:30 PM
Alistair Wallace from midtown

from the jazz singer

Oct. 06 2009 02:30 PM
Stuart Leigh from New YOrk City

I was working with WNYC when the renovation of the statue of liberty was completed sometime int he mid 1980s. We were doing a live show from Governor's Island. After Pres. Giscard D'Estaing spoke and Ronald Reagan pushed the button that threw a lazer beam to the statue and it lit so beautifully we left. AS I walked away toward the ferry Neal began to sing at a highly amplified level. My reaction at the time was "Oh no, what schmaltz to follow what might have been a sublime occasion".

Stuart Leigh

Oct. 06 2009 02:30 PM
Ed Lewit from Long Island

As a Balladier, Neal continues the stories in the fashion of Harry Chapin.

Yes, Yes, Yes.


Oct. 06 2009 02:29 PM
Mike from NJ

Lawrence Welk, Mitch Miller, Neil Diamond; the
Holy Trinity of music to kill yourself by.

Oct. 06 2009 02:28 PM
George Englezos from NYC

Congratulations to Neil for taking Vegas Cheese to the masses...

Oct. 06 2009 02:28 PM

Great songs! Everyone recognizes a Neil Diamond song. Sold lots of albums and has lots of top 10 hits.

Oct. 06 2009 02:27 PM
Jeff Goodwyn from NYC

It's very, very important to make a distinction between Good Neil, who wrote "Red Red Wine," "I'm A Believer," "Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon," etc., and Bad Neil ('70s and beyond). It's unfair and frankly cruel to refer to him as one person.

Oct. 06 2009 02:27 PM
Bob from New Jersey

Like him or hate him, Neil Diamond is not rock n' roll. He's a pop singer/songwriter and crooner. Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame -- it's a joke anyway. Ricky Nelson in, Jethro Tull not. What the hey.

Oct. 06 2009 02:27 PM

i agree - who cares?

I am looking forward to the live performance coming next.

I can't stand it when people talk about music (or any at) like it's sports. Just let the music be and let people repond to it without putting them down! Who died and let you in charge of the aesthetic universe? Who among you has a career of any kind that sustained itself 40 years?

Picking on other people's aesthetics and having segments with a premise like this one is a little incongruous, isn't it?

Oct. 06 2009 02:27 PM
Mark Patten from Alberta, Canada

I'v never been a big Diamond fan, but I found him really fairly unoffensive and sort of bland musical wallpaper. Like a musician at the Holiday Inn Airport lounge when your flight has been cancelled....

Oct. 06 2009 02:26 PM
Dennis Moyes from Rutherford, NJ

I fell for Neil Diamond when a friend played the Hot August Night album for me in 1972. I stuck with him thru A Beautiful Noise in the mid seventies and gave up on him after Heartlight. His old stuff is great but needs to be listened to on a "live" album. The studio stuff is totally overwrought.

Oct. 06 2009 02:26 PM
peterb from

myrtle was inspired by barry goldwater; i preferred lake mille lacs

Oct. 06 2009 02:26 PM
Kate Steinberg from Park Slope

But Coming to America is definitely a top 50 terrible song. Today!

Oct. 06 2009 02:26 PM
Kate Steinberg from Park Slope

I think Neil the Performer may be more objectionable than Neil the SONGWRITER. I'm a Believer is one of the great pop records of the 60s, but imagine how diminished it would be by the Vegas-y song stylings of Neil. HAD to be the Monkees.

Oct. 06 2009 02:26 PM
memorexe from Brooklyn

Shouldn't they be inducting Barry Manilow before Neil Diamond? Really!

That pot-smoking song is beyond ridiculous--he should banned from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on that basis alone.

Oct. 06 2009 02:24 PM
David Hume from Staten Island, NY

Give me a break? Springsteen and Neil Young are serious artists but Neil Diamond is not? They are all not serious, they're pop stars.

You're one guest is pretentious. It is all of the moment pop music. Even Dylan and the Beatles are already starting to sound silly. It's all surface music with no depth. Wake up.


Oct. 06 2009 02:23 PM
peterb from

bold; and the feds are comin!

Oct. 06 2009 02:23 PM
Dave from NJ

What part of Neil Diamond is rock and roll? It's easy listening garbage that belongs in the hall of fame as much as John Tesh or Yanni does. Not a fan.

Oct. 06 2009 02:21 PM
Neil from Midtown

I agree with commenter no. 8. John, these Smackdowns are really juvenile and I expect better things of WNYC and NPR. Please make them stop.

Oct. 06 2009 02:20 PM
peterb from

i listened to "we comin to america" on the way to the spot; on lake kabetogema in northern minnesota; ya kiddin me; diamond's not deep?; give me a break; he's obvious; either are you

Oct. 06 2009 02:20 PM
Gary from Greenwich Village from well Greenwich Village...

He also made the Monkees! Being shallow and "pop-py" is no crime in rock and roll. I'm no big fan (except for Solitary Man and a couple of others), but please put him in the hall of fame and let's get on with our lives.

By the way, I'm also going to see Bruce Springsteen in two nights and even though he's a far more serious artist, I believe Mr. Diamond's songs will be hummed for about 50 years longer.

Oct. 06 2009 02:19 PM
heather from long island city

why cant it be cherry cherry and cheesy cheesy...what about loving something for the cheese factor!!! i mean isn't that a main component of the hipsters movement!!!

Oct. 06 2009 02:19 PM
Alistair Wallace from midtown

While there are Neil Diamond songs I like, when he sucks he really sucks. I can't think of anything more boring that Diamond's song in "The Last Waltz", and that includes the Dr. John song.

Oct. 06 2009 02:16 PM

Does this matter?

Oct. 06 2009 02:16 PM
Cynthia from long lsland

Does anyone care about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

Oct. 06 2009 02:11 PM
Betty Anne from UES

Of course he is a legend not just some hipster tangent. How do I know? My roommate (who was never really a fan) is OBSESSED with Diamond's Christmas albums. It starts October 1st and goes straight through to Christmas. Who but a true legend could be Jewish and have not one but two hit Christmas records?

Oct. 06 2009 02:10 PM
David Hume from Staten Island, NY

So good.....

Oct. 06 2009 02:09 PM
Ben from Brooklyn

John, stop it, please. The "Smackdown" thing is threatening to demonstrate how bankrupt your show is for ideas.

Is Neil Diamond great or kitch? He's both. Is Stax or Motown a more fundamental label to R&B? They both are.

What are we, nine years old? This is WNYC, not pro wrestling.

Oct. 06 2009 02:08 PM
binky from brooklyn

Has Michael Stipe ever acknowledged ND's vocal influence on him?

Oct. 06 2009 01:46 PM
sheree from Manhattan

I can still remember hearing "Solitary Man" on the radio for the first time---something about the quality of yearning in his voice that grabbed my attention---you have to admire someone who wrote that AND "pack up the babies, grab the old ladies..." How can a nice Jewish boy know about Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show?!? great...

Oct. 06 2009 01:31 PM
Tomas from Ontario

It makes no sense there is even a debate, Neil has contributed more to Rock n Roll than some of those already inducted. It's possible some can't accept that Neil is still out there providing entertainment to millions, he doesn't need too be retired or dead to be inducted. The R n R Hall of Fame should be proud to have someone of Neil's caliber.

Oct. 06 2009 12:12 PM
Jonathan from Williamsburg

Didn't Jack Black put this to rest in 2001 with Saving Silverman and his ND tribute band? Don't Cross Neil, or Jack will show up at your door and cause trouble.

Nevermind Born in East LA.

He's also played, and sung by most in attendance, at every Red Sox home game in the 8th inning.

Finally 2 words, Super Diamond. You can get a great sense of Neil in his heyday watching these guys cover his hits. It may not be quite as much of a spectacle as KISS, but the "Jewish Elvis" is a king in his own right.

Oct. 06 2009 11:13 AM
Allison from Gowanus

I LOVE LOVE LOVE Neil Diamond! I was born in the 70s and have listened to him my whole life. He makes me so happy and his songs are so catchy and just great.

Everybody covers him. His songs take a Reggae/Calypso beat so well (Bunny Rugs, John Holt, even UB40 and Harry Belafonte). The songs are great in French (Joe Dassin)! Spanish (Julio Iglesias)!

His songs are good solid pop music and meaningful forever.

Long live Neil Diamond!

Oct. 06 2009 10:38 AM
Nick from UWS

Diamond WAS inducted into the Songwriter's Hall Of Fame, which I'm sure he's very happy with and might very well consider a much more prestigious honor than the R&R Hall Of Fame.

Oct. 06 2009 10:10 AM
Nick from UWS

If Billy Joel was inducted, Neil Diamond certainly should be. Neil Diamond has been a consistent sound in American pop since the '60s. I consider him one of the greats. Nobody like him.

Oct. 06 2009 09:04 AM

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