Why There’s No Escaping Neil Diamond’s ‘Sweet Caroline’
Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" became ubiquitous in modern culture over a half-century thanks to an ever-growing list of TV and movie appearances and the support of several sports teams.
Diamond's career had already taken several twists and turns by the time he penned the song in 1969. He'd weathered the early career struggles, having bounced around several New York music publishers in his efforts to become a songwriter. All of them saw enough talent to hire the fledgling writer, but not enough results to keep Diamond employed for more than a couple of months.
Things began to change in 1965 when "Sunday and Me," a track written by Diamond and recorded by Jay and the Americans, became a minor hit. The following spring, he scored his first chart-topper with "I'm a Believer," one of four Diamond-penned songs recorded by the Monkees.
Soon after that, Diamond became a successful recording artist in his own right. Songs like “Solitary Man,” “Cherry Cherry” and “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” solidified his place as a prominent solo act in the latter part of the '60s.
In 1969, Diamond found himself in Memphis, where he was scheduled to record new material at the legendary American Sound Studio. He was lounging at his hotel when he hit upon a song idea. The tune was catchy and he liked the way it flowed, but something in the lyrics didn’t work.
“I needed a three-syllable name,” Diamond said during a 2014 appearance on Today. “The song was about my wife at the time — her name was Marcia — and I couldn't get a 'Marcia' rhyme."
Looking for inspiration, Diamond’s eyes wandered to a nearby photo. "It was a picture of a little girl dressed to the nines in her riding gear, next to her pony," he told The Guardian in 2007. "It was such an innocent, wonderful picture, I immediately felt there was a song in there." The child in the photo was Caroline Kennedy, daughter of President John F. Kennedy. That night, “Sweet Caroline” was born.
Listen to Neil Diamond's 'Sweet Caroline'
Debuting on the Billboard charts on June 28, 1969, “Sweet Caroline” would peak at No. 4 on the Hot 100. The single was certified gold by August, already having surpassed 500,000 copies sold. It's since gone platinum, becoming one of Diamond’s best-known songs and even earning enshrinement in the Library of Congress.
Over the years, the reach of “Sweet Caroline” has extended far beyond radios and recording studios. The song became an anthem for the Boston Red Sox, played during the eighth inning of every game at Fenway Park. This tradition started in 2002 after the baseball team’s executive vice president of public affairs, Dr. Charles Steinberg, noticed the song’s “transformative powers.” While the Red Sox may be the most notable professional sports team to embrace the tune, they are certainly not alone.
The NFL’s Carolina Panthers routinely play the song during their home games, while the University of North Carolina, Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh also feature “Sweet Caroline” at athletic events. (Pitt fans typically replace the song’s “ba ba ba” refrain with “Let’s go, Pitt!”) The Sydney Swans of the Australian Football League also play “Sweet Caroline” between the third and fourth quarters of their home games.
Times change, but “Sweet Caroline” has maintained a consistent presence in pop culture. A wide range of acts have covered it, including Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Bobby Womack, and Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. The song has also been featured in major motion pictures, television shows and advertising campaigns, keeping Diamond's familiar melody echoing in the minds of generations of music fans.
Here's a look back at some of the song's signature moments:
From: On Stage (1970)
Included on a late-period live album, “Sweet Caroline” is delivered with Presley's trademark flare. His arrangement speeds the tempo up a little from the original, while also adding country-style guitar influences. This was the second Presley rendition of a Diamond-penned song, following the 1969 track “And the Grass Won’t Pay No Mind.”
From: Understanding (1972)
Bobby Womack brought a breezy, soulful influence to his version. Sweet Caroline” became a minor hit for the R&B star, peaking at No. 51 and No. 16 on the pop and R&B charts, respectively.
From: Milestones (1973)
Roy Orbison's 18th studio album arrived in September 1973 with a side-two cover of “Sweet Caroline,” which the legendary early rocker had been regularly performing in concerts in the months prior to its release.
From: Some Things I've Missed (1974)
Diamond has pointed to this version as his favorite of all the “Sweet Caroline,” covers. "He did it his way," Diamond noted. "He didn't cop my record at all. I've heard that song by a lot of people and there are a lot of good versions. But Sinatra's swingin', big-band version tops them all by far."
Uma Thurman, Timothy Dutton and Others
From: Beautiful Girls (1996)
Sometimes forgotten among the ‘90s rom-com landscape, Beautiful Girls featured an ensemble cast that included Matt Dillon, Lauren Holly, Timothy Dutton, Rosie O’Donnell, Uma Thurman and a young Natalie Portman. In this scene, the cast of characters reconnects around a high school reunion then participates in a pub singalong version of “Sweet Caroline.”
Me First and the Gimme Gimmes
From: Have a Ball (1997)
This punk rock supergroup is fronted by Fat Mike from NOFX. The band exclusively records cover songs, adding distinctive energy to tracks by artists like Billy Joel, Elton John and the Beatles, among many others) Me First and the Gimme Gimme’s debut LP featured a frantic version of “Sweet Caroline,” arguably the only version of the song that could incite a mosh pit.
From: Fever Pitch (2005)
This 2005 romantic comedy starring Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon centers on a relationship that is blooming amid the Boston Red Sox's 2004 World Series run. Given the ties between “Sweet Caroline” and the Red Sox, it’s no surprise filmmakers used the original song to soundtrack one of the movie’s montages.
From: American Idol (2008)
Diamond appeared as a guest mentor on a Season 7 episode of American Idol. Contestants were challenged to perform songs from his catalog, and David Archuleta choose “Sweet Caroline.” He did well on the night and eventually came in second on the show, falling to the season’s eventual Idol winner, David Cook.
Puck (Mark Salling)
From: Glee (2009)
The musical-comedy-drama Glee used a wide assortment of songs during its six-year television run. In episode eight of the show’s first season, the character Puck looks to impress his classmate Rachel by performing his “personal tribute to a musical Jewish icon.” The high schooler then launches into a rendition of “Sweet Caroline,” which quickly prompts the entire class into song.
Amy and Howard (Mayim Bialik and Simon Helberg)
From: The Big Bang Theory (2012)
Behold, the power of “Sweet Caroline”! What starts as an awkward car ride between fellow scientist nerds Amy and Howard turns into a fun singalong in this scene from the hit CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory.
Ted 2 (2015)
In this scene from Ted 2, the siren call of “Sweet Caroline” gets a certain foul-mouthed teddy bear into trouble. Creator Seth MacFarlane has New England roots and is very familiar with the Red Sox tradition, so it was only a matter of time before he weaved the tune into one of his jokes.
Brian Maillard and Edi Patterson
From: Hyundai Commercial 'Duet' (2017)
Even bumper-to-bumper traffic can’t dampen the spirits of a Hyundai driver who happily sings along to “Sweet Caroline” during his commute. The solo rendition turns into a duet when the driver pulls up alongside another Hyundai driver in a similarly jovial mood.
John Legend, Tim McGraw, Neil Diamond and Others
From: Grammy Awards (2017)
Depending on your point of view, James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke was either a hilariously fun celebrity singalong or an irritating pop-culture phenomenon. Either way, it could not be avoided. At one point while hosting the 2017 edition of the Grammy Awards, Corden even turned “Music’s Biggest Night” into one big Carpool Karaoke episode, enlisting John Legend, Tim McGraw, Jennifer Lopez, Faith Hill, Ryan Tedder, Jason Derulo and Neil Diamond himself in a star-studded rendition of “Sweet Caroline.” Most of the celebrities fumbled through the verses, but everyone seemed to know the chorus.
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