Songwriting paid off big time. He composed “I’m a Believer” for The Monkees, one of the most popular songs of the ‘60s. The upbeat, No.1 hit revealed signs of Diamond’s hardship with lines like, “Disappointment haunted all my dreams.” But he was on his way up. His songs, recorded by various bands, were making it to the Top 20, and the songwriter was getting noticed.
As it happened, Diamond recorded some of those hits on his first successful solo album. The previous recordings brought notice to his solo effort. Finally, with his 1966 release of “Solitary Man,” he scored his very own Billboard Hot 100 hit.
The First Single "What Will I Do", in 1962.
Diamond and his high school buddy Jack Packer collaborated recording four singles, including the song “What Will I Do,” in 1962. They called themselves Neil & Jack. Sadly, the recording with Columbia flopped. Both Billboard Magazine and Cashbox had given the recording a strong review, so Columbia Records signed Diamond as a solo act later that year.
Unfortunately, that endeavor failed to make it to the charts as well. Columbia dropped Diamond, and he hit the streets writing songs for nearly nothing.
Returning to Tin Pan Alley songwriting, Diamond sold about a song per week. It was not enough, and he found himself trying to eat only 35 cents a day. Adjusting for inflation, he’d be starving in 2020. Who can live on a $3 per day food budget?
Personal ballads composed out of the despair he was experiencing produced songs like "Solitary Man," his first big hit. But he also wrote many other songs that put him on the road to success.
On the Road with The Who
Neil Diamond signed with the start-up label Bang Records. Joining other newly signed acts like Van Morrison and the Strangeloves, his album featured “Solitary Man” and “Cherry, Cherry.” It was time to take The Feel of Neil Diamond on the road. Bang arranged an opening act for The Who.
As a struggling musician, it was shocking to see Pete Townshend smashing his guitar until it broke in half. The Who was at its peak in 1966. Diamond opened with classy tunes that would take pop music into the ‘70s while The Who was banging out “My Generation” to sold-out crowds.
Moving Away from Bang Records
Diamond had written a slew of catchy pop songs for various musicians and some for himself with the New York-based Bang Records. But now, he wanted to write more introspective songs. “Shilo” was his first attempt, a mellow song about an imaginary friend. Bang rejected it. They said they didn’t see a single.
Diamond left Bang after finding a loophole in his contract and signed with Uni (later MCA). His move caused a 10-year lawsuit with Bang and a creative slump, but Diamond prevailed. Settling into Los Angeles in 1969, “Sweet Caroline” was ready to revive his career.