Neil Diamond vs. Neil Young

I'm not a big fan of American Idol, but boredom drove me to turn it on last night, just in time to see contestant Brooke White slaughtering Neil Diamond's "I'm a Believer."

Brooke White is marginally talented, and Diamond's music is innocent enough, but it was a painful marriage of the two. My thumb hit the "off" button before she could finish a verse.

This morning, NPR Music producer Stephen Thompson mentioned that he'd also caught some of American Idol last night, which in turn got us all talking about Neil Diamond. I admit to liking maybe a CD's worth of his songs, while the rest of the group finds his music mostly unbearable.

Neil Diamond has enjoyed what to some is a baffling resurgence in popularity in recent years, particularly among young people. I've got nothing to go on but a hunch, but it seems to have been sparked — at least in part — by comedian Will Ferrell's recurring imitation of Diamond on Saturday Night Live. Diamond himself appeared on the show, as well as in the teen comedy Saving Silverman. This was followed by an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! — another program targeted at younger audiences.

In short, for people in their early to mid-20s, it's become cool to like Neil Diamond. I'm not sure if this is an ironic cool or a more genuine belief that his music is simply awesome, but either way, he's secured a place in their minds and MP3 collections.

This was all confirmed for me at a party I went to in Baltimore a while back. Everyone was a lot younger than I am. I was sitting with a group of early twentysomethings, sipping beers and pretending to relate to whatever the topic was. At some point, someone imitated Will Ferrell imitating Neil Diamond, which drew a laugh, followed by a discussion of just how totally cool Diamond is, you know? The most blissfully clueless person in the group asked for a clarification on who, exactly, Neil Diamond is, confusing his name with Neil Young... at which point I had to jump in, exclaiming that one should never confuse the two.

To make a long story short, I soon found myself in a shouting match over who was better: Neil Diamond or Neil Young. It became glaringly obvious to me that those in the Neil Diamond camp only knew him from his recent insertion into their pop-culture landscape. They knew none of his history and nothing of Neil Young at all — which isn't surprising, given that Neil Diamond had his last Top 10 hit before they were even born.

No offense to Neil Diamond. But come on.

So which camp do you belong to?

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Speaking as a member of the twenty-something demographic, I tend to think that besides their both having been given the name "Neil", there's really nothing to compare. The two are totally different beasts. And for my part, Neil Young eats Neil Diamond every time, with giant, bone crushing teeth.

Sent by julia | 4:08 PM | 4-30-2008

I gotta go with Julia on this one. The only thing Neil Diamond has going for him is the Red Sox, and he totally jumped the shark at the season opener.

Sent by Jack | 4:19 PM | 4-30-2008

When I was nine years old, I heard "Southern Man" on the radio. It stopped me in my tracks. I took my mother on a desperate search for After the Goldrush; found it on a Sunday afternoon in Salem, MA. It is one of my seminal rock albums.

At the same tender age, I was listening to Sweet Carline, Cherry, Cherry...and a few other great pop songs by Neil Diamond.

There's really no comparison, but I would be just as happy to have written, "I'm a Believer," as I would be to have written, "Sugar Mountain."

Sent by Michael Oliver | 4:27 PM | 4-30-2008

Neil Young is a better everything, but I'm still more likely to listen to Neil Diamond - as background music (my true secret shame is Nelson Riddle).

Sent by Ann V. | 4:31 PM | 4-30-2008

I have a soft spot for a couple of Neil Diamond songs, but mostly in the ironic sense. Neil Young however is one of my favorite artists and "After the Gold Rush" is an album I can never leave behind. Good choice of songs to showcase Neil Young by the way.

Sent by Brian | 5:00 PM | 4-30-2008

There are so many Neils more talented than Neil Diamond. Gaiman, Peart, Simon, Armstorng and Young...just to name a few.

Comparing Neil Diamond to Neil Young is like comparing apple and oranges (really old, cheesy, Jazz Singer oranges).

Sent by Ned | 6:10 PM | 4-30-2008

No question that Neil Young is better. Being a recent college grad and Boston resident, I've had to heard "Sweet Caroline" far too many times. There is some irony to Diamond's popularity, but a lot of it has to do with his pop sensibilities. Most people who aren't avid music fans would rather listen to Diamond than Young.

The real comparison comes down to The Last Waltz. Young, coked out of his mind, plays an amazing version of "Helpless" with Joni Mitchell on background vocals. Diamond plays "Dry Your Eyes", which is the only song from the whole concert I skip on a consistent basis.

which reminds me, why was Neil Diamond at the Last Waltz? What was the connection? He must have been friends with one of the members of the Band, but who?

bb

Sent by Seth | 6:20 PM | 4-30-2008

i think a whole cd of neil diamond might be pushing it a bit, but he does have a few decent songs. i mostly know him from johnny cash's vastly superior cover of solitary man. so yeah, neil young.

Sent by aaron | 7:45 PM | 4-30-2008

Seth,

Robbie Robertson produced a Neil Diamond album from that era. It was controversial even then.

So, I guess we're dealing with an age old question.

Sent by Michael Oliver....also from Boston...bah bah bah | 9:09 PM | 4-30-2008

no contest! massey hall 1971!

Sent by jehan | 9:26 PM | 4-30-2008

Yeah its not even close, Neil Young walks on Neil Diamond.

Sent by Wes Hunter | 10:20 PM | 4-30-2008

Neil Young, by far. Don't worry big brother, you did your job well.

Sent by Shannon | 10:25 PM | 4-30-2008

Hey I usually like these theoretical journeys into music and culture but I'm annoyed by this Neil vs Neil question. Barry White or Barry Manilow? David Byrne or David Cassidy or David and David? Is Neil Young one of the great singer/songwriters--of course. But I think Neil Diamond has also contributed to the American musical fabric. Why must these two compete? Look out Neil Sedaka.

Sent by Tom EG | 12:19 AM | 5-1-2008

In high school during the 90's my best friend made a comment and said that he heard Neil Diamond was the "Godfather of Grunge". I loved the mistake and the imagery associated with it.

Sent by Gabe | 8:05 AM | 5-1-2008

Neil Young is all right, a bit of a sacred cow, where Diamond is just a noisy cow.
Listen to "Porcupine Pie", rightly voted Worst Song of All Time by WFMU's
Tom Scharpling!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-7S77gPVfQ

Sent by schlep | 9:23 AM | 5-1-2008

I'd be amazed if someone who reads this blog actually backs the Diamond.

Sent by Brendon | 11:32 AM | 5-1-2008

Canadian rock god or tin pan alley doofus??

Neil Young all the way!

Sent by ras3 | 11:58 AM | 5-1-2008

When it comes to musical talent with stamina, it's Neil Young all the way; when it comes to retro cheese (not aged is better) bite on some Neil Diamond.

Sent by Kat | 1:11 PM | 5-1-2008

I'm from Chicago and although I like both Neil's, Neil Diamond Phillips is the "Neil" tribute band playing in the area.
www.neildiamondphillips.com. The greatest living american songwriter.

Sent by Jim B | 2:02 PM | 5-1-2008

i remember listening to a neil diamond cd with my dad while on a four-hour drive. he really enjoyed him back in the day and it was nice to hear. i caught diamond perform at the end of idol last night; he's a kind man and his advice to the contestants was sweet and heartfelt. go, him!

Sent by jehan | 2:12 PM | 5-1-2008

Neil Diamond Cool?, I wasn't aware this was going on.

Sent by Smegley | 3:28 PM | 5-1-2008

Every year since college--like 7-8 years, my friends and I have had various "Neil Diamond Christmas Parties." Though we've all scattered across the country, we keep putting on these parties for friends and family nearby. There has been between 1 and 5 of these parties every Christmas time. The party is simple, you must blast Neil's two (yeah, that's right TWO volumes!) incredibly cheesy and ironically cool Christmas albums during the party. We wear thick sweaters and drink plenty of hot chocolate.

You might be showing your age. To most i think, he's just "ironic cool." I mean his whole persona--the glitzy shirts, tight pants, white-dancing, etc is ironic and amusing. I think most people who are in to a lot of music, and yet enjoy Neil Diamond don't consider him a great artist, but a decent pop song writer and one funny dude.

btw, I've never seen Will Ferrell's thing, Jimmy Kimmel's thing, and only parts of Saving Silverman on late night tv. I think Neil just wrote some fun and funny (if un-intentionally) songs and created and interestingly cheesy persona.

Sent by Matt | 3:50 PM | 5-1-2008

Neil Diamond all the way. I grew up listening to Neil, my parents were big fans. I celebrate (almost) his entire catalog. My wedding song was by ND (and my wife walked down the aisle to another of his songs). Went and saw him perform at Jimmy Kimmel the other night, amazing.

Now, don't get me wrong - Neil Young is phenomenal, and depending your angle, more accomplished than Neil Diamond. But at a personal level, Diamond has meant so much to me in life that he wins, no question.

As a related note, I run a music industry online marketing company so the thoughts on *how* he got a resurgence in popularity is of interest to me. I think the above points are part of it (SNL for example, viral video being a big help) but I also think timeless songs register with people across many generations. Yeah, some people are probably just jumping onto the tongue-in-cheek hip factor, but I honestly think his songs and lyrics resonate with people of all ages. I remember being six years old and not being able to get enough...

Sent by Jason Feinberg | 5:50 PM | 5-1-2008

You are watching American Idol and then concerned about being hip? What is that - a koan?
I have a foot in both Neil's camps.
A fellow high school musician from Tyler Texas, Doug Rhone, is one of the guitar players for Neil Diamond. And though Diamond's lyrics are weak he has some fine songs and a better voice than Young. And if you had seen him live in 1966, you'd have seen one fine singer/songwriter/performer.
Listen to
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gxIcSTGkO4I
It may be Diamonds best.
On the other hand, I notice you talk admiringly about Neil YOUNG but don't talk about the website he set up that features both protest music, and protest videos? If you are suggesting he has more substance, then why not talk about that substance?
On his songlist of 2,600 protest songs, I'm pleased to have mine at #129
See http://www.neilyoung.com/lwwtoday/index.html
Young's lyrics are better, and his guitar work is better.
Both have had some great songs.
Long live the revolution in the arts

Sent by Tom Hendricks | 9:09 PM | 5-1-2008

I'd much rather listen to the remnants of Neil Diamond's voice than listen to Neil Young tell me how to vote. If Young would just sing, great. I don't need his help with my politics.

Sent by Lance of Virginia | 8:14 AM | 5-2-2008

I love both, but just to sit and listen to? Neil Young. No contest.

Sent by Matthew Abel | 9:41 AM | 5-2-2008

"Segel's Peter Bretter is a frustrated musician - 'kind of a dark, gothic Neil Diamond' - who lives in a state of suspended slacker bliss by scoring the music and sound effects for a cheesy CSI-like television series that stars his long-time girlfriend, the Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell) of the title," from http://bluemoviereviews.wordpress.com/2008/04/21/forgetting-sarah-marshall/.

Maybe the D is so popular because Apatow Productions is referencing him? I did have a pretty cool (read: funny) live Neil Diamond tape where Henry Winkler "The Fonz" sang a verse of "Song sung blue". Paul Simon started out in Tin Pan Alley too, that doesn't make him a douche. I'd take Neil Young cds with me anywhere, I'd sing Neil Diamond in a karaoke bar anytime.

Sent by z | 12:32 PM | 5-2-2008

Neil all the way!!!

Sent by Dave Pelletier | 1:04 PM | 5-2-2008

NEil diamond Probably one of the greatest Entertainers that ever lived. Been selling out shows for Yrs. I believe he has the most sellouts of any solo artist. Who cares who is better? Matter of taste. Been a diamondhead for Yrs. The guy is a class act

Sent by Jerry Morgero Jr | 5:19 PM | 5-2-2008

Why compare two musical greats? It's all good. There's room for them both. And Neil sounded great on the results show of American Idol - he's got a really natural tone to his voice. And don't forget his previous album (from 2 years ago) produced by Rick Rubin. There was some good stuff on that one, though it didn't do for him what Rubin did for Johnny Cash.

Sent by Steve Goldberg | 1:47 AM | 5-4-2008

I'm preaching to the choir here, but there really is no comparison: Neil Young is a seminal artist whose musical accomplishments range from scathing social commentary to hard rock barn stompers. After the Gold Rush is perhaps his most accessible album - I would encourage listeners to give Tonight's the Night or On the Beach a spin. Awesome stuff.

Neil Diamond writes ear candy. It tastes good while you listen to it, but other than a catchy chorus, it's completely forgettable - fodder for baseball games and comedy skits. I pity the generation that grows up with just this to discuss at parties.

Sent by Christian | 8:57 AM | 5-4-2008

My only concern about the blog is that you actually argued about it. At the ripe old age of 58, I have been exposed to both Neils and much more. They are both good artists, I suppose. However, Neil Young writes life changing prose.

Sent by Don Carter | 9:57 PM | 5-4-2008

Both Neil's have cemented their places in pop/rock music history. However, here are the facts... Diamond has outsold Young by a wide margin and there are VERY few artists in history who can lay claim to having as many top 40 hits (37 platinum and gold) and albums/records sold (120 million and counting). Even Bruce Springsteen, let alone Neil Young, cannot match these numbers. No let's talk about concerts which Diamond holds records for...take either artist and place them in a concert venue next to one another. It would not even be a contest...Diamond sells out 20000 seat arena's and even bigger stadiums and Neil Young has had to work much smaller venues in the hopes of drawing a capacity crowd. These are FACTS and not opinion. The popular vote goes overwhelmingly to Neil Diamond.

Sent by Bobby | 8:51 AM | 5-5-2008

I belong to BOTH camps. I'm not on either side, I'm entrenched in both, and I am having my cake and eat it too. Diamond can't touch Young's passion, but Young can't touch Diamond's knack for a hook. I ask this question: besides the majestic Bob Dylan, who's performance stole the documentary, "The Last Waltz"? Yup - you guessed it - Neil Diamond. His one song "Dry Your Eyes" was spot-on. A great opportunity to compare the two Neils. No one should have to decide who's "better" - it has nothing to do with age or generation. Neil Diamond doesn't get much respect, but in the long run, Diamond's music has reached more people than Young ever will. Young interprets, Diamond observes and feels. And, truth be told, Diamond CLEARLY has the better voice. Young's is, well, "an acquired taste." Long May They Run!

Sent by Matt | 8:52 PM | 5-5-2008

even though 'porcupine pie" was one of my favorite songs when I was about 7 years old, I don't think it's a fair contest. Matt, you must have seen a different version of "The Last Waltz". I thought that "Helpless" stole the show. Just goes to show how our biases color our opinions.

Sent by phil | 10:39 PM | 5-7-2008

While Neil Young's "instant albums" of late have been marginal, I still respect that he is doing what he loves with no regards to saleablity or other marketing issues. He can still pull out the great song too, like Spirit Road from his recent Chrome Dreams II CD.

My vote's for N.Y.

Sent by Guy DeRome | 4:14 PM | 5-9-2008

The man behind the masterpiece that is 'Harvest' could make a hundred mediocre albums and still be a god in my book. That record transports me, comforts me, gives me shivers - even listening to it for the 1000th time. The best Neil Diamond songs (ex: 'Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show'), on the other hand, never fail to make me laugh. Even though this is probably not the intended effect, I appreciate his music for that. You know that cereal called Cracklin' Oat Bran? It looks like dogfood, which is funny in itself. I once lived with a guy who used to sing about it to the tune of you-know-which N.D. song to me in the morning... endless laughter.

Sent by Laura Whigham-Trouv?? | 4:18 PM | 5-12-2008

I would NEVER never get the two Neils confused, but I am a member of the young 20-something crowd AND I have a weird love of Mr. Diamond. I credit it purely to my mother who loved Neil Diamond and used to play his records, then tapes and finally CDs around the house every Saturday. He was fun, some of his songs were goofy and I liked them and could tolerate listening to them over and over. Besides the camp that found Diamond via Will Farrel, I would bet a lot of Neil fans love him for the same reason.

Sent by Becca | 6:07 PM | 5-13-2008

Saying who is better or best, always comes down to one's opinion. For that matter, there are people out there who would go to the grave telling you that Barry Manilow blows both Neil's away. I know it sounds crazy - but you get my drift as to what I am trying to convey here. Bottom line, I have to agree with Bobby, NEIL DIAMOND has outsold and out draws Neil Young by quite a large margin. He has many more gold/platinum albums than Neil Young and, for that matter, most recording artists in history. As a matter of fact, if I am not mistaken (and I'm not), he currently has the # 1 album in the country making him the oldest recording artist (67) ever to have a #1 album while still alive. What all this means is that (many) more people have purchased Diamonds recordings and attend his concerts than Neil Young, Barry Manilow, Bob Dylan, or even Springsteen. These are factual statistics and although, it cannot prove Diamond is better than any of the afore mentioned artists (once again, that would be an opinion), it sure the hell proves that he is the more popular/successful. End of story.

Sent by Rob | 2:39 AM | 5-18-2008

LMAO...Neil Young or Neil Diamond...hmmmm Neil Diamond isn't even in the same ballpark as Neil Young. Let's see, its like an SAT question..Neil Young is to Neil Diamond is as Chocolate Ganache Gateau is to a Twinkie...Not to be too much of a hipster snob..(although it is a moniker I proudley wear) but Neil Diamond always seems to me to be like a blind date, you put him on hoping he's gonna be better than you think, but are always disappointed when you open the door...then you're just stuck trying to find a polite way to make it all end.

Sent by Fence Flatley | 10:36 AM | 5-19-2008

There's no comparing Neil to anyone alive or dead in the past hundred years. Four hundred years from now when music from this era is played, it will be the genius of Neil Young that will be reflected on as the major contribution of this time.

Sent by John Boccia | 6:47 PM | 5-19-2008

They are both awesome but for me it's Diamond. Don't write him off as pop or ear candy. He has written some incredible personal, and progressive music. Check out his last two Rick Rubin produced cd's or go back in time and listen to Hot August Night. The guy is a great writer, best to skip his MOR late seventies early eighties music though.

Sent by ryan | 6:06 AM | 5-27-2008

Oh..I don't know...let me check my CD collection
Neil Diamond - 0 CDs
Neil Young - 26 CDs
Yep, seriously there is not one Neil D. song that spoke to me as 85-90% of Neil Y. work. AND that is NOT even taking account Mr. Young's work in CSN&Y or Buffalo Springfield.

Sent by Steve Preston | 4:51 PM | 5-29-2008

LMFAO...this is a f***ing joke right? Anyone who thinks Neil Diamond is better then Neil Young doesn't matter in the first place. Neil Young is probably one of the top 5 greatest songwriters/lyricist of all time. He's a genius. Neil Diamond is a radio musican who's had a couple decent hits. The fact that this whole vs crap even exist is an insult to Neil Young lol. At least make it Neil young vs Bob dylan.

Sent by David | 2:13 AM | 6-1-2008

How about Tony Orlando vs. Bruce Springsteen? BJ Thomas vs. Van Morrison? I'm so tired of these morons who have no sense of humor for themselves and laugh at jokes about Robert Goulet or Christopher Walken because Will Ferrell imitates them - even though THEY HAVE NO IDEA WHO THESE PEOPLE ARE!!! Neil Young can fairly be matched up against any modern day musical artist: even McCartney/Lennon or Dylan. For a career retrospective, he can claim to be an integral part of the 60's folk-rock movement for his time in Buffalo Springfield and CSNY, an important figure in Country-rock (Harvest), and the godfather of grunge and by extension most "modern" and "alternative" rock.

Sent by Adam H. | 12:28 AM | 6-7-2008

I worked for Sony Music for 12 years and I cannot help but smirk as I read some of the comments from these self proclaimed musical afecionados. Opinion is one thing but FACT is another, so let me set this straight once and for all... the "unhip", "cheesy" Neil Diamond has outsold Neil Young in record/CD sales by a substantial margin and on the concert circuit, there's no comparing the two. Diamond sells out multiple nights at Madison Square Garden and The Hollywood Bowl while Neil Young would never even attempt to perform at those huge venues anymore as he would play to (maybe) half full audiences if he did. So, let's review the FACTS... Diamond has many more platinum and gold discs, has sold twice as many albums/singles worldwide as Young, and draws much larger audiences at much larger venues. Who's more popular and successful?? Hmmmm, you do the math!

Sent by Cris | 12:12 AM | 7-7-2008

I love Neil Diamond's music-his newest CD not as good as previous with Rick Rubin, but still good to hear him stripped-down, Tin-Pan Alley-style. But I will Break you if you think Neil Diamond is better than Neil Young. Neil Young is God. Literally. He created you, me, all the representatives of the Illinois law enforcement community...everybody, everybody...

Sent by Steve Duffy | 8:03 AM | 7-9-2008

Somewhere there is a therapist's couch with STEVE DUFFY'S name on it.

Sent by Chris | 11:35 PM | 7-15-2008