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GUY RAZ, host:

Oh, you can never get enough of Barbra Streisand, and did you know that she is one of the three biggest-selling adult contemporary pop stars of all time? The others are Elton John and Neil Diamond, and two out of the three attended Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn. I'll let you guess the outlier on that one.

Anyway, the man you're about to hear from did indeed attend Erasmus Hall, but I think it's fair to say he's probably a lot better known for this.

(Soundbite of song, "Sweet Caroline")

Mr. NEIL DIAMOND (Singer): (Singing) Sweet Caroline, good times never seemed so good.

RAZ: Over a career spanning five decades, Neil Diamond sold more than 100 million albums. He's had 13 top 10 hits. And he's one of the few men who can make sequins look cool. I joined him in New York earlier this week where he was promoting his new record, a collection of mostly familiar cover songs, songs he calls the best of the rock era. The album's titled "Dreams."

(Soundbite of song, "Ain't No Sunshine")

Mr. DIAMOND: (Singing) Ain't no sunshine when she's gone. It's not warm when she's away. Ain't no sunshine when she's gone, but she's always gone too long, any time she goes away.

RAZ: Neil Diamond, welcome to the program.

Mr. DIAMOND: Well, thank you very much. It's great to be here.

RAZ: In the liner notes on this record, you write that this is an album of dreams that have been unfulfilled and yet, you know, here you are, a man with dozens of hits, one of the bestselling solo artists of all time, beloved by millions of fans around the world and still with unfulfilled dreams.

Mr. DIAMOND: Well, yeah. There seem to be a bunch of things that I want to do before I leave this planet, and this album, this "Dreams" album, is one of them. These are great, great songs. I've loved them for a long time and I had to record them at some point and I didn't want to wait any longer.

RAZ: One of the songs you cover is a Neil Diamond song. It's a song you wrote called "I'm a Believer." It was, of course, made famous by the Monkees as sort of a classic, upbeat pop jingle from the '60s. And when I first heard this re-imagination I was completely floored.

(Soundbite of song, "I'm a Believer")

Mr. DIAMOND: (Singing) I thought love was only true in fairytales meant for someone else but not for me...

RAZ: This is your own song but now you've reclaimed it as a ballad and it's become something completely different. Was it meant to be a less upbeat song when you initially wrote it?

Mr. DIAMOND: No. It was meant to be what it was, but I was 25 years old and now I'm not 25 years old. This is the way I see the song and hear the song now.

(Soundbite of song, "I'm a Believer")

Mr. DIAMOND: (Singing) Then I saw her face, now I'm a believer...

RAZ: There is a kind of melancholy in this song. I mean, you're taken to this upbeat moment when you hear now I'm a believer, but up until you get to that place you're almost sort of forlorn.

Mr. DIAMOND: Well, it's a reflective song, but it has redeeming qualities when you hit the chorus.

(Soundbite of song, "I'm a Believer")

Mr. DIAMOND: (Singing) And I'm a believer, I couldn't leave her if I tried. No, not if I tried.

RAZ: One of my favorite songs of all time is one you cover on this record. It's "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen.

(Soundbite of song, "Hallelujah")

Mr. DIAMOND: (Singing) I heard there was a secret chord that David played and it pleased the Lord. But you don't really care for music, do you? It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, the major lift, the baffled king composing hallelujah.

It's just a beautiful song to sing. I like the images.

RAZ: Do you remember when it came out, Leonard Cohen's original version?

Mr. DIAMOND: No. I heard it in the movie "Shrek." I only saw the movie because they sang "I'm a Believer" at the end. But I liked the song immediately.

RAZ: Yeah.

Mr. DIAMOND: It spoke in musical terms and it was a beautiful song.

RAZ: My guest is the legendary singer Neil Diamond. His new record is called "Dreams." Do you ever wonder or worry about what some of these artists, obviously, the living ones, might think of your interpretations of their songs?

Mr. DIAMOND: Well, I did think about that, and I wanted to be sure that the creators of the songs were happy. As a matter of fact, on one of the songs, I called the writer, Randy Newman, and I called him from the studio to check out some musical passages and played him the song over the phone. He was very complimentary. He loved it. He thought it was beautiful.

And, matter of fact, while I was in England last week, Paul McCartney sidled to up to me. We did a TV show together. And he was a little surprised that I had chosen those two songs.

RAZ: "Blackbird" and "Yesterday" are on this record.

Mr. DIAMOND: Yes. And he was a little surprised, but he liked it. That made me very happy.

(Soundbite of song, "Yesterday")

Mr. DIAMOND: (Singing) Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away. Now it looks as though they're here to stay. Oh, I believe in yesterday.

RAZ: Neil Diamond, we're at NPR's New York bureau. You grew up here in this city, in Brooklyn. Do you ever go back to where you grew up?

Mr. DIAMOND: I go back occasionally. I've been back there in the last year or two. I go back to my old neighborhood. It is still working class people but it used to be Italian and Irish and Jewish working class, and now it's Haitian people. The butcher store that I lived over is still there. I went back and visited it and it was an amazing experience, because I hadn't been back since I was a teenager.

And I imagined it in my mind. And what can I say? It's - New York rings my bell every time I turn a corner. There is a place that I lived or worked or had an experience at and I relive it in my mind. This city does that for me.

RAZ: And you think about where you came from and all of these amazing artists who came out of there. I mean, Paul Simon, Barbra Streisand, who you went to high school with and you, of course, went on to record music with. Did you ever, over the years, talk to her about how strange it was that both of you ended up doing what you do?

Mr. DIAMOND: We never discussed that. There was no discussion of, isn't this an unusual thing that we're both on the charts and we both - we made a record together that was number one in 28 countries around the world? And we learned from the same choir master at Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn.

RAZ: Incredible.

Mr. DIAMOND: The girls loved him because he was a very handsome Italian man and the boys were scared to death of him because he was tyrannical. And if you missed a note, you were out. So, Mr. Dipietto(ph), thank you so much. Two of your students appreciate it and love you for it.

RAZ: When you come back here and you reflect on the journey you took from Brooklyn to where you are today, one of the bestselling solo artists of all time, what do you think?

Mr. DIAMOND: Well, I think it's amazing, beyond bestselling of all time kind of headings. I think it's amazing because I've been able to make my life in music, which was my original dream. If I could only do this and make a living at this for the rest of my life, I mean...

RAZ: You studied to be a doctor.

Mr. DIAMOND: I did think I was going to be a doctor until I hit organic chemistry at NYU and that sobered me up.

RAZ: But music was always my passion. I didn't have to be a big star. I could have been somebody nobody ever heard of, maybe a writer who toiled away, but it didn't work out that way. I've done everything I've wanted to do and I just consider myself one of the luckiest guys in the world.

(Soundbite of song, "Midnight Train to Georgia")

RAZ: That's the legendary Neil Diamond. His new album of covers is called "Dreams." You can hear a few tracks at our website, nprmusic.org.

Neil Diamond, thank you so much.

Mr. DIAMOND: Thank you, Guy.

(Soundbite of song, "Midnight Train to Georgia")

Mr. DIAMOND: (Singing) She's leaving on the midnight train to Georgia. She's going back, she's going back to a simpler place and time. And I'll be with her on that midnight train to Georgia...

RAZ: And for Saturday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. You can hear the best of this program on a new podcast, Weekends on All Things Considered. Subscribe and listen at npr.org/weekendatc. We'll be back tomorrow. Until then, thanks for listening and have a great night.

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