SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Neil Diamond is celebrating 50 years in the music business.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CRACKLIN' ROSIE")
NEIL DIAMOND: (Singing) Play it now. Play it now. Play it now, my baby. Cracklin' Rosie, make me a smile.
SIMON: And a lot of fans celebrate with him. In the past half century, Neil Diamond has sold more than 125 million records. He's released more than 40 albums. And he has put songs into the minds of millions.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COMING TO AMERICA")
DIAMOND: (Singing) On the boats and on the planes, they're coming to America.
SIMON: And now Neil Diamond is back with another album. This one is Neil Diamond's "Acoustic Christmas."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR")
DIAMOND: (Singing) Do you hear what I hear, said the night wind to the little lamb.
SIMON: Neil Diamond now joins us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.
DIAMOND: Oh, great to be here. Thank you.
SIMON: The song we're just playing, "Do You Hear What I Hear?" - one of my favorites, I don't mind saying, this time of year. Why did you want to put it on this album?
DIAMOND: Well, I sang it well. I thought - I tried it. I liked the way I sang it. I had an ensemble of musicians in the studio that was very appropriate, I thought, for that song - very intimate, very quiet. And I just felt the whole chemistry would work well. And it did.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR")
DIAMOND: (Singing) A song - a song - high up in the trees with a voice as big as the sea, with a voice as big as the sea.
SIMON: Chance to be as blunt as I can with this question, Mr. Diamond - why do Jews like Christmas music so much?
DIAMOND: I think it's because we're denied Christmas in our youth. It's not part of our liturgy. It's not part of our holiday list. But we want it.
DIAMOND: We want to be part of it. And I think when most Jewish people grow up, they just bathe in Christmas music. And I'm no different. I didn't observe Christmas. I didn't have a Christmas tree. I didn't get Christmas gifts growing up. So here I am, an adult with the chance to do a Christmas album.
DIAMOND: And it was a joyful experience for me.
SIMON: You have an original Christmas song on this album.
SIMON: Let's listen to that. It's called "Christmas Prayers."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHRISTMAS PRAYERS")
DIAMOND: (Singing) You're in my Christmas prayers and in my Christmas dreams, in every Christmas story told and every song I sing, in every song I sing.
SIMON: You've been writing Christmas songs a long time now.
DIAMOND: Well, I've written three or four of them over the years.
SIMON: We think we might have found the first one. Can we ask you if this is true? Let's play a little for you.
DIAMOND: All right.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SANTA, SANTA")
THE ROCKY FELLERS: (Singing) Dear Mr. Claus, my name is Juan. My name is Juan. You are well-liked where I come from. Tra la la. I know how busy you must be. But Santa, please, remember me.
SIMON: Is that your song, Mr. Diamond?
DIAMOND: That's my song. That's "Santa, Santa."
DIAMOND: I found a group that was willing to sing it, a group of kids. We went to the studio and made this record. It didn't become a hit. But I still like it. I still enjoy the song.
SIMON: The group is, I believe, Rocky Fellers.
DIAMOND: The Rocky Fellers, right - family group.
SIMON: 1962 is our information.
DIAMOND: That's right.
SIMON: What were you what were you doing in 1962?
DIAMOND: (Laughter) I was struggling. I was trying to get people to record my music. I was trying to make a life in music. And this is one of the things that came out of that.
SIMON: So many people, of course, know that you went to high school with Barbra Streisand.
DIAMOND: My mother would say that she went to high school with me. But any way you put it...
SIMON: Well, maybe that's what I meant to say. I beg your pardon. Forgive me.
SIMON: Barbra Streisand went to high school with you.
SIMON: But I just read that you were in the glee club together with about a hundred other people.
DIAMOND: That's right.
SIMON: And I just wonder. Are there any other great singers in that glee club that we've just lost track of?
DIAMOND: You know, I don't know. I'd like to look through the names. There may be - I don't know about singers. I think I would've heard about other singers in that choral group. But I'm sure bunches of people went on to do what they do and become what they were going to become. It's just that Barbra and I happened to become professional singers.
SIMON: Well - and among the biggest stars in show business history - I think it's safe to say.
DIAMOND: Well, she is.
DIAMOND: I don't know if I can take any...
SIMON: Now you're getting modest suddenly.
DIAMOND: Well, it's good company. Let's put it like that.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU DON'T BRING ME FLOWERS")
NEIL DIAMOND AND BARBRA STREISAND: (Singing) Well, you'd think I could learn how to tell you goodbye.
DIAMOND: (Singing) You don't say you need me.
SIMON: While we have you here - so who was "Sweet Caroline" written for?
DIAMOND: Well, "Sweet Caroline" was written for myself. But the name was inspired by Caroline Kennedy.
SIMON: Oh, OK.
DIAMOND: It fit. I came to that part in the melody in the chorus where I needed a name. And Caroline Kennedy's name came to mind immediately. The story of the song is - has nothing to do with Caroline Kennedy. But the name does. She inspired it. And I've never regretted it. I've had people tell me their Caroline stories for 30 or 40 years now.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SWEET CAROLINE")
DIAMOND: (Singing) Sweet Caroline, good times never seemed so good.
SIMON: And you're on tour next year.
DIAMOND: Yes. We've just announced a big tour. And the reaction to it has been over the moon. So I'm very excited about it. You never do know. One day, you're going to announce a tour, and nobody's going to show up or be interested.
SIMON: And do you still enjoy touring?
DIAMOND: It's hard. But it's so worth it. It does something for the inside of you that makes you want to come out. I'm basically a very quiet person. You wouldn't pick me out in a crowd. But doing a show - it's an energizing kind of experience. And I love it. And I've done it now for, as you say, 50 years. But it feels new every time. The questions are there - the doubts, of course - until you get up on stage, and you face the thousands of people that have come to these shows.
And, at that point, you become an entirely different person. I'm excited. I'm out of myself. I'm out of my mind and my body into another Neil. And he's a Neil that's been living in me for for years and years and years. But he only comes out when I get on stage. And I like to bring him out. I do love that part about touring.
SIMON: Mr. Diamond, that's one of the most remarkable things I've ever heard.
DIAMOND: Well, it's kind of remarkably true. It just happens. I didn't make it happen. I kind of think that it's something that occurs to me and not something that I make occur. And it's wonderful. It's absolutely wonderful. And especially at this age - to do it - it's doubly wonderful.
SIMON: Neil Diamond - his latest album, Neil Diamond's "Acoustic Christmas." Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, great Kwanzaa - everything to you, Mr. Diamond.
DIAMOND: Oh, that's great. Thank you so much for that.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHRISTMAS IN KILLARNEY")
DIAMOND: (Singing) The holly green, the ivy green - the prettiest picture you've ever seen. It's Christmas in Killarney...
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