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#ThrowbackThursday: Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline”

Image Via MCA Records

By Matt Clizbe

As we return from a break for the recent Thanksgiving holiday, we felt compelled to acknowledge the Clizbe family, who is still mourning the loss of it’s mom, grandmother, and matriarch, Caroline Clizbe. Caroline passed, or “transferred” as her late husband Dave use to say, on the evening of November 13th. Naturally, this resulted in us taking some already needed personal time to reflect with family and celebrate her life. One of the ways we did this at her luncheon was by singing along to one very special song in particular. That is why this week’s #ThrowbackThursday is Neil Diamond’s classic “Sweet Caroline,” in honor of Caroline Clizbe.

The story of  “Sweet Caroline” comes from a time of crossroads in Neil Diamond’s life.  Characterized best by those who knew him as the “Solitary Man” sung about in his debut single from 1963, Diamond’s career in music officially began when he dropped out of college to turn his amature obsession with music into a career in 1962.  Before long, he found himself alongside industry trend setters Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry as a songwriter in the famed New York City music district, Tin Pan alley. Then husband and wife, Greenwich and Barry sheparded Neils early days, helping him make the connections necessary to get on his feet and make his debut.  This led to him writing modest hits like “Sunday and Me” for Jay and The Americans and the United Artists label in 1965, and later, the iconic smash “I’m a Believer” for TV’s The Monkees in 1966.  

Diamond got started at a fledgling time for the rock & roll genre. When first offering “Solitary Man”, the world, the industry, and Neil himself were still learning who he was as an artist. However, thanks to Greenwich and Barry’s track record, writing songs like, “Da Doo Ron Ron”, “Be My Baby” and “Do Wah Diddy”, they were able to give Diamond a jump start by introducing him to one of the biggest songwriters and super producers of the 60’s, Bert Berns. Berns’ own  stellar reputation for songs like “Twist and Shout”, “Under The Boardwalk” and several others, positioned him to be invaluable to a then struggling Atlantic Records, who bankrolled his subsidiary Bang Records in an effort to stabilize the Atlantic Records Company.  This empowered Bert to sign Neil and give him a start as an artist.  In addition to “Solitary Man” Bang/Atlantic released key follow ups like “Cherry Cherry” “You Got To Me”, “Girl You’ll Be A Woman Soon,” “Kentucky Woman” “Red Red Wine”, and more.

However, Neil Diamond’s career pursuits ultimately required it’s share of personal and professional sacrifices, which caused the previously mentioned crossroads. Although he was label mates with the likes of Van Morrison, who ended up releasing his signature song “Brown Eyed Girl” through Bang in 1967, the label’s upstart status caused a great deal of tension with Atlantic, and specifically, one of its founding partners, Jerry Wexler. Thanks to a successful run that helped change the trajectory of the Atlantic Company as a whole, financially motivated internal politics diverted focus from the artists, and while Bert Berns utilized some local mob connections to strongarm Wexler and protect his interest, the controversial behavior had side effects on more standard artist dealings as well. As discussed in the 2017 documentary Bang! The Bert Berns Story, Diamond ultimately sued Bang, when some basic contract disputes resulted in reports of sabotage and intimidating behavior.  His strained professional setting ultimately lead to a strained personal life, and the separation from his first wife Jaye Posner in 1967.

Related Media:

Bang! The Bert Berns Story

Apple Music

Upon his rocky departure from Bang Records in 1968, and his divorce from Jaye in 1969, Diamond relocated to Memphis Tennessee, where he would rebuild his life and career with the help of MCA’s Uni Records.  It was during that time  that he spent a half hour in a Memphis hotel room, randomly strumming his guitar. This led to him stringing cords into what became his signature feel good anthem, and first top 5 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 , “Sweet Caroline.”  In fact, it turned out to be the fresh start that Diamond and his career needed. “Sweet Caroline” reinvigorated things, and sparked a trend, serving as the first of 58 entries to make it as high as the number 3 position on Billboard’s easy listening chart, sustaining a career that has lasted five decades.  

While promoting his 32nd album, Melody Road, on NBC’s ‘Today’ Show in October of 2014, Diamond revealed that although he initially wrote the song about his second wife Marcia Murphy, who he was married to for nearly 25 years,  “Sweet Marchia” didn’t fit the 3 syllable rhythm he needed. As a result he redirected the tune to inadvertently honor President John F. Kennedy’s Daughter, Caroline Kennedy.  Just as the fusion of Kennedy’s name gave the tune an enduring second meaning, once it was in the hands of the public, it seemed to take on a third meaning of unified celebration. To this day many sing “Sweet Caroline” in call and response fashion at sporting events and bars, often projecting a spirit of joy and togetherness.

One of the many families to do this was my own Clizbe family.  As we paused to reflect on the loss of Grandma Caroline Clizbe, “Sweet Caroline” was played as part of our mourning process. And as we sang in that same famous call and response fashion around my Aunt Nancy and Uncle Jim’s house in  Grandma’s home town of Clinton  Iowa, we were emotionally brought full circle, back to the summer of 1969 and every year since, when my Grandfather, Dave E. Clizbe, their friends, and or our family would gather at the Clizbe  hunting cabin every summer, and sing this Neil Diamond classic  in her honor. Now that she’s past, our family sings it in warm memory of both her and Grampa Dave, who died in March of 2016.  Therefore, it is with a heavy heart that we here at would like to use this week’s #ThrowbackThursday to thank Neil Diamond for his wonderful song, and honor the Clizbe family’s own “Sweet Caroline,” Caroline  Clizbe one last time. Enjoy the song below.

Neil Diamond

“Sweet Caroline”

Uni/MCA Records