Neil Diamond Is the Dirty Water Hot Dog of American Music, and That’s a Good Thing

A Capitol Fourth 2013 Independence Day Concert

My country tis of Neil.

Neil Diamond, in his way, is the dirty water dog of American pop music.

The Brooklyn-native has been making music for over 50 years, and like any long-standing institution, his past glories tend to burnish the present.

After all, you never forget your first bite.

Diamond hooked the public long ago, with satisfying, sing-along anthems—the stadium-filling “Sweet Caroline”; the chest-thumping “America”—and for decades, served them up one after the other, like a boiling hot dog freshly plucked from a curbside pushcart.

The masses devoured them: Diamond has sold, to date, more than 125 million albums worldwide, third only to Barbra Streisand and Elton John.

While the appetite for his songs isn’t what it once was—the 74-year-old Diamond hasn’t had a Top 10 single since the first George Bush administration—he’s still working the proverbial pushcart, purely on the strength of his hits.

In other words, the hot dogs, taken for granted though they may be, still satisfy—and sell—as much as they ever did.

The singer-songwriter released his new album, Melody Road, last fall, and brings those songs, along with all the others, home to Brooklyn and the Barclays Center tonight. (He’ll play Mohegan Sun Arena Saturday and Buffalo’s First Niagara Center Tuesday.)

He spoke with reporters during a February teleconference, and here are some highlights.

Why he continues to tour and record: “That’s what I do; I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing. It’s built into my genetic code at this point. When I finish an album, within a matter of weeks, I start writing again; I can’t help myself. So far, for the last 45 years, each of the writing periods have led to records and each of the records have, more or less, led to some kind of touring activity, although I tour whenever I’m able, it doesn’t necessarily need an album release.”

Building the perfect set list: “This show will probably have more songs in it than any show I’ve ever done because I don’t want to take out ‘I Am I Said’ or ‘Sweet Caroline’ or ‘Holly Holy.’ I just don’t want to take them out and there are 15 or 20 like those and I also want to make sure … that I do a fair share of the new songs and keep the audience involved, as well. It’s going to be a big show in every way.”

What he thinks of the many tribute acts: “I’ve seen one or two and it’s fun, but I’d much rather have people, if they like the songs, interpret them in a way that’s unique to themselves and to their own talent than to try to copy something that I’ve done in the past. That’s a general piece of advice that I give to people anyway.”

On his work ethic: “I always have that thing that hurries me up and it says, ‘Don’t wait around and don’t waste time because it’s fleeting and if you have any songs that are still inside yourself, you better get to work.’ That whole concept has become part of me as I get to be older; it’s a more insistent whisper in my ear. Go to work, do your work, do not dawdle, do not waste time, write your songs, do them as well as you possibly can, and don’t waste any more time. … I’m just taking advantage of every moment that I have to make music. I think that’s my purpose here, to make music and to share my music with people. I’m on a mission to do that.”

Neil Diamond Is the Dirty Water Hot Dog of American Music, and That’s a Good Thing