For more than 40 years, Neil Diamond has been a fixture on the world's music scene. He's had countless hits and hit records, been the butt of jokes and created numerous sing-a-longs that are heard just about everywhere — "Sweet Caroline" among them.
Surprisingly, it was his 2005 album, 12 Songs, that brought him back up toward the top of the charts and his 2008 release, Home Before Dark, that scored him the first number-one album of his career. Many give credit for that achievement to uber-producer Rick Rubin who got Diamond to strip away all the glitz and glam and go the way of James Taylor. Diamond has recently stated that he'll work with Rubin on his next album, but that it will probably different from the last two.
"I wasn't aware that we were trying to distill the essence of my music when we first started recording this stuff," Diamond says during a recent conference call with journalists. "Rick may have wanted to hearken back to simpler days of my career -- he was shooting to capture that in the sessions. Basically, we were going in to kind of find out what these songs would sound like and what they would feel like in a studio setting with a couple of additional musicians aside from myself."
Diamond says Rubin never discussed any intentions in those first sessions and acted more as a casual observer to what the band would do in the studio space. Diamond says he went into the studio simply to "create something wonderful, something magical."
That magic resulted in his first number one, which is something Diamond says he has never paid much attention to. "I'm more focused on the quality of the album and not whether it makes it to number two or three or one," he says. "It came as a surprise to me when I was told that this was my first number one. I thought I had one or two before this, so it's nice to have that little milestone."
Aside from changing the style of his music, the recent albums have also marked a return to playing the guitar for Diamond. He says for years he didn't pick up a guitar because there were "so many extraordinary guitar players around."
"Really I was trying to demonstrate the songs to the other musicians, and me playing it kind of connected me closer to the song and felt right," Diamond says. "When it came time to really start laying down the tracks and doing it, it didn't feel right for me to stop playing."
There's no hiding the fact Diamond has had a long career full of hits. On his current tour, he's only offering up a handful of songs from the new albums -- mixing them in with the "favorites."
"We're doing three songs from the new album and they're working very well," Diamond says. "I took two from 12 songs. It's always difficult to introduce brand new material to an audience. There is the tendency to want to hear something you know and are familiar with. I'm thinking of adding one or two more as we go along."
While the new music has sparked more interest in younger listeners, Diamond says he isn't making a conscious effort to attract more fans. While he has noticed that his audience has increasingly gotten younger, he isn't sure why and isn't complaining about it either.
He acknowledges that "Sweet Caroline" has taken on a life of its own over the years and notes that his favorite songs in his catalog are the ones he performs live.
"Although, I can't do all of them that I really like and feel close to in the show," he adds. "There are quite a few that I can do and songs that go way back -- songs that I did from the Hot August Night album. If they're truthful, I find a great deal of satisfaction in reliving the moments in the stories of these songs."
As for how long he will continue to perform, it's anyone's guess. This much is true -- Diamond is enjoying every minute. "I never expected that I'd be around this long when I first started," he says. "I'm still performing and I'm still loving it. I'm still writing and loving doing that in kind of a perverse way -- you can't really say that writing is something you love. It's more of a completion of yourself ... a fulfillment of who you are. It's a joyful experience to share music directly with people. I can say I love performing. I couldn't think of a more exiting way to spend my life."
Neil Diamond will perform at Time Warner Cable Arena on Dec. 12 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $39.50, $85 and $120.