Tony Macaulay

Tony McCauley (8-30-71)

Tony:
???????We’re speaking in one of London’s oldest and not too exclusive clubs and having a very long lunch.

Neil:
And being eyed by everyone in the club with daggers.

Tony:
Oh well. And we’re trying to wash down the remains of it with some BBC coffee.
Neil the first time your name came to my own personal attention was some years ago as the writer of the “Monkees” hit “I’m A Believer” and a couple of weeks later, I saw your first album and I was surprised and interested to see how many different styles and directions you were going in. But obviously very simple in musical content. Was this because you were still feeling your way as a musician or was it a conscious attempt of writing something simple and commercial?

Neil:
Well the songs were simple then because that was were I was at. That was what I was writing. That was the music that I loved and that’s the way I expressed myself through that music. Also, realistically, we’re talking about six years ago and the music of six years ago is not the music of today.

Play: “I’m A Believer”

Tony:
When I first heard the “Monkees” record and then I heard your LP, my first reaction was good heavens, the guy sings miles better than the “Monkees”. Did you resent the fact they had a big hit with your song?

Neil:
Oh no. I was really excited about it. I never had a number one record before. “I’m A Believer” was the biggest single in the world and at that time, it was enormous for me. I didn’t particularly feel that I wanted to do the song. I didn’t care for the song that much and I didn’t particularly care for the way I sang it. I liked the song for what it was. It was just a simple, happy song. I liked it for that, but it was not the kind of song that you would, if you were on an island by yourself for ten years and they said to you, “What one song would you like to take with you”, “I’m A Believer” would not be on that list.

Tony:
I know that many of your songs have been covered by numerous different artists in different languages and I replied to myself so often I hear a cover version of one of my songs or a recording by a different artist and I think, aw god how could they do that to it. Do you feel this about the people who record your songs?

Neil:
Most of the cover records that I’ve heard of my songs have been copies of my records, and I would much prefer, as the writer of the song, to hear someone else’s interpretation, a new view, a fresher view of the song. I haven’t heard that too often and when I have I’ve generally liked it, if not for the quality of the work, at least for the effort.

Tony:
What did you think of the Lulu record “The Boat That I Row”? That was a hit here.

Neil:
Aah…I don’t remember it to be honest with you. I heard it once or twice when it was released.

Tony:
Listen now. See if you remember it now.

Play Lulu’s version of “The Boat That I Row”

Neil:
I remember my reaction when I first heard it. And it was that first of all it was not a girl’s song. It’s too strong a song to be sung by a girl. It’s a man’s song to do and so I felt that Lulu’s version was wrong because she’s a girl. I think she’s great but it’s not the kind of song, you know.

Tony:
The whole connotation, the lyric is the wrong sound.

Neil:
Right it’s too strong. It comes on too strong for the kind of women that I like. And so

Tony:
Not feminine

Neil:
No it’s not a feminine song.

Tony:
Quite recently, one of your early songs “Cherry, Cherry” I think was on the first album, was covered here by a group that Jonathan King put together sung by himself. It was quite a successful record. Did you ever hear that one?

Neil:
No I never did hear it.

Play Jonathan King singing “Cherry, Cherry”.

Neil:
Well I like Jonathan King very much, but I don’t – see I’m very partial to my record of “Cherry, Cherry” because it was done with an old beat up guitar that I bought used many years ago and it had a particular sound that I loved. “Cherry, Cherry” was cut twice. It was recorded twice and the first time it was done with a large orchestra, a big band thing and it was too much of a production. And so we went into the studio, myself and two or three other people and, I think it was just four people and I played this old Everly Brothers guitar and I’m very partial to my record.

Play “Cherry, Cherry”.

Tony:
Tell me honestly, as a writer myself again, I can’t help but notice that a lot of the early songs, in fact, the recent hits here even, use girls names and place names. I know you always get asked this same question, where did the girl come from? Did she really exist? I mean there must be a story about “Sweet Caroline” or the girl for “Cherry, Cherry”. Are these just fictional names or did you just like the sound or the word or what?

Neil:
Hey this is good. This is the first interview I’ve ever done with someone who really understands the craft part of it aside from the feeling part.

Tony:
Right if you said to me about a girl named Rosemary. Who was Rosemary and I said no there’s no Rosemary, it’s just the sound of the word. Is that what it is?

Neil:
Yes sometimes it is the sound of the word. With “Sweet Caroline” it was the sound of the word. With “Holly Holy” it was the sound of the word. With a song like “Juliet” it was what the word implied to me. It was always in my fantasies. As long as I can remember, that the woman that I would ultimately love completely would be named Juliet. And so, it was an imaginary

Tony:
Women are pretty important in our life aren’t they?

Neil:
Yeah, I guess they are, I guess they are.

Tony:
Have you found the one that your ???????????

Neil:
Yeah

Play “Juliet”

Tony:
???????? “Cracklin’ Rosie sounds like another song about girl but I know it isn’t. What was the basic idea behind “Cracklin’ Rosie”?

Neil:
It’s the name that’s given to a wine in the Indian reservations in Northern Canada. And it’s called Crackling Rose wine and they call it “Cracklin’ Rosie” because it assumes the identity of a woman for them. It seems there are more men than there are women on some of these reservations and on Saturday night, Friday night, one of men go down to the local general store and get themselves a large bottle and it takes them through the weekend and it’s their woman for the weekend. And that’s what they call their woman, “Cracklin’ Rosie”.

Tony:
How do you physically record a song like that? Do you put the whole orchestra down together or what?

Neil:
“Cracklin’ Rosie” was recorded first with a rhythm track, I overdubbed my guitar a couple times because there was some lines that I wanted to play. Then my voice went on and then we put horns and bells and cymbal crashes and the girls group and then the bridge section on. I don’t know if I should mention it because now when people will now notice it whenever they hear the record, but the tempos into the last chorus, the tempo is completely different than the one just before it. There’s a section where I sing “say it now, say it now, say it now my baby”, and it goes into a modulation and the tempo is completely different. It’s impossible to dance to.

Tony:
Well I’m sure I have the promise of anyone listening that they will pretend that they hadn’t heard that in the future.

Plays “Cracklin’ Rose”.

Tony:
Before we move on to other topics in the Neil Diamond career, I have to pop back to the same question again. You just talked about Cracklin’ Rose…

Neil:
As we would say over hear

Tony:
Another one of your songs that I always liked, Red Red Wine, seems it can be tied up with drinking. What do you tell others?

Neil:
Oh I don’t know, I wrote Red Red Wine when I was much younger, and I saw myself, I imagined myself, at that time, as a cowboy in a small town tavern trying to forget his girl. And it’s really a country song written by someone from Brooklyn, you know. But I like the song.

Plays “Red Red Wine”.

Tony:
That was another one of Neil Diamond’s songs about drink, Red Red Wine.

Neil:
That’s the second of the only two.

Tony:
I read of you recently that in the early days you shared an office with the writers of the hit musical “Fiddler on the Roof” which is still running here after an incredible stay.

Neil:
Yes

Tony:
But the two writers Mr. Bock and Mr. Harnick. Did you find your interest by them in any way whatever?

Neil:
No actually we never even met while we were working up there. We were both signed as staff writers, they were a staff writing team, to a publishing house in New York and occasionally I would be in the offices there when they had pianos and once or twice just by coincidence they would be working in the next office and working on something. They were writing “Fiddler on the Roof” then, and I heard them writing “Fiddler on the Roof” and I was very tempted to tell them that the type of melodies that they were doing, thinking that they were writing for recordings, were outdated and that it might be a good idea if they reconsidered. But fortunately, I didn’t say anything to them and what they were writing turned out to be very beautiful.

Tony:
So now the next thing I should ask you is have you ever thought about writing a musical yourself?

Neil:
Yes but it’s too confining right now. I’m not ready to be tied down right now. There are other things that I want to do musically first.

Tony:
I know, very often myself, when I write a melody, and find an artist to record it and I go into the studio and muchly, sort of, a half hour before the session, I’m still trying to get words to work together on the back of envelopes. Has that ever happened to you?

Neil:
Yep, it happens very often because it seems that, well, it does happen a lot you know. I’d mentioned to you that the lyric to “Brother Love” was written while I was on an airplane going down to Memphis, Tennessee for the recording session. It was written on the plane flight, which is very weird because to write about a revival meeting on a TWA flight drinking champagne…it’s very weird. I was struck by it because I haven’t written lyrics that quickly generally.

Tony:
Isn’t that very often a very, very encouraging sign when it comes quickly.

Neil:
I don’t know if it’s encouraging but it sure makes it a lot easier.

Plays: “Brother Loves Traveling Salvation Show”

Neil:
It was structured. It was formed differently. It expressed, to me anyway, I mean I was very excited about it. I’m super critical of my work. But it captured something. It had a sermon, it had a choir, it had lyrics that, to me, captured a moment and it was representative of good things going on.

Tony:
Tell me about “Holly Holy”. I was gonna, the title immediately sparks the thought processes. What was the idea behind it?

Neil:
First of all, that’s a weird song. It’s a very weird song. I don’t even know if I can explain it but what I tried to do was create a religious experience or represent a religious experience between a man and a woman as opposed to a man and a god and that’s essentially what this man is singing about.

Tony:
I think we should hear it.

Neil:
Okay

Plays “Holly Holy”

Tony:
You’re talking about the importance of a lyric when you write a song in relationship to the melody. I know for a fact that you’re very affected by a strong melody. I think any writer has to be. How does it affect your choice of recording other people’s songs?

Neil:
Do you mean the melody or the lyric?

Tony:
Well the overall thing. What inspires you best about recording say “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother”? What was the thing that turned you on to that?

Neil:
I like the drama of the song. I guess I like the idea that he’s trying to portray also in the lyric. But I like the drama.

Tony:
The hit over here was by the Hollies. Did you ever hear their version?

Neil:
Right it was a hit in the States too.

Tony:
Yes that’s what I thought. Yes it was. What did you think of that?

Neil:
I liked it very much except that I felt it was a personal song and I think anytime a group does a personal song, it becomes impersonal and therefore the detracts from the lyric of what the writer was trying to say. I mean I would only have done that song the way that I did it with that enormous build at the end because that’s the way I felt and that’s why I did the song.

Plays “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother”.

Tony:
Well that was your version of “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother”. When I think of that and “Girl You’ll Be a Woman Soon” and several other songs are they very conscious that your voice is very important to you on these numbers. Are you very conscious about writing for your voice or do you just write a song for any voice.

Neil:
I think any writer, first of all, writes for his own voice. You really listen to the songs of Bacharach, listen to the songs of just about any writer that you could imagine and you’ll find that the songs, the way that they’re built, reflect how the writer sings. Burt Bacharach cannot sing and so he kind of grunts the songs out and that’s why they’re written like this. (Neil hums how the Bacharach songs are written). His songs are very difficult to sing for someone who sings and so my songs do reflect the way I sing. But it seems that in the last year and a half, I’ve become more and more conscious of my voice because I never considered that people liked the way I sang. And so, just recently, within the last year and a half, a few people, friends of mine, said hey I really like the way you sang that and I’ve been aware of it more since then and enjoying it more because of it.

Tony:
I like, especially your version, of “Both Sides Now”. It’s very attractive.

Neil:
Thank you. Well it’s a great song. It’s a song that requires as much of a performance as a singer can give.

Plays “Both Sides Now”.

Tony:
When you look down a list of your song titles, what one song title, without ever hearing the song, bounces after you and this is Knackelflerg. I have to ask you(Laughter) what on earth is Knackelflerg all about.

Neil:
Well Knackelflerg was written because we had two songs that we were willing to put strings on and we thought that we would have the strings for a period of time over. And so I always wanted to write a song where there was an enormous string section and a chorus and just one of those happy country pop songs that mean absolutely nothing, that are just the worst garbage in the world, but I wanted do one of those songs with a completely nonsensical lyric and using lines like “you set my eyebrows up in flames”. Knackelflerg means nothing.

Tony:
It’s just a word.

Neil:
Right

Plays “Knackelflerg”

Tony:
That was the Knackelflerg – a meaningless title and a

Neil:
And a meaningful sentiment.

Tony:
(laughing) oh yes indeed

Neil:
(laughing)It’s very heavy folks, man you really gotta dig it.

Tony:
One of the things that I’ve always approached with is that I tend to write songs that have a chorus, a very definite chorus and the rest of it tends to be sort of attractive padding, which I absolutely go spiritual, but I hate that idea. Do you..are you a chorus writer? Do you write catchy chorus’ or do you sit down and write a song from A-B right way through and then stop after you’re…

Neil:
You mean where does the songwriting begin for a song?

Tony:
Yes

Neil:
It can begin anywhere. It never happens the same way. It can begin just by the sound of two words together which is the beginnings of “Holly Holy” with the sounds of the words and the feeling I wanted to get across. But it can begin anywhere. It can begin with a chorus if I feel a chorus is called for. It can begin with a line. I think “I Am…I Said” didn’t really come alive until I wrote one line and to me it was the most important line of the song. And from that line everything else grew because it set a standard for me and the line was “did you ever read about a frog who dreamed of being a king and then became one” and that image of a frog dreaming of being a king just sparked me so much that I went into a frenzy for three months in writing that song to capture, to keep everything on that imagery level. It was easily the most difficult song I’ve ever written. I don’t know if I could write a song like that again because it was so personal it required me to understand actually more about myself before the song could be completed. And so I found that after I had started this, and knew what the title was and what the idea was and what I wanted to say, I found myself with one or two lines that I was happy with, which stated what I felt, and in a bind to really therefore, in order to complete the song, with this self analytical thing and understand myself. And I couldn’t work on anything else. It was quite a time.

Plays “I Am…I Said”

Tony:
Have you thought a lot about the content of songs and what you want to write about and what terms you want to writing stories on? I think “Tap Root Manuscript” is really…the whole concept of something that is entirely removed from the normal type of song ideas. How are you originally inspired to get involved African music at all?

Neil:
Well basically it was just that I’ve heard a number of years ago, some African folk records and really became interested in them because they struck me as the most sensual music that I’d ever heard and I like that kind of music and the intricacies and sophistications were built on rhythms as opposed to melodic structures and time.

Tony:
I think you sum it up best yourself on the album sleeve with the dedication, “When Rhythm and blues lost its sensuality for me I fell in love with a woman named Gospel. Met secretly in the churches of Harlem and made love at revival meetings in Mississippi, and loving her as I did, I found great yearning to know of her roots. And I found them, and they were in Africa and they left me breathless. The African Trilogy is an attempt to convey my passion for the folk music of that black continent.” I think we should hear the opening sound of the African Trilogy which is the “Child’s Song”.

Neil:
Right.

Plays “Child Song”.

Tony:
You used a real children’s choir on this title. How on earth did you get them to do what you wanted them to do.

Neil:
With great difficulty. It was the hardest recording session I’ve been to and I will never work with children again in my life(laughter and banter by both men at the same time).

Neil:
Oh wow those kids made me crazy ’cause they were all 8 and 7 and 9 and they didn’t want to stand in front of a microphone and learn their lines. They wanted to fight and climb up the sides of the walls and beat on the piano.

Tony:
How did you ever get them to do it?

Neil:
Aw it was crazy. When we recorded “I Am the Lion”, I wanted to make a point when the teacher says “I Am the Lion”, for the children to laugh, so I chased these kids around the studio, tickling them to make the laugh. We got that on the records finally.

Plays “I Am the Lion”.

Tony:
The native language of Kenya is Swahili and presumably most of the native ideas where in Swahili. Did you find it a problem?

Neil:
No I didn’t find it a problem because most of the folk stories that I had read were in English. But I wanted to write the mass in Swahili because I just could not conceive of a mass being written in English. It struck me as almost sacrilegious.

Tony:
Might loose the atmosphere, huh?

Neil:
Yes

Tony:
Did you have anyone to help you with the song?

Neil:
Yeah I spoke to a few people because I wasn’t sure of the proper usage of certain terms. And I spoke to…did some research work with one of the representatives of the Kenyan missions in the United Nations in New York and the African Studies Department at UCLA.

Tony:
When you were writing this African Trilogy did you intend it to be an album or half an album…how did you start off with it?

Neil:
Well it started with Soolaimon and I got a bug in my head that I wanted to work with some African forums and rhythm instruments and we did Soolaimon and when it was finished I felt that I didn’t really say as much as I wanted to say. There were still things that I wanted to do. And so from Soolaimon it was expanded into the “Trilogy” with Soolaimon as central chord.

Plays Soolaimon.

Tony:
Of all the things you have written and recorded for one reason or another when various tastes change what is been the most satisfying from the standpoint of enlightening?

Neil:
Of the things I’ve done?

Tony:
Yes

Neil:
I think I’m most satisfied with the lyric on “I Am…I Said”. I think I’m most satisfied with the dramatic impact of “Done Too Soon”. I think I’m most satisfied with the magic that the record of “Holly Holy” has to me. Those are things that satisfy me most I think.

Tony:
Well Neil, I think we’ve covered all aspects of the making of the Neil Diamond career in this brief span. I wish we had longer to talk. I know we shall be out in Los Angeles in a few months and I hope I can see you then.

Neil:
Right and only if you promise to do MY radio show in Los Angeles.

Music and fadeout…end of interview.

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