The debate of how relevant Neil Diamond is continues to this day. Some say he’s a brilliant singer songwriter, cut from the Brill Building cloth of great songsmiths. Some say he’s schlock as evidenced in his late 70s/early 80s hits, from the Jazz Singer era as well as his beaded shirts. Some say he’s ripe for parody because he takes himself too seriously [Watch Will Ferrell’s hysterical VH1 Storytellers skit from SNL as proof]. Some say he’s so square, he’s hip and a whole new generation has found Sweet Caroline has a great song to scream together in a group, whether at a baseball game or a wedding reception (personally witnessed both, multiple times). The truth of the matter is they are all right. Neil is many things to many people. But that first transition from a moody folk rocker to a dramatic pop singer happened when Cracklin Rosie hit number #1 in 1970. [Neil is one of a handful of songwriters to have #1 songs in the 60s, 70s & 80s – I’m A Believer by the Monkees in 1967 & Red Red Wine by UB40 in 1988]
Cracklin’ Rosie, in my opinion, is one of Neil’s funniest songs. He starts off so innocent telling Cracklin Rosie to get on board while a trombone plays the opening lick then does his best Elvis impersonation during the bridge before building up to a dramatic climax- Play it now! Play it now! The song sounds so dirty and you can make a case that Rosie is a hooker that he gets it on with at the back of the tour bus. The play it now bit could be his Who’s-Your-Daddy? moment with his store bought woman for all we know. All we know is that Neil goes low and sneers that he loves his rosie child.
I hate to disappoint you but Rosie’s not a prostitute. The truth is funnier & sadder. Rosie is a bottle of sparkling mateus, most likely of the Paul Masson varietal, the kind that Miles from Sideways says tastes like the back of an L.A. school bus. It seems that Neil was inspired to write song after hanging with an Indian tribe in Canada. Now that’s funny. Imagine approaching a teepee on a reservation in the middle of nowhere on a cold Saskatchewan prairie at night and hearing guitar strums and a group of people yelling, So Good, So Good, So Good…you know what I’m taking about. Anyway I digress. It seems that in this tribe if you don’t have dates at night, you make out with a bottle of wine, hence a poor man’s lady.
So to recap, as the 60s turned to the 70s and people made conscious of the plight of the American Indian and as the American Indian Movement had gathered more mainstream awareness, Neil Diamond was playing up their stereotypes as alcoholics. Way to go, Neil. Your AIM medal is in the mail.