Suzanne is a song written by Leonard Cohen and sung by Neil Diamond.
NEIL DIAMOND’S CAREER
After his 16 weeks at Sunbeam Music were up, he was not rehired, and began writing and singing his own songs for demo purposes. “I never really chose songwriting,” he says. “It just absorbed me and became more and more important in my life.”
Diamond’s first recording contract was billed as “Neil and Jack”, an Everly Brothers-type duo comprising Diamond and high school friend Jack Packer. They recorded two unsuccessful singles: “You Are My Love at Last” b/w “What Will I Do” and “I’m Afraid” b/w “Till You’ve Tried Love”, both released in 1962. Cashbox and Billboard magazines gave all four sides excellent reviews. Later in 1962, Diamond signed with Columbia Records as a solo performer. In July 1963 Columbia released the single “At Night” b/w “Clown Town”, which Billboard gave an excellent review to Clown Town and Cashbox gave both sides excellent reviews, but it still failed to chart. Columbia dropped him from their label and he went back to writing songs in and out of publishing houses for the next seven years.
He wrote wherever he could, including on buses, and used an upright piano above the Birdland Club in New York City. One of the causes of this early nomadic life as a songwriter was his songs’ wordiness: “I’d spent a lot of time on lyrics, and they were looking for hooks, and I didn’t really understand the nature of that,” he says.
During those years, he was able to sell only about one song a week, barely enough to survive on. He found himself earning enough to spend only 35 cents a day on food (US$3 in 2017 dollars). But the privacy he had above the Birdland Club allowed him to focus on writing without distractions; as he explained, “Something new began to happen. I wasn’t under the gun, and suddenly interesting songs began to happen, songs that had things none of the others did.” Among them were “Cherry, Cherry” and “Solitary Man”. “Solitary Man” was the first record Diamond recorded under his own name that made the charts. It remains one of his personal all-time favorites, as it was about his early years as a songwriter, even though he failed to realize it at the time:
It wasn’t until years later, when I went into Freudian analysis, that I understood that it was me. It was an outgrowth of my despair.:37
Diamond spent his early career as a songwriter in the Brill Building. His first success as a songwriter came in November 1965, with “Sunday and Me”, a Top 20 hit for Jay and the Americans. Greater success followed with “I’m a Believer”, “A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You”, “Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)”, and “Love to Love”, all performed by the Monkees. Diamond wrote and recorded the songs for himself, but the cover versions were released before his own. The unintended, but happy, consequence was that Diamond began to gain fame not only as a singer and performer, but also as a songwriter. “I’m a Believer” became a gold record within two days of its release, and stayed at the top of the charts for seven weeks, making it the Popular Music Song of the Year in 1966.:44
“And the Grass Won’t Pay No Mind” brought covers from Elvis Presley (who also interpreted “Sweet Caroline”) and Mark Lindsay, former lead singer for Paul Revere & the Raiders. Other notable artists who recorded his early songs were the English hard-rock band Deep Purple, Lulu, and Cliff Richard.[c]
In 1966, Diamond signed a deal with Bert Berns’s Bang Records, then a subsidiary of Atlantic. His first release on that label, “Solitary Man”, became his first true hit as a solo artist.[d] Diamond later followed with “Cherry, Cherry” and “Kentucky Woman”.:37
His early concerts saw him as a “special guest” of, or opening for, everyone from Herman’s Hermits to, on one occasion, the Who.:45 As a guest performer with The Who, he was shocked to see Pete Townshendswinging his guitar like a club and then throwing it against walls and off the stage until the instrument’s neck broke. It was the first time he had seen a band smashing their instruments and amplifiers to pieces.:46
Diamond began to feel restricted by Bang Records, because he wanted to record more ambitious, introspective music, like his autobiographical “Brooklyn Roads” from 1968. Berns wanted to release “Kentucky Woman” as a single, but Diamond was no longer satisfied writing simple pop songs, so he proposed “Shilo”, which was not about the Civil War but rather an imaginary childhood friend. Bang believed that the song wasn’t commercial enough, so it was relegated to being an LP track on “Just for You”. In addition to being dissatisfied with his royalties, Diamond tried to sign with another record label after discovering a loophole in his contract that did not bind him exclusively to either WEB IV or Tallyrand, but the result was a series of lawsuits that coincided with a slump in his record sales and professional success. A magistrate refused WEB IV’s request for a temporary injunction to prevent Diamond from joining another record company while his contract dispute continued in court, but the lawsuits persisted until February 18, 1977, when he triumphed in court and purchased the rights to his Bang-era master tapes.