50 Years On, There’s No Escaping Neil Diamond’s ‘Sweet Caroline’
Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" has achieved an ubiquitous position in modern culture over the past half-century, thanks to an ever-growing list of TV and movie appearances and the support of several sports teams.
Diamond's career had already taken several twists and turns by the time he penned the song in 1969. The singer-songwriter had weathered the early struggles of his career, having bounced around several New York music publishers in his efforts to become a songwriter. All of them saw enough talent to hire the fledgling writer, but not enough results to keep him employed for more than a couple of months.
Things began to change in 1965 when "Sunday and Me," a track written by Diamond and recorded by Jay and the Americans, became a minor hit. The following spring, he scored his first chart-topper with "I'm a Believer," one of four Diamond-penned songs recorded by the Monkees.
Soon after that, Diamond became a successful recording artist in his own right. Songs like “Solitary Man,” “Cherry Cherry” and “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” solidified his place as a prominent solo act in the latter part of the ‘60s.
In 1969, the singer found himself in Memphis, where he was scheduled to record new material at the legendary American Sound Studio. While lounging at his hotel, Diamond found himself working on a song idea. The tune was catchy and he liked the way it flowed, but something in the lyrics didn’t work.
“I needed a three-syllable name,” he recalled during a 2014 appearance on Today. “The song was about my wife at the time — her name was Marcia — and I couldn't get a 'Marcia' rhyme."
Looking for inspiration, Diamond’s eyes wandered to a nearby photo. "It was a picture of a little girl dressed to the nines in her riding gear, next to her pony," the singer recalled. "It was such an innocent, wonderful picture, I immediately felt there was a song in there." The child in the photo was Caroline Kennedy, daughter of President John F. Kennedy. That night, “Sweet Caroline” was born.
Listen to Neil Diamond's 'Sweet Caroline'
Released earlier in the month and first hitting the charts on June 28, 1969, the song would peak at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. By Aug. 18, it was certified gold, already having surpassed 500,000 copies sold. The track has since gone platinum, becoming one of Diamond’s best-known songs and even earning enshrinement in the Library of Congress.
Over the years, the reach of “Sweet Caroline” has extended far beyond radios and recording studios. The song became an anthem for the Boston Red Sox, played during the eighth inning of every game at Fenway Park. This tradition started in 2002 after the baseball team’s executive vice president of public affairs, Dr. Charles Steinberg, noticed the song’s “transformative powers.” While the Red Sox may be the most notable professional sport team to embrace the tune, they are certainly not alone.
The NFL’s Carolina Panthers routinely play the song during their home games, while UNC, Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh also feature the track at athletic events (Pitt fans typically replace the song’s “ba ba ba” refrain with “Let’s go Pitt!”). Even farther from home, the Sydney Swans of the Australian Football League play “Sweet Caroline” between the third and fourth quarters of each of their home games.
For five decades, “Sweet Caroline” has maintained a consistent presence in pop culture. A wide swath of artists have covered the track, including Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Bobby Womack and the punk rock group Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. The song has also been featured in major motion pictures, television shows and advertising campaigns, keeping its familiar melody echoing in the minds of generations of music fans.
We've collected some of the song’s many incarnations below.
Elvis Presley (1970)
Elvis released his rendition of “Sweet Caroline” on his 1970 live album On Stage. The rock pioneer delivers the tune with his trademark flare, speeding the tempo up a little from the original, while also adding country-style guitar influences. This was the second time Presley recorded a Diamond-penned song, following the 1969 track “And the Grass Won’t Pay No Mind.”
Bobby Womack (1972)
R&B star Bobby Womack brought a breezy, soulful influence to this version of “Sweet Caroline,” released on his 1972 album Understanding. The track was a minor hit for the singer, peaking at No. 51 and No. 16 on the pop and R&B charts, respectively.
Roy Orbison (1973)
Legendary rocker Roy Orbison released his 18th studio album, Milestones, in September 1973. Side Two of the LP featured a cover of “Sweet Caroline,” which Orbison had been regularly performing in concerts in the months prior to its release.
Frank Sinatra (1974)
Of all the "Sweet Caroline" covers, Diamond has pointed to Sinatra's version as his favorite. "He did it his way," he noted. "He didn't cop my record at all. I've heard that song by a lot of people and there are a lot of good versions. But Sinatra's swingin', big-band version tops them all by far." The iconic crooner released his rendition on the 1974 covers album, Some Nice Things I've Missed.
Beautiful Girls (1996)
Sometimes forgotten among the ‘90s rom-com landscape, Beautiful Girls featured an ensemble cast that included Matt Dillon, Lauren Holly, Timothy Dutton, Rosie O’Donnell, Uma Thurman and a young Natalie Portman. In this scene, the cast of characters, reconnecting around a high school reunion, partake in a pub singalong version of “Sweet Caroline.”
Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (1997)
This punk rock supergroup is fronted by Fat Mike from NOFX. The band exclusively records cover songs, adding distinctive energy to tracks by artists like Billy Joel, Elton John and the Beatles (among many others). Me First and the Gimme Gimme’s debut studio release, 1997’s Have a Ball, featured a frantic version of “Sweet Caroline,” arguably the only version of the song that could incite a mosh pit.
Fever Pitch (2005)
This 2005 romantic comedy, starring Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon, centers on a relationship that is blooming amid the Boston Red Sox's 2004 World Series run. Given the ties between “Sweet Caroline” and the Red Sox, it’s no surprise filmmakers used the song to soundtrack one of the movie’s montages.
American Idol (2008)
Diamond appeared as a guest mentor on a Season Seven episode of American Idol. Contestants were challenged to perform songs from the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer's catalog, with David Archuleta choosing “Sweet Caroline.” The teen did well on the night and eventually came in second on the show, falling to the season’s eventual Idol winner, David Cook.
The musical-comedy-drama Glee used a wide assortment of songs during its six-year television run. In episode eight of the show’s first season, the character Puck looks to impress his classmate Rachel by performing his “personal tribute to a musical Jewish icon.” The high schooler then launches into a rendition of “Sweet Caroline,” which quickly prompts the entire class into song.
The Big Bang Theory (2012)
Behold, the power of “Sweet Caroline”! What starts as an awkward car ride between fellow scientist nerds Amy and Howard turns into a fun singalong in this scene from the hit CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory.
Ted 2 (2015)
In this scene from Ted 2, the siren call of “Sweet Caroline” gets a certain foul-mouthed teddy bear into trouble. Creator Seth MacFarlane has New England roots and is very familiar with the Red Sox tradition, so it was only a matter of time before he weaved the tune into one of his jokes.
Hyundai commercial (2017)
Even bumper-to-bumper traffic can’t dampen the spirits of a Hyundai driver who happily sings along to “Sweet Caroline” during his commute. The solo rendition turns into a duet when the driver pulls up alongside another Hyundai driver in a similarly jovial mood.
Grammy Awards (2017)
Depending on your point of view, James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke is either a hilariously fun celebrity singalong or an irritating pop-culture phenomenon. Either way, it cannot be avoided. Such was the case in 2017 when the late-night host was given the reins of the Grammy Awards. At one point in the evening’s ceremony, he turned “Music’s Biggest Night” into one big Carpool Karaoke episode, enlisting John Legend, Tim McGraw, Jennifer Lopez, Faith Hill, Ryan Tedder, Jason Derulo and the man himself, Neil Diamond, in a star-studded rendition of “Sweet Caroline.” While most of the celebrities fumbled through the verses, everyone seemed to know the chorus.