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Neil outshined Whitney

My most recent post discussed Neil Diamond’s unfortunate diagnosis with Parkinson’s Disease, which forced him to retire from touring immediately. I mentioned several of my favorite Diamond songs; “Sweet Caroline” was not among them, although it isn’t a bad song.

On this day 27 years ago, Whitney Houston performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” prior to Super Bowl XXV. Many have called it the “greatest” rendition of the American national anthem they have ever heard, Super Bowl or otherwise.

I don’t care for it. I believe it got all that hype because it came during American involvement in Operation Desert Storm. If it had come during a “normal” period when the United States was not at war, I don’t think it would have been hyped so much.

I saw a retweet from ESPN business reporter Darren Rovell claiming Houston’s rendition was the greatest. In past years, I might have gone off on him, but today, I just said “I completely disagree” and mentioned my favorite rendition.

.My favorite Super Bowl national anthem rendition? You guessed it. NEIL FREAKING DIAMOND! His performance came prior to Super Bowl XXI in January 1987, and fittingly, one of Diamond’s hometown teams, the New York Giants, won their first NFL championship since 1956 by defeating the Broncos 39-20. The Giants also happened to win the Super Bowl when Houston performed, beating the Bills 20-19 when Buffalo’s Scott Norwood missed a 47-yard field goal attempt wide right in the final seconds.

In case you’re curious, the other anthem performers for Giants Super Bowls: the Backstreet Boys (XXXV, lost to Ravens), Jordin Sparks (XLII, beat 18-0 Patriots) and Kelly Clarkson (XLVI, beat Patriots).

Diamond’s rendition of the anthem was, and still is, the shortest in the history of the Super Bowl: 61 seconds. For those who ridicule Diamond for rushing through the song, hogwash. “The Star-Spangled Banner” is a march, not a dirge. It should be sung and played allegro or allegretto, not andante.

Click below to witness great man with a great rendition of our national anthem:

The first Super Bowl national anthem rendition I watched was Barry Manilow prior to Super Bowl XVIII in January 1984 (Raiders 38, Redskins 9).

My top five Super Bowl national anthem renditions. I am only counting Super Bowls where I watched the national anthem live, so nothing before Super Bowl XVIII.

  1. Neil Diamond, XXI
  2. Herb Alpert, XXII (the last non-vocal rendition, and that needs to change pronto)
  3. Mariah Carey, XXXVI
  4. Renee Fleming, XLVIII
  5. Kelly Clarkson, XLVI

Honorable mention: Billy Joel (XXIII), Faith Hill (XXXIV), combined military chorale (XXXIX)

My bottom five. Same rule as above applies.

  1. Natalie Cole, XXVIII
  2. Jennifer Hudson, XLIII
  3. Alicia Keys, XLVII
  4. Kathie Lee Gifford, XXIX (Frank Gifford was slobbering over the microphone introducing Kathie Lee)
  5. Luther Vandross, XXXI

Christina Aguilera in XLV is a special case. The singing was fine, but botching the words was not.

Lady Gaga at Super Bowl 50? Meh. Nowhere near the worst, but not worthy of my top five.

From the first 17 Super Bowls, my favorite was Tommy Loy. He was a trumpeter from Dallas who performed the national anthem at Cowboys home games for over two decades, and was asked by the NFL to do so prior to Super Bowl V in January 1971. It was fantastic. That is a hard song to play by yourself with no singing. I’m sure Colts fans were saying the NFL was playing favorites, but they can’t deny Loy nailed it.

I also thought Cheryl Ladd of Charlie’s Angels was fantastic prior to Super Bowl XIV in January 1980. The South Dakota native is a very talented actress and a fine golfer, but she has taken a lot of heat, first from fans of Charlie’s Angels who hated her because she replaced Farrah Fawcett on the show, and then from progressives who don’t like that Cheryl leans right politically.

The first anthem singer was Anita Bryant at Super Bowl III. The first two Super Bowls had marching bands perform the anthem. Too bad Bryant couldn’t stick to music.

Trivia question: Who sang the national anthem prior to Super Bowl XI in January 1977 (the first one I was alive for)?

Prior to Super Bowl XXXV, Ray Charles performed “America the Beautiful” prior to “The Star-Spangled Banner”. I don’t admit to getting emotional about songs very often, but Ray’s performance was giving me goose bumps. It was that amazing.

Answer: NOBODY! That’s because “The Star-Spangled Banner” was replaced by “America the Beautiful” and sung by Vicki Carr.

Eight more days of this hype. I’ll be so glad when 5:30 pm arrives on February 4. Enough already.

No more Neil Diamond in concert

Earlier this week, legendary singer and songwriter Neil Diamond announced he has Parkinson’s Disease, immediately retiring from touring. It’s sad he has to end touring like this, because Diamond certainly earned the right to end touring on his own terms.

I have never been to a concert, and it isn’t on my bucket list. However, if there was a list of artists I would want to go see in person, Diamond would have ranked pretty high, if not #1. Elton John is coming to Kansas City in February 2019 as part of his final tour, and I would pay to see him, as well. I would pay to see The Rolling Stones and the Eagles, and of course, The Beatles when they were together, but of course that wasn’t possible because they broke up six years before I was born.

Neil Diamond’s most famous song, according to some, is “Sweet Caroline”, which is an ode to Caroline Kennedy, the first live-born child of John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy Bouvier. I say first live-born, because sadly, a daughter was stillborn in 1956, one year before Caroline’s birth. After John F. Kennedy Jr was born in November 1960, shortly after his dad was elected President of the United States, another boy, Patrick, died only 48 hours after birth, a little more than three months before JFK was assassinated in Dallas.

Sweet Caroline has become an anthem for the Boston Red Sox, played during the eighth inning of every game at Fenway Park. It’s a fitting anthem, seeing the Kennedy clan is from Massachusetts–Robert F. Kennedy’s three and a half years as a U.S. Senator from New York notwithstanding–but it has been overdone. Too many teams are playing it, and I sometimes want to change the radio station when I hear it. It’s not that “Sweet Caroline” is a bad song, it’s just it’s not my favorite Neil Diamond song. Not be a long shot.

I have several Neil Diamond songs on my Apple devices, but “Sweet Caroline” is not one of them, nor will it ever be. I can be persuaded to play Neil Diamond on the jukebox, but I am not particularly keen on playing “Sweet Caroline”.

“Sweet Caroline” is part of his 12 Greatest Hits album which came out in 1974, but I have at least five songs higher on the list23.

Cracklin Rosie” is my favorite Diamond song. Went to #1 in October 1970. It is not about a woman named Rosie, but it’s about a wine. The others from that album are “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show”, “Play Me”, “Song Sung Blue” and “Shiloh”.

My favorite earlier Diamond hits are “Kentucky Woman”, “Cherry, Cherry” and “I’m A Believer”. Yes, it’s the same song which shot The Monkees to fame in 1966, but I like Diamond’s version better. Of his later work, my favorites are “Desiree”, “Forever In Blue Jeans”, “America” and “Heartlight”, which gained fame for being on the soundtrack to E.T.

Parkinson’s is a cruel fate, and Diamond is one of the three most famous people it has afflicted, joining Michael J. Fox and Pope John Paul II. The only good news here is having someone notable should spur fundraising for Parkinson’s research, the way it has with Fox.

Update 1955 2018/1/26: Norton’s band is playing “Sweet Caroline” as the boys basketball team warms up before its game vs. Colby.