Sweet Caroline is one of those inescapable songs. If you even casually mention it in a group setting, odds are someone will start singing.
Red Sox fans likely recognize the song as one that plays at every game at Fenway. For such a popular hit, few people are familiar with the song’s origins. Even fewer may know why it became a staple at baseball games.
Today, we’re going deep into the making of this beautiful ballad.
Let’s dive in!
Who Originally Wrote Sweet Caroline?
The classic was written by Neil Diamond and released in May of 1969. Born in Brooklyn to a Jewish family, Diamond is one of the best-selling artists of all time. He’s had 38 top 10 hits on Billboards across a career that spans decades.
Diamond grew up in his Brooklyn home, with a brief stint in Wyoming while his father was in the military. He was in the same choir group as Barbara Streisand and joined the high school fencing team with his best friend, Herb Cohen. Cohen later went on to join the U.S. Olympic team.
Neil fell in love somewhat accidentally with songwriting after watching an inspiring performance by Pete Seeger. He started writing music at 16, though it would be some time before he gained national attention.
While his early records failed to gain much traction, he eventually achieved recognition as a songwriter. His career took off after writing several hits recorded by The Monkees, including “I’m a Believer.”
After these early successes, Diamond made a name for himself recording his own songs. He continued creating records and selling out stadiums well into the 21st century.
Was Sweet Caroline Written About a Specific Person?
For decades, fans were hungry for details behind the song. Luckily, Diamond finally opened up about the inspiration behind Sweet Caroline. In 2007, he told the Guardian that he was moved by a photo of Caroline Kenedy, JFK’s daughter, riding a horse. The picture left a lasting impression, and a few years later, the rest of the song came into place.
In 2014, he revealed that the lyrics were initially written about Marsha, his wife at the time. But to make the words work with the tune, he needed a three-syllable name, so he went with Caroline. Diamond has since stated that being in love has always been his greatest inspiration.
Songwriters are often scant about the details behind the creation of a beloved song. However, the feelings behind them can touch each fan uniquely. Knowing the background behind this golden oldie certainly helps us see the love behind it in a new light.
Why Do They Sing Sweet Caroline at Fenway Park?
In 1997, a Red Sox employee wanted to pay tribute to his friend’s new baby girl, Caroline. Since he was in charge of the music, he had a unique opportunity to honor her. He played Sweet Caroline, and the rest is history.
The song was a big hit with baseball fans. They continue to play it before the bottom of the 8th when the Sox play at Fenway. Diamond has embraced the tradition, and a few times, he has surprised fans with a live rendition.
In 2013, Diamond donated royalties from the song to the One Bomb Fund to honor the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. The fund went on to raise $80 million for victims of the tragedy.
Who Has Covered Sweet Caroline?
It’s not hard to see why the song has left a lasting impression. The passionate vocals and the iconic horn notes have struck a chord with many fans, including some big names that recorded their own version. Here are a few of the most notable covers.
Elvis Presley With the Imperials Quartet
There’s no greater compliment than having the original King of rock and roll play tribute to you. Elvis first incorporated the song into his 1970 shows at the International. He even included a live recording on his On Stage Album.
Because of its popularity, it remained a mainstay on his setlists. Diamond was starstruck by the King. Diamond famously turned down the opportunity to join him on stage after Elvis spotted him in the audience. It’s understandable. It would be hard to feel worthy of sharing the spotlight with one of your heroes.
The big sound emotional vocals in Sweet Caroline fit right in with the blend of gospel and secular sounds of the Drifters. Their R&B version of the tune appears on the 1973 album The Drifters Now.
The Drifters’ take on the song is a little more upbeat. When the chorus hits, it’s hard not to smile. While the original isn’t the most apparent dance number, this version will surely put a spring in your step.
The original outlaw country musician himself, recorded a version of the song on his 1977 album Ol’ Waylon. The stripped-down cover lacks the full orchestra of the original, but the twangy guitar and the signature power of his voice capture the depth of feeling in the original.
Listening to the two side by side demonstrates just how well the song translates across genres. There are likely more than a few country fans that were introduced to Diamond’s style thanks to the beautiful cover.
What is Neil Diamond Doing Now?
After a decades-long career creating dozens of albums and a hefty touring schedule, Diamond has a huge fan base. Unfortunately, he had to retire from touring in 2018 after a Parkinson’s diagnosis.
The news came a few months before the Recording Academy honored him with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award. Because of his health issues, Neil had to cancel his 50th-anniversary tour before he could finish.
His love for music has made it hard for him to reconcile his diagnosis. Diamond still hopes to give fans as much as possible while he still can. While his health issues may have slowed him down, he’s not finished yet. Even at 81, Neil still writes and performs new music.
In October 2022, he released a new album, A Neil Diamond Christmas. He also still makes occasional appearances. In the summer of 2022, Diamond performed Sweet Caroline at Fenway Park to show his appreciation to Red Sox fans.
A Song So Sweet
Now that you know the true story behind Sweet Caroline, we’re willing to bet the song hits differently. No matter what you think about it, it has one of those melodies that stays with you long after you hear it. In fact, it’s probably playing in the back of your head as you read this.
How do you feel about Sweet Caroline? Is it an earworm you love to hate or do you adore it? Let us know in the comments!