The real and the surreal; Neil Diamond is so cool,
it pays to impersonate him...By DAVID PENCEK
Thursday, September 12, 2002
It was a hot August night. Just as Randy Cordero finished singing another one of Neil Diamond's classic songs, a woman yelled out, "You're almost as hot as Neil." Cordero, otherwise known as Surreal Neil --the lead singer and founder of the tribute group Super Diamond, simply shook his head and said, "No. No." Physically, Cordero actually bears a closer resemblance to Elvis than Neil Diamond.
More than a month ago, Super Diamond played two consecutive nights in the Mohegan Sun Wolf Den. Because it was August, the group performed songs from Diamond's live albums "Hot August Nights" and "Hot August II." But as close as Cordero came to sounding like Diamond, it ain't nothing like the real thing.
For all those Diamond Heads out there, the real thing hits town today. The 61-year-old singing icon visits the Mohegan Sun Arena for an 8 p.m. show. After that, he'll travel north for shows Friday and Saturday at the Centrum Centre in Worcester, Mass.
Since his first hit "Cherry, Cherry" in 1966, Diamond has written and sung some of the best-known songs of all-time.
"It never gets old," said Rama Diamond, the keyboardist for Super Diamond. "They're great songs that hold up."
They're also songs that other singers have covered numerous times. UB40 and The Monkees scored No. 1 hits with "Red, Red Wine" and "I'm A Believer" respectively. Urge Overkill sang "Girl You'll Be A Woman Soon" for the movie "Pulp Fiction." Last year's blockbuster "Shrek" featured Smash Mouth's version of "I'm A Believer."
Diamond himself has reached No. 1 on the singles chart three times with "Cracklin' Rosie," "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" and "Song Sung Blue."
And those songs just scratch the surface. "Sweet Caroline," "Forever In Blue Jeans," "Solitary Man," "Hello Again," "Holly Holy" and the list goes on and on.
What may be even more remarkable is that Diamond's popularity crosses generations, even though you won't find him anywhere on MTV.
The members of Super Diamond, who are in their 9th year of performing, said their shows are usually dominated with Gen Xers and younger.
"Personally I think there is a lot of tasteless music out there today," the 37-year-old Cordero said. "A lot of people who grew up in the '80s listened to Diamond. They grew up on it."
The real Diamond has actually jumped onstage twice to sing with Super Diamond. The first time came in December 2000 at the House of Blues Hollywood. The second occasion was last year during the "Saving Silverman" premiere party.
Diamond made a cameo in the comedy film, which is about a group of twentysomethings who have a Neil Diamond cover band. It was Diamond's first big screen appearance since his starring role in the 1980 remake "The Jazz Singer." While "The Jazz Singer" was critically panned and wasn't the blockbuster Diamond and the producers had hoped for, the soundtrack was a huge success and it produced three top 10 singles.
"I decided while I was doing 'The Jazz Singer' that I'd rather be a really good singer than a mediocre actor," Diamond said in a February 2001 interview with the Los Angeles Times. "('Saving Silverman') was really more about my fans than anything else, about their devotion over the years and how that has transferred to their children as represented by the three main characters."
Last year Diamond released "The Essential Neil Diamond," a two-disc set with 38 of his selections. Diamond has said that he breaks his career down in eras. In one category, he puts his early hits from Bang Records. They include "Kentucky Woman," "Solitary Man" and "Cherry, Cherry."
Next are his MCA years during the '70s that produced songs like Song Sung Blue" and "I Am ... I Said." Then came his time with Columbia Records. That era began with Diamond's Grammy-winning original score for "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" and continued with songs such as "Beautiful Noise," "September Morn" and "Forever In Blue Jeans."
"The Jazz Singer" marked Diamond's fourth era. And Diamond has called his current era "wish-fulfillment." The new era includes "Three Chord Opera," a new album Diamond released last summer. It was his first record since 1974 that he wrote entirely.
Someday, Cordero would like to have success with the songs he has written. He is recording tracks with his original band TijuanaStripClub and hopes to release a CD soon.
For now, pretending to be Neil Diamond pays the bills. And Cordero realizes that there are worse ways to make a living.
"Other than my own, I can't think of anyone else's songs I'd rather sing than Neil Diamond's," Cordero said.