‘Holly Holy’: Neil Diamond Goes Gospel And Follows ‘Sweet Caroline’ Into Top 10

The gently-building track had a distinct gospel flavor, with strings and church-y backing vocals.

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Neil Diamond - Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Neil Diamond - Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

How might you follow your first gold-selling single, after seven years of striving for that summit? Neil Diamond had the answer: with another gold-selling single. A generation on, each of them went platinum.

The esteemed singer-songwriter from New York had first recorded with high school friend Jack Packer, as Neil and Jack, as far back as 1962. Diamond first breached the US Top 10 in his own name in 1966, with “Cherry, Cherry” and soon, as we know, his career was blossoming on all fronts, both as a performer and a composer.

The single that became and remains one of his ultimate themes, “Sweet Caroline” was a national and international smash in 1969, and was certified gold in the US by the RIAA by August. Never one simply to carbon-copy his own success, the versatile Diamond changed the mood completely for his next single “Holly Holy,” which entered the Billboard Hot 100 for the week of November 1, 1969 at No.71.

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The single was below only Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” among that week’s 16 entries. Both were Single of the Week picks in the trade weekly Record World, alongside the Youngbloods’ “Sunlight” and the Grass Roots’ “Heaven Knows.”

The gently-building track had a distinct gospel flavor, with strings and church-y backing vocals, and was written by frequent collaborator Tom Catalano and soul bassist-producer Tommy Cogbill. Diamond’s profile was high as the song emerged, as he followed what Billboard called a “triumph” at the Troubadour in Los Angeles with a 20-state tour of college campuses from October 13.

“Holly Holy” went on to match the 14-week US chart run of “Sweet Caroline,” peaking two places below it at No.6. Like its predecessor, it was a major hit in South Africa, reaching No.2, and making the Top 10 in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. It went gold on the last day of the 1960s, and fully 25 years later, in November 1994, both songs were certified platinum, as was “Cracklin’ Rosie.”

Buy or stream “Holly Holy” on Neil Diamond’s 50th Anniversary Collector’s Edition.

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