Behind the Meaning, and ‘Women,’ of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline”

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Though it was always believed that Neil Diamond’s 1969 anthem “Sweet Caroline” was about the daughter of late President John F. Kennedy, he initially revealed that the woman behind the song was his wife at the time—or was it?

Marcia Didn’t Rhyme

Diamond said he wrote the song about his second wife, Marcia Murphey; the couple married in 1969 and later divorced in 1995. Apparently, Diamond needed a three-syllable name to fit the melody, and “Sweet Marcia” just didn’t work. Caroline was a name he had written down and it fit perfectly.

“I was writing a song in Memphis, Tennessee, for a session,” revealed Diamond. “I needed a three-syllable name. The song was about my wife at the time, her name was Marcia, and I couldn’t get a ‘Marcia’ rhyme.”

The story doesn’t end there… 

Caroline Kennedy

Previously, Diamond said that Caroline Kennedy had nothing to do with the inspiration behind the track, but the real meaning behind the song was inspired by an innocent, “sweet” photograph Diamond saw of the then-president’s daughter as a child.

After Diamond’s 2007 performance of the song at Caroline Kennedy’s 50th birthday party, he later said the song was about the early photograph he saw of her in a magazine.

“I’ve never discussed it with anybody before, intentionally,” said Diamond in an interview with the Associated Press in 2007. “I thought maybe I would tell it to Caroline [Kennedy] when I met her someday. I’m happy to have gotten it off my chest and to have expressed it to Caroline.”

Diamond said he was a “young, broke songwriter” in the ’60s when he saw a cute photo of Caroline Kennedy in a magazine. “I thought she might be embarrassed, but she seemed to be struck by it and really, really happy,” added Diamond. “It was a picture of a little girl dressed to the nines in her riding gear, next to her pony. It was such an innocent, wonderful picture. I immediately felt there was a song in there.”

In less than an hour, Diamond said he wrote all the lyrics to “Sweet Caroline” while he was holed up in a Memphis hotel room. “It was a No. 1 record and probably is the biggest, most important song of my career,” shared Diamond, “and I have to thank her for the inspiration.”

God

Diamond also admitted to there being a more divine meaning behind the song. “I think there’s a little bit of God in that song,” he revealed in a 2013 interview. “I always have felt that. There’s no accounting for what can happen to a song.”

“Good Times Never Seemed So Good”

Arranged by Charles Calello and recorded at American Sound Studio in Memphis, Tennessee, the song was originally released in 1969 under the title “Sweet Caroline (Good Times Never Seemed So Good)” but was later trimmed down. Upon its release, the song reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Under the Covers

Throughout the past 50-plus years, “Sweet Caroline” has been covered by everyone from Elvis Presley Waylon Jennings, The Drifters, Julio Iglesias, and Jennifer Lopez, but it was Ol’ Blue Eyes’ version that Diamond loved the most. “He did it his way,” said Diamond of Frank Sinatra’s rendition. “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 swinging, big band version tops them all by far.”

Global Singalong

In 2020, Diamond initiated a global singalong of “Sweet Caroline” to help “bring a smile” to faces after enduring the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. “2020 has been a tough year for everyone, so we wanted to bring people together the best way we knew how: through music,” said Diamond. “To inspire people to come together, we challenged fans all around the world to sing along to ‘Sweet Caroline.’”

A Ballpark (and Beyond) Legend

To date, “Sweet Caroline” has become a staple anthem throughout sports and around traumatic events. Most recently, the song was played to help uplift the city of Boston in 2013 following the Marathon bombing and saw a spike in downloads following the tragedy. At the time, Diamond donated proceeds from the sale of the song to families affected by the bombing.

For more than a decade, “Sweet Caroline” has also become the official chant of the Boston Red Sox, who have played the song every home game at Fenway Park, a tradition that loosely started in 1997 when Amy Tobey played the song in honor of another Red Sox employee who named her newborn daughter Caroline.

The song has remained part of the soundtrack for the team, playing in the middle of the eighth inning of every game since 2002. Diamond recently surprised fans by singing along to “Sweet Caroline” along with the cast of Neil Diamond: A Beautiful Noise, during a 2022 game at Fenway. He previously performed the song during the opening 2010 season and returned to the park in 2013 following the Boston Marathon bombing to lead the crowd in a rendition of the song.

“Sweet Caroline” was recently used by the NFL for the Carolina Panthers and also stretched across the pond as a popular chant for English football fans during Euro 2020. 

On June 4, 2022, Rod Stewart performed the song as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebration in London.

So Good, So Good, So Good

To this day, fans at Fenway continue to sing along to the Diamond classic chanting Sweet Caroline / Good times never seemed so good, adding in their bah, bah, bah and so good, so good, so good on cue to the song.

Neil Diamond (Photo: Capitol Records)

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