Sweet Caroline is one of Neil Diamond’s most iconic songs. It remains a perennial favorite among both his fans and sports followers. It debuted as a single in May 1969 and reached number four on the Billboard Hot 100. Despite its popularity, it is not widely known what the track is about—or who “Caroline” is.
In the late 1960s, Diamond wanted to write a feel-good love song. The natural inspiration was, of course, his wife at the time. But his wife’s name was Marcia Murphey, and he felt that the name didn’t suit the track.
For one, he couldn’t think of a rhyme for “Marcia.” What was more, he felt that the name needed to be three syllables, and “Sweet Marcia” didn’t flow the way he wanted it to. Later, he would say that he chose “Caroline” after seeing a photo of then-11-year-old Caroline Kennedy.
Though Diamond didn’t use his wife’s name in the song’s title or lyrics, he has said that it was absolutely inspired by her. He and Murphey married in 1969, the same year that Sweet Caroline was released. They were together until 1995.
He composed the track while he was a young, struggling musician, staying in a hotel in Memphis. The song was an instant success, and mere months after it was released, he was performing it live on television.
The song’s lyrics have been changed many times, including by Diamond himself. During the height of the COVID pandemic in 2020, he changed the words to, “Hands, washing hands, Don’t touch me, I won’t touch you.”
Who Is Caroline?
Diamond was stumped as he tried to think of a name for the song. He realized he needed a name that was three syllables and easy to rhyme.
Then he remembered a photo he had once seen of a young Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of President John F. Kennedy. The photo was taken when she was a child, riding her horse. At the time, the singer said he had thought it was a “sweet” photograph. So as he pondered the track, the phrase “sweet Caroline” entered his mind once again.
Though young Kennedy inspired the name and the title, the song was not about her. Diamond said he hoped to meet her one day and share how her photo had helped him write his biggest hit. However, he said that he worried that she would be embarrassed or find it strange.
He finally got the chance in 2007, when he was invited to perform remotely at her 50th birthday party. He took the chance to share the story and said that she was touched to have inspired him.
Religion And Spirituality
In a later interview, Diamond expressed that he felt that there was a spiritual component to the song. Though he didn’t elaborate, the singer intimated that he felt like there was divine inspiration at play, one that helped make the track into the massive hit that it was.
“I wrote it in a hotel in Memphis, Tennessee,” said Diamond. “And I think there’s a little bit of God in that song. I always have felt that. There’s no accounting for what can happen to a song.” His insight about a spiritual dimension in the track has led to further discussion among fans and critics about its meaning.
“Good Times Never Seemed So Good”
The song details the joys of love, from the warmth of “touching hands” to the bliss of good times. In the track, in fact, says “good times never seemed so good.” This phrase has led to a lot of reflection by fans and critics ever since it debuted in 1969. For some time, there was much debate on the identity of “Caroline.”
Diamond begins singing that he can’t know “where it began” but goes on to say “I know it’s growing strong.” Youthful, ecstatic love creates the best times he has ever known. Not only that, but he goes on to say he has “been inclined to believe they never would.” The love the two now share leaves behind even the best hopes the singer had before. He didn’t believe he would ever be where he is now.
Not everything seems well around the two lovers. But as he looks “at the night, And it don’t seem so lonely,” because they “fill it up with only two.” The singer says all pain “runs off my shoulders,” because “how can I hurt when holdin’ you.” Despite the difficulties and darkness of life, this love keeps times good. The two lovers can make it through anything because they hold to each other, and their presence fills up the night.
As a Sports Anthem
Sweet Caroline has become a cultural phenomenon at sporting events in the United States. The Carolina Panthers, an NFL team, have played the song as a victory anthem when playing home games. The team started this tradition in 1996. They even sang it to an empty Bank of America Stadium during the height of the COVID pandemic in 2020.
The Boston Red Sox have used the track at Fenway Park since at least 1997. It has been played in the middle of every eighth inning since 2002. Diamond performed the song there live on opening night in 2010. He also led a crowd at Fenway Park in singing the track just a few days after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.
When sales for the song spiked almost 600 percent afterward, Diamond announced he would donate his royalties to the One Fund Boston charity. This group helped those affected by the bombing.
The University of Pittsburgh has played Sweet Caroline as an unofficial singalong. During the usual “Whoa oh oh,” the Pittsburgh Panthers team substitutes the phrase “Let’s go, Pitt.” It is usually played as a rallying anthem between the third and fourth quarters. It has since become an anthem for the other University of Pittsburgh sports, contests, events, and ceremonies. The song’s lyrics also appear on various University merchandise.
Other universities also use Sweet Caroline during sports games and events. It is popular at Penn State, where it was temporarily abandoned in the wake of the Penn State child sex abuse scandal. The song returned to rotation in 2013 to loud crowd participation. The Iowa State Cyclones have also used the track as a victory theme since 2006.
Various groups in the United Kingdom and Canada also used this song regularly. It is a staple at many soccer games. England fans adopted it during Euro 2020 after their team beat Germany. However, even German fans were singing along. The track proved quite emotional in the context of the COVID pandemic.
Heavyweight world champion Tyson Fury sang Sweet Caroline after being crowned by WBC and The Ring. He sang it to celebrate his knockout victory against Deontay Wilder in their rematch at Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. He has sung it once before, at a 2018 press conference before fighting Francesco Pianeta.
After The Boston Marathon Bombing
Perhaps because of its association with the Boston Red Sox and Fenway Park, Sweet Caroline has become a Boston anthem—Diamond himself is from Brooklyn. After the tragedy of the 2013 Boston Marathon, where bombs killed three people and injured more than 250 others, locals sang the song as a rallying cry. Their intent was to express solidarity and support for those who had been affected by the attack.
Diamond said that he was touched by Sweet Caroline’s transformation into a track of resilience and hope in the aftermath of tragedy.
But Boston locals weren’t the only ones who played the song to express solidarity with the victims. In the aftermath of the tragedy, other sports teams played it during their games as well, including the New York Yankees, Toronto Raptors, and the Dodgers.
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