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Neil Diamond’s passion for song still growing

Nearly a half century after Neil Diamond recorded his first song — a doo-wop ditty about being dumped by a girl — the singer-songwriter’s passion for performing has never waned. If anything, it’s grown stronger.

“It is more fun than it used to be. It’s the best,” the 67-year-old legend told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira during a break in the concert he gave Friday to a large and enthusiastic crowd on the plaza at Rockefeller Center. “You go out, you sing. People love to have you there. You give everything. It’s a ball. It’s a blast.”

Diamond was performing as part of TODAY’s Toyota Summer Concert Series, but it was also a tuneup for the worldwide concert tour he’ll kick off in July. In addition to classic hits such as “Sweet Caroline,” “I’m a Believer,” “Song Sung Blue,” “Cherry Cherry,” “Cracklin’ Rosie” and dozens more, he’ll be performing songs from his new album, “Home Before Dark.”

It’s his 26th studio album, but songwriting never gets easier. He has said of his craft, “Each album is just like my very first, and the creation has yet to become easy.” When he writes, he said, “I’m filled with the fear of failure, the fear of not coming up with the goods.”

“It’s true,” he told Vieira, who greeted him with a kiss — “for all the women,” she claimed. “You want it to be wonderful. You want people to love it, and you never do know until people hear it, so I’m nervous this week. The album is coming out in a few days. To me, it’s one of my better ones, and I’ll keep my fingers crossed.”

The album’s official release is on May 6, but it is available now on Amazon.com.

Diamond hasn’t been slowed by age. He spent last week mentoring “American Idol” contestants as they rehearsed for the episode that featured his songs. Vieira asked his opinion of the new talent in the music business.

“There are a lot of talented people out there on that show and all around the country,” he said. Vieira asked what advice he had for them. “It’s a matter of staying with it and being passionate about what you do and having some luck, because that definitely plays a part,” he replied.

Vieira said it helps to have talent.

“It takes work,” he said. “And you have to love that, too.”

Brooklyn boyBorn Jan. 24, 1941, in Brooklyn, Diamond attended Erasmus Hall High School in New York, where one of his classmates was Barbra Streisand. He recorded his first songs as a teenager in 1960 with his high school friend, Jack Packer. Two years later, he got his first solo contract with Columbia Records, but after his first single bombed, the label dropped him.

In 1966, he was back with his first hit, “Solitary Man,” followed by “Kentucky Woman” and “Cherry, Cherry.” At a time when the new sound of the British Invasion was taking over the country, Diamond stayed true to American songwriting traditions, establishing himself as a unique voice in the industry.

By the 1970s, he was a certified superstar and an enormously popular live performer. That translated into a starring role in the 1979 film “The Jazz Singer” with Laurence Olivier and Lucie Arnaz.

His music remains highly popular; his last album, “12 Songs,” released in 2005, opened at No. 4 on the Billboard charts, the highest debut of a career that has produced 11 No. 1 singles, 37 Top 10 singles, 15 Top 10 albums, Golden Globe and Grammy awards and 125 million albums sold.

He’s also become part of the culture of Fenway Park, where Red Sox fans sing his “Sweet Caroline” during the eighth inning of each game. Diamond, who sang the song live at Fenway this year, recently revealed the song was written about President John F. Kennedy’s daughter, Caroline.