Record Machine: “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond (and the Legendary Piano Pat)

If I believed in guilty pleasures as an excuse, I would concede that this song would rank among many a person’s list. “Sweet Caroline” is a big, triumphant song that begs for group singalongs, and I have discovered the original 45 rpm single in my inherited collection.

Neil Diamond - Sweet Caroline (single)

Look at that, 78 cents! I love the swirly sleeve, and I never knew that the song more officially contains the parenthetical “(Good Times Never Seemed So Good)” in its title. Released in 1969, my dad would have been 14 years old, if he purchased it new. I can’t remember him talking about Neil Diamond’s music, though there are a few other singles of his in the 45s collection, but I have a hunch that he would’ve respected Diamond’s songwriting ability for both his own releases and other artists.

My memory — or rather, memories — of “Sweet Caroline” that are most distinctive do not come from either my dad nor the original song itself, but from a woman called Piano Pat. Piano Pat plays in a tiki bar, the Sip ‘n Dip, here in Great Falls, Montana. During most nights after 9 p.m., she’s been at it since 1963, and she is the only musician allowed to play there. People love her, and they sing along and tip well. Visitors are dragged there by local friends, and people who have moved away come listen when they come back to town. She is an institution, and she is unlike anyone else.

Oh, and did I mention that the Sip ‘n Dip has live mermaids? Oh yes.

Here is a five-minute documentary, uploaded two years ago, which is well worth your time: Piano Pat: Montana Legend from Matthew J. Clark on Vimeo. Because of the permissions set on the video, I can’t embed it, but do click through. Did you catch the mermaids?

So because of Pat Sponheim, I have a great soft spot for Neil Diamond’s classic song. I don’t know what the Sip ‘n Dip is going to do when Pat is gone, but I know she’ll be playing there up until the very end.

Come visit me, and I’ll take you to see her.

By Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

2 replies on “Record Machine: “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond (and the Legendary Piano Pat)”

My memories of this song are all from college — I went to Boston University, which is right down the road from Fenway Park, where they play this song in the middle of the 8th inning at every Red Sox home game! It’s definitely a Boston tradition, Neil Diamond played it twice during the Boston Pops 4th of July stuff one year!

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