by Kevin Burton
Hard feelings and Neil Diamond songs usually don’t go together as far as I know. But we have two examples of such today.
Diamond is the latest artist to be featured in our 2022 look at songs that peaked at number 22 on the American chart.
The songs “Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show” and “Kentucky Woman” both stalled at 22. Kentucky Woman was released in 1967, Brother Love in 1969.
For the sake of our series we will treat them as one double-sided entry, Brother Love as the A side, Kentucky Woman the B.
The tune on the A side is the story of a camp meeting on a hot August night where the band and the singers let loose to “that good gospel beat” and then preacher Brother Love lifts the roof off the ragged tent where the people have gathered from all around.
“Starting soft and slow, like a small earthquake and when he let’s go half the valley shakes,” Diamond sings.
“Pack up the babies and grab the old ladies and everyone goes, ‘cause everyone knows bout brother Love’s show.”
In the bridge Diamond goes into his best southern gospel preaching, “Bro-thers…I said brothers, Now you got your-self two good hands…”
It was all too much for some people, who turned on Diamond.
“Some evangelical groups in the American south encouraged the boycotting of this song and of Diamond as they thought that this song denigrated and insulted evangelists and the evangelical movement,” according to Wikipedia.
The New Rolling Stone Album Guide obviously took the song as a putdown as well, calling it “genuinely demented.”
But Diamond sought to set the record straight.
“When Diamond explained in an interview that it was, contrary to their understanding of it, a celebration of Gospel music and the evangelical style of preaching and worship, the controversy subsided,” according to Wikipedia.
“This song was written about a revival meeting I was at in Jackson, Mississippi,” Diamond told Songfacts. “I sat in the back of this tent meeting and I got really caught up in the music, the clapping, the singing, tremendously exciting.”
“After a while I felt something about the people. There was a tremendous yearning, looking for answers. Trying to ease a very hard burden of very rough lives. After a while the music stopped and a preacher walked out,” Diamond recalled.
He sings the song right down the middle. He didn’t give it the Ray Stevens novelty song treatment.
The artist says the song is a compliment, but it feels much more like a putdown. Salvation, and the gospel message that goes with it, is not a show. Anybody who turns it into a show deserves to be parodied. I’m guessing, most listeners took the song lyrics as ridicule.
Even after Diamond’s explanation, the evangelical set probably thought they could do without such “compliments.”
As for Diamond, maybe he could have used a little more controversy to goose record sales. Nothing like a good boycott to get people talking, and perhaps buying.
Brother Love was a turning point for Diamond in terms of his stage presence on tour, according to Songfacts.
“This recording became a hit and was to make a showman out of me,” Diamond said. “How could you not let go of your inhibitions while playing such a wonderful character?”
By Diamond’s platinum record selling standards, Kentucky Woman is very much like a B side. Both musically and lyrically it’s the kind of song you can hear without hearing, without truly absorbing anything.
Diamond wrote the song in the back of a limo en route to Paducah, Kentucky while on a 32-stop Dick Clark tour, according to Songfacts.
He liked the song, but preferred that the more personal “Shilo” be the next single released by his label, Bang Records.
Bang executives thought Kentucky Woman was the hit and released it against Diamond’s wishes. That started a rift that led to his leaving the label, according to Songfacts.
Shilo eventually did hit number 24 when Bang released it after Diamond had left the label.