Neil Diamond – Velvet Gloves and Spit

Artist: Neil Diamond
Genre: Pop, Singer-Songwriter, Contemporary
Title: Velvet Gloves and Spit
Released: Origninal 1968, This pressing: 1970
Label: UNI/ MCA Records
Format: Vinyl
Producer: Tom Catalano, Chip Taylor, Neil Diamond

Velvet Gloves and Spit is the third album by Neil Diamond. His first for MCA’s Uni label.

Wikipedia: Upon its initial release in 1968, it only had ten songs. After the success of Diamond’s next three albums, it was re-issued in 1970 with a new sleeve (Editor’s note: artist’s rendition of Neil Diamond instead of a photo) and now included a remake of “Shilo”, a song that had previously been recorded for Bang Records, and had appeared on the preceding album, Just For You. His motivation for doing this was the release of the song as a single by his old record label with a new backing track and alternate vocal take recorded at Chips Moman’s American Studios in Memphis.

To appreciate this album, however, one must get past “The Pot Smoker’s Song,” a heavy-handed, anti-drug, bubblegum pop number, patterned roughly after Simon & Garfunkel’s “Old Friends/Bookends,” with spoken word testimonials about the dangers of drugs, punctuated by Diamond’s ridiculous sing-song chorus. It’s a strangely fascinating artifact though as this is the only LP and known recording of the song, which helps distinguish Velvet Gloves and Spit from Diamond’s catalog of albums. In fact, the album quotes: “Much credit for “The Pot Smoker’s Song” must go to the kids of Phoenix House in New York City. Without the cooperation and frankness of these young ex-drug addicts who are still struggling to find their way back, this “song” never could have been done.” 

This LP is actually well produced and this is a good pressing for 1970. The LP starts out strong with “Two-bit Manchild” with some great drumming and signature sound with a little latin flavor sprinkled in. We fall into the classic pop ballad with track #2 “A Modern Day version Of Love”. This is a great song overall and one of my favorites on the LP. The bridge has and almost gypsy flavor to it. Sadly though the vocals (Neil’s singing) leaves a bit to be desired. Track #3 “Honey-Drippin Times” has an old-school contemporary sound, but seems to me to be filler. And here we have track #4, the infamous “Pot Smoker’s Song”. This is the only known recording of this song on this LP, it appears nowhere else as far as I know. It is an anti-drug song despite its title.  It is composed of spoken word testimonials about the dangers of drugs, punctuated by a ridiculous sing-song chorus. Side one ends with Track #5, “Brooklyn Roads”, which has the Neil Diamond signature sound and i understand it is supposed to be about where he used to live for a time. It’s a good song.

Side two begins with “Shilo”, which was one of many popular songs for Neil Diamond. It’s a good track, but not one of my favorites. The track appears as a re-recording on the 1970s reissue of which this LP I have is, but not on the 1968 original release. Wikipedia: It was originally recorded in 1967 for Bang Records, but Diamond and Bang founder Bert Berns disagreed over Diamond’s career path. The singer wanted to move away from his early teen-oriented pop type of recordings that Berns favored, which led to Berns’ refusal to release the more introspective “Shilo” as a single, even though Diamond felt it was part of his development as an artist. “Shilo” was instead relegated to an album track on 1967’s Just for You. Shortly after what was said to be a “tense” confrontation with Berns, Diamond departed Bang for Uni Records in 1968. Diamond went into a commercial slump, without hits, but by January 1970, his career had rebounded with “Sweet Caroline” and “Holly Holy” on Uni/MCA Records. Bang Records finally released “Shilo” as a single, albeit with a new backing track recorded to make it sound fresher and more like Diamond’s current style. Following this, Diamond reissued his 1968 debut album with Uni, Velvet Gloves and Spit, in October 1970, to incorporate a completely new recording of “Shilo”. “Shilo” is about a childhood imaginary friend. The song was Diamond’s most autobiographical to date, making reference to his lonely childhood amongst turmoil. Diamond’s emotional investment in the song contributed to his and Berns’s coming into intense conflict. Though not one of Diamond’s biggest hits, “Shilo” has become one of his best-known songs, and is a staple of his concert appearances. It was included on the Diamond’s 1972 Hot August Night live album as well as all almost all of his compilation albums. Track #2, “Sunday Sun” gives us a great example of a singer-songwriter tune with a Simon U& Garfunkel flavor. Although in my opinion, it would have been better had they not included backing vocals in this. Track #3, “Holiday Inn Blues” is not only my favorite track on the LP, but one of my favorite Neil Diamond songs of all time. It is a whimsical song which sounds like it may have been inspired by the Mamas and Papas song “Creek Alley” as it is also much the same subject. Note the name of the Arranger on this song: Howard Johnson. This is actually a little joke because Holiday Inns were once Howard Johnson Inns until Holiday Inn bought them out.
Track #4 “Practically Newborn” is an up-tempo song that is similar in structure as what would be a combination of “Shilo” and “Cherry Cherry”. Track # 5 with its funny little title, “Knackelferg” is really just filler to me and surprisingly dull. The LP closes with an up-tempo song, “Merry-Go-Round”.


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