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Looking Back on Neil Diamond’s Infamous “Pot Smoker’s Song”

January 5, 2017
On January 24th, Neil Diamond will be turning 76 years old. To commemorate his long and accomplished career in the music industry, we wanted to take a quick stroll down memory lane and look back at one of his most…questionable contributions to the music world, “The Pot Smoker’s Song.”

In the late ‘60s, Diamond had visited the rehab Phoenix House in New York City, where he was inspired to start an organization called Performer’s Against Drugs (PAD). He then penned “The Pot Smoker’s Song” following his stint with the PAD. The organization quickly flopped and the song was promptly rejected by the public, and it’s easy to see why.

Underlying its sticky-sweet chorus filled with “lalala’s” and a poppy melody are haunting spoken stories from the addicts of Phoenix House. The song presents a confusing juxtaposition of happy-go-lucky and oh-my-god-this-is-depressing that makes little sense. It’s difficult to listen to this track without cracking a smile at its general absurdity – the exact opposite reaction Diamond was going for.

The song first appeared on the Velvet Gloves and Spit album and was so badly received that it was left off at least one UK pressing. It may be Diamond’s one and only musical piece that has yet to be covered by a single artist.

Later in life, Diamond lamented, “The Pot Smoker’s Song’ almost cost me my career. People just laughed at it.” He also revealed in a 1976 Rolling Stone interview with Ben Fong Torress, “The Pot Smoker’s Song’ was ‘essentially misdirected,” and “he learned the real villain is heroin after ‘The Pot Smoker’s Song’ came out.”

Torress also noted, “Fortunately, when I went through this stage,’ he [Diamond] adds, ‘I was old enough to discern between marijuana and heroin.” Diamond was 35 when he disclosed this revelation.

Interestingly, Diamond had his house raided in 1976 for cocaine possession – the police didn’t find cocaine, but they did stumble upon less than an ounce of cannabis. So, despite his best efforts in the ’60s, Diamond seemed to have made a true 180 by the 1970s.

Though the “Sweet Caroline” singer would (most likely) rather have “The Pot Smoker’s Song” kept under wraps, it’s too nostalgic a piece to let fall to the wayside of American pop culture. In honor of the Hall of Famer’s legendary career, we can’t pass up poking a little fun at his most amusing and legendary flop.

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Hannah Meadows

Hannah Meadows is an associate editor at Leafly, where she contributes to lifestyle content.

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