In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
A funny quirk of chart history: The fake Neil Diamond songs that hit #1 are generally better than the real Neil Diamond songs that hit #1. Diamond is, of course, a historical beast, and his dramatic drunken bray will echo around stadiums until long after he, and we, are gone from this planet. But none of the three Neil Diamond songs that have topped the Billboard Hot 100 represent the man’s best work. The fake Neil Diamond songs, though? Bangers.
The first of those fake Neil Diamond songs, Andy Kim’s “Rocky Me Gently,” sounded so much like Neil Diamond that a whole lot of people probably still think he’s the one who sang it. But the Bellamy Brothers’ “Let Your Love Flow,” the second fake Neil Diamond song, doesn’t honestly sound that much like Neil Diamond. Howard and David Bellamy, the two central Florida brothers who sang “Let Your Love Flow,” didn’t sing with that chesty, demonstrative Diamond swagger. But the song was written with Diamond in mind, and it couldn’t have existed without Diamond.
Larry Williams, the man who wrote “Let Your Love Flow,” was one of Neil Diamond’s roadies, and he initially offered it to Diamond. Diamond turned the song down. So did Johnny Rivers. A musician named Gene Cotton recorded “Let Your Love Flow,” and he released it as a single, but it didn’t go anywhere. But then these two Florida brothers took a crack at “Let Your Love Flow,” and they made it work so well that they got a career out of it.
Howard and David Bellamy grew up playing music together on a ranch in Pasco County, Florida. They taught themselves to play, and they did whatever they could in Florida, which mostly meant playing University Of Florida frat-house parties. For a little while, they moved to Atlanta and started a club band called Jericho, but that didn’t work out. Eventually, though, they got to know the country musician Jim Stafford. Stafford and David Bellamy, the younger of the two brothers, co-wrote “Spiders And Snakes,” a nasty swamp-rock jam that became an out-of-nowhere hit in 1974. (“Spiders And Snakes” peaked at #3. It’s an 8.) The Bellamys used David’s “Spiders And Snakes” money to move to Los Angeles. For a while, Howard Bellamy worked as a roadie for Jim Stafford.
In Los Angeles, the Bellamys got to know the members of Neil Diamond’s touring band. Dennis St. John, Diamond’s drummer, brought a demo tape of “Let Your Love Flow” to the Bellamy Brothers, thinking it was the kind of thing they might like. And when they Bellamys recorded “Let Your Love Flow,” Diamond’s band backed them up. Those musicians made a difference. The Bellamy Brothers’ version of “Let Your Love Flow” has, more or less, the same arrangement as the Gene Cotton version. But there’s a bit more snap to it. It’s crispier and more propulsive, and there’s more of a drive to those strummy acoustic guitars. The two Bellamy Brothers, singing in harmony, belt the song out with a little more twangy charisma. The differences are minor, but they matter.
“Let Your Love Flow” isn’t exactly an elegantly written song. It’s about how love can transform the world all around it. At least on paper, it looks like a hymn: “Let your love fly like a bird on a wing / And let your love bind you to all living things / And let your love shine, and you’ll know what I mean / It’s the season.” The Bellamy Brothers don’t deliver those lines with undue reverence. Instead, there’s a conversational ease to their voices. They’re calmly confident, and I like the way they hit big but unshowy harmonies on the chorus. It’s not that hard to imagine what Neil Diamond could’ve done with the song. (In any case, Diamond inevitably liked the line about a love light shining so much that he used something like it six years later, on 1982’s “Heartlight.” “Heartlight” peaked at #3; it’s a 4.)
“Let Your Love Flow” isn’t really a country song. Instead, it’s a sort of excellently cheesed-out, Diamondized kind of Southern rock. But country music would turn out to be the future for the Bellamy Brothers. For a while, the Bellamys looked like one-hit wonders; their follow-ups to “Let Your Love Flow” only barely charted. But in 1979, at home in Florida, they knocked out a jokey, Groucho Marx-inspired pickup-line song called “If I Said You Had A Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me.” The song did OK on the pop charts, making it up to #39. (It was the last Bellamy Brothers song that would make the Hot 100.) But on country radio, the song went to #1. And for years after that, the Bellamy Brothers remained country stars, landing singles on the country charts well into the ’90s. For some reason, they also had a bunch of hits in Europe. They’re still at it now.
BONUS BEATS: In 2008, Barclays used “Let Your Love Flow” in a Barclaycard commercial in the UK. As a result, “Let Your Love Flow” made it back onto the UK charts, where it had originally peaked at #7. (The UK has a weird lineage of old songs getting big again and even getting to #1 after being in TV ads.) In 2009, “Let Your Love Flow” made it back up to #21. Here’s the ad that got it there: