"I Am, I Said"
hroughout the '60s, popular music seemed to stay one step ahead of the industry moguls who tried to contain it. By the '70s the industry had caught up and learned how to package its product so seamlessly that any expression of honesty was suspected to be nothing more than a highly subversive means of manipulation. Neil Diamond was a particularly suspicious character since he had never been aligned with the hipper segment of the music industry and because any analysis of his lyrics often could discern no specific point of view.
"I Am, I Said" was a highlight of the Dec. 1971 album Stones, which peaked at #11 on the Billboard Hot 200 and remained on the charts for 25 weeks. It was certified gold by the R.I.A.A. 0n Jan. 17, 1972.
Still, somehow his songs were oddly inspirational. Almost without exception, his hits managed to draw listeners in, sometimes even when they didn't want to be. So many of his songs were almost hypnotic in their appeal -- "Sweet Caroline," "Cracklin' Rosie," "Holly Holy," or "Stones," for example. "Song Sung Blue" is particularly relentless in its attempt to make you sing along. Occasionally, Diamond's lyrics would reveal a distinctly personal message, which would yield a distinctly powerful song. "Brooklyn Roads" was such a song, but it never reached the Top 40. "I Am, I Said" is simultaneously his most hypnotically rhythmic song and his most blatantly personal song, resulting in an overall effect that is emotionally wrenching. The slow burn as the melody builds toward the climactic chorus manipulates the listener like sonic candy. Diamond's voice fits the song like a glove, and the dynamics make it irresistible. All the while, he fumbles through some of the most fundamental questions of existence.
"I am," I said
To no one there
And no one heard at all
Not even the chair.
I think, therefore I am. If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, does it make any sound?
But I got an emptiness deep inside.
And I've tried but it won't let me go.
And I'm not a man who likes to swear,
But I've never cared for the sound of being alone.
Would life be more meaningful if it were less lonely? If we were happier, would life have more meaning?
This is simplified (or simple-minded) profundity at its best. The words work magically to make you identify strongly with the sincere personality singing the lyrics. The melody can convince you even further that the song could be about you, or for you; it could even be your story. It is a brilliant moment when fundamental lyrical passion is joined seamlessly with an inspirational arrangement. "I Am, I Said" is just such a moment.
- Thomas Ryan, American Hit Radio, Prima Entertainment, 1996.