87. Neil Diamond - I Am... I Said

Oh, man. I knew I was going to hear it for "Jessie's Girl." But now, if anyone's going to lose faith in my musical tastes and stop reading this preposterous exercise altogether, this is going to be when it happens. But before you close your browser or even slam your laptop shut, give me a chance to make my case for Neil Diamond.

For those who scoff at the mere mention of Neil Diamond or have a good laugh at the absurdity of those outfits he wore, take a look at his resume. Sales of 115,000,000 records worldwide. Twenty-five Top 20 singles. "Okay, so he was popular," I hear you say. But how about this for his songwriter's cred. Wrote "I'm a Believer" and then gave it away to the Monkees who went on to make it a hit. He was inducted into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame in 1984. Rick Rubin produced his last two albums, the most recent of which, Home Before Dark, debuted at #1 on the US charts, making him the oldest artist in history to debut at #1, at the tender age of 67. Both albums were also well regarded critically. So if Rick Rubin and the music critics see something, then maybe y'all have judged Neil a little too harshly.

As far as great Neil Diamond songs go, there are lots of great ones, and one of my favorites, "Sweet Caroline" would definitely be on my list were it not recorded before I was born. But there are plenty of them that were, and "I Am... I Said" is the best in my opinion. It's one of Neil's most personal songs, where he really lays his heart bare and analyzes some of his deep feelings of loneliness. Lots of singers wax on about being lonely, but every word in this song is an examination of what it's like to feel truly alone.

"I am," I said
To no one there
An no one heard at all
Not even the chair
"I am," I cried
"I am," said I
And I am lost, and I can't even say why
Leavin' me lonely still

I always thought the "not even the chair" line was a bit over the top, but when you're talking about this kind of loneliness, it does work. There's no one there for you at all, not even the chair that you're sitting in, passing the day in your apartment by yourself, like so many other days. Alone. The lines "L.A.'s fine, but it ain't home. New York's home, but it ain't mine no more" really sum up the feelings of countless people who left the comfort of home for new pastures, only to find that they are now without a home of their own. He talks about getting all of his dreams of being a king to come true, but happiness doesn't come with the paycheck.

Musically, the song is deceptively deep. The slow, melancholy way he monotones through the opening verse really do a great job of intoning the loneliness he must feel. As it builds toward the chorus, it's interesting to note that musically, the chorus would be almost soaring if it weren't for the words Neil sings. The production starts off with only acoustic guitar, prefacing the song's theme. The strings then slowly come in and then help build toward the chorus. I like to maybe overthink this and parallel it to when you're all by yourself and feeling lonely. Then you go to a party where there are lots of people and lots of noise, but your loneliness persists.

We've all felt like this, but Neil Diamond was actually able to put it into lyrics and music. So maybe the haters out there should give him another chance. And feel free to let me know which artists I need to give a second chance (Dylan, the Grateful Dead, the aforementioned Pink Floyd). Fair's fair, I guess.

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