April 24, 2009

NT's greatest hits, No. 12 (of 34)

Wow, way too long since I posted one of these. I've been slow with the blogging, trying to Twitter like a good hiptard. But here it is, volume 12. Let's all sing along!

"I Get Around" by the Beach Boys

Really, truly, you have to love the Beach Boys. They are true American treasures (or were; if you have the stomach to contemplate the various entities that presently tour the country under the name "the Beach Boys," you are a stronger person than I).

But it's hard to find a more solid catalog of classic American pop than the Beach Boys' 1960s hits. They simply nailed the form—free-sailing vocals over irresistible melodies, beautifully succinct tales of life at its happiest and its saddest—while expanding the idiom into the realm of true musical genius. Granted, some of the experimentation spun out of control—I like Pet Sounds, but I really regard it as the band's last gasp of greatness. But perhaps I'm not alone; I once spoke with Brian Wilson on the phone, and he acted pleasingly shocked when I told him Pet Sounds was a great album.

But back up to 1964, when the Beach Boys scored their first number one single, "I Get Around." I love this song because it really covers several bases. Typical of the Beach Boys' genius, it melds sunny nostalgia with an invigorating collage of harmonies, overdubs, a wonderfully wacko song structure. But the kicker here is the edge: It has just the right amount of forward momentum to make it a truly killer rock tune. And lyrically, that's a great euphemism: I get around. Translation: I call the shots and I get all the tail I want.

But that brings me to an interesting point: There's an element of this song that I really dislike. This guy sounds like such a douchebag. He's boasting about what a cool badass he is, how people don't fuck with him, how great his car is, how chicks are so into him. There was something of this to a lot of the Beach Boys songs—if you didn't have the right ride and the right girl, you couldn't join the club—but this character comes dangerously close to coming off as a real phony. Nonetheless, you somehow believe him. If he were full of shit, would he be backed up by such a great and original composition? Really, it compensates for his seemingly insecure boasting. Show don't tell, I always say, and while lyrically, "I Get Around" is a lot of tell, musically it's a supreme example of show.

More of NT's greatest hits:
"Local Girls"
"Don't Let's Start"
"Suffragette City"
"My Name Is Jonas"
"Mr. Tambourine Man"
"Reelin' in the Years"
"Objects of My Affection" and "Crimson and Clover"
"OK Apartment" and "Just What I Needed"