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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"I Get Around" is early Beach Boys in a nutshell

It may not be their signature tune (if you can even narrow that down to one), but it's an indicative slice of their formative sound.

Holy cow, deciding on today's entry given the constraints I had given myself was excruciatingly difficult.

As it was another Cal game day (and finally another win!), I narrowed my selection down to the repertoire the Cal Band played in their halftime show. Today the Band played a selection of the Beach Boys' greatest hits while marching very appropriate formations, including a wave on which the drum major rode during the closer, "Surfin' U.S.A."

There's something about the Beach Boys' catalog that just makes every single thing they touched incredibly catchy. Even after hearing all sorts of other songs during this game day, from other times the Band played (yay!) to piped-in music (boo), I kept hearing the tunes from halftime in my head... but I still couldn't decide on which one I'd be writing for today's post. It took me listening to each song a couple times in full for me to latch onto one of them more than the others. That track was "I Get Around," a song to which I've always been drawn because of all the contrast it contains while remaining a seamlessly coherent whole.

"I Get Around" makes a very good case for being a microcosm of the Beach Boys' sound as a whole, especially in their pre-Pet Sounds days. It's early surf rock to a T, augmented by slightly adventurous harmony, the band's distinctive vocal layers, and a combination of Brian Wilson's soaring falsetto and Mike Love's steady tenor voice leading the way. I feel that Love doesn't receive enough respect for his role in the band — many of his writing credits weren't recognized until he filed a lawsuit against Brian Wilson in the 1990s, an act which only turned more fans against him for increasing the band's internal conflict; and his vocal sections in the Beach Boys' were never the flashiest, but they are, and he was, a consistently steadying sonic presence throughout their increasingly complex catalog.

From its opening moments, "I Get Around" is unmistakably Beach Boys, as Love's lead line and the backing harmony ring out. As much as Brian Wilson's falsetto grabs the listener's attention in the third and fourth measures, Love's bass vocals in the introduction seem particularly prominent to me, anchoring the band as they make their way back to their center of G Major for the first statement of its chorus. I particularly enjoy how they structure the song, because it allows the fast-moving intro to instantly be solidified by slowing its chord progression down to take twice as much time in the chorus. What was a four-bar distillation of the track's signature sound is then given time to breathe and truly lock into the listener's head in the eight-measure chorus.

Admittedly, I had never given the song's lyrics much attention until I listened to it for today's post — I had always been drawn much more to its harmony and melodic contours. In finally examining the lyrics, I realized that they're quite self-reflexive, as (at least in my reading) they refer to the band and their California playboy lifestyle: "I get around / From town to town / I'm a real cool head / I'm makin' real good bread," the chorus reads. Firstly, I was surprised to see "bread" in the lyrics, even though I know the slang term had existed for decades prior to the song's 1964 release. Secondly, and more on a larger scale, I instantly heard the chorus as a description of the band's popularity and playing concerts, especially around their base in Los Angeles County. The verse goes into greater detail, as Love expresses the Beach Boys' desire for "a new place where the kids are hip," to "get around" to — a new crowd to hear their music... and for them to pick up new girls, with whom they've "never missed yet." The second verse also contains a common Beach Boys trope of involving their cars in the lyrics, especially following their release of Little Deuce Coupe the year prior: "We always take my car 'cause it's never been beat."

I earlier mentioned contrast in the song, and the verses are the place where this contrast is audible. Coming from the fast but flowing chorus, the much sparser verse instantly makes a different impression by dropping the vocal harmonies and ceding center stage to Mike Love's lead. In the backing, Carl Wilson's lead guitar and Al Jardine's bass outline the chords for the first two measures, before Dennis Wilson's drums and the band's handclaps solidify the rhythm heading into a two-bar interlude. The sparse four-bar pattern repeats again before launching right back into the energetic chorus. That's a lot of sonic variety in such a short form, but it's all linked together by the backing harmony and the lyrical theme, the strongest statement of which is right before the final chorus: "None of the guys go steady 'cause it wouldn't be right / To leave their best girl home on a Saturday night." California playboys, indeed.

While the Beach Boys went on to massively evolve their sound in the mid-60s through Brian Wilson's grand influence, it's hard to get more inside their early sound than "I Get Around," which remains a favorite far and wide more than five and a half decades since its release. It's an encapsulation of the band's SoCal roots and life in a two-and-a-quarter-minute surf pop track, and it's nearly impossible to stay still while listening to it.


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