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.
During the session where the Beach Boys were recording “I Get Around,” Murry Wilson was acting like an asshole. This was nothing new. Murry was the overbearing father of Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson, and he was also, in the early years, the band’s manager. During the session, Murry was ranting about how untalented his sons were and how shitty the song was, threatening to shut the session down. In the middle of the session, Brian fired him. Brian Wilson didn’t make too many power-plays like this, but there was too much at stake.
“I Get Around” was the first thing that the Beach Boys recorded after the rise of the Beatles. Brian Wilson didn’t even like the early Beatles; in his mind, his competition was Phil Spector, with his dazzling orchestral layers. Later on, the Beatles and the Beach Boys, along with bands like the Rolling Stones, would launch into an insanely productive rivalry, with everyone trying to outdo everyone else. But in 1964, the Beatles represented a clear and present threat to the Beach Boys.
The Beach Boys had been making hits for a couple of years by 1964, but they rode in on a particular sound, and that sound was on its way out. The Beach Boys were the prototypical group of the surf-music boom. Brian Wilson had written most of Jan And Dean’s “Surf City,” which had gotten to #1 the previous year, but the Beach Boys had never made it to the summit themselves. (Murry was furious that Brian had given away a #1 single.) And the Beatles had come to eclipse surf music completely. So the Beach Boys had to come up with something new.
“I Get Around” sounds a lot like the group’s early surf-music singles, but it’s a progression, too. The lyrics aren’t surf-specific. Instead, they’re a timeless flex. “I Get Around” is a song about being really fucking good at being a teenager: “We always take my car cuz it’s never been beat / And we’ve never missed yet with the girls we meet.” It’s also thicker, lusher, more indebted to what Spector was doing. The harmonies pile all over each other with dizzy aplomb, and there’s real momentum in that twanged-out guitar and those feverish handclaps. The hooks are, of course, ridiculous. (Mike Love later sued Brian for a co-writer credit, and if he really did come up with the round round getaround part, he deserved it.)
“I Get Around” is a beginning, not an endpoint, and it’s nowhere near the heights the band would later reach. (“Don’t Worry Baby,” the B-side to “I Get Around,” is a lot closer; it might be the Beach Boys’ first masterpiece.) But “I Get Around” was still enough to get them to #1 during a ridiculously competitive era. Two decades later, when Brian Wilson was out of the picture, the Beach Boys still had enough juice to score a fluke #1. That doesn’t happen without “I Get Around.”
BONUS BEATS: Here’s Lil B’s “Beach Boy Brandon,” a deeply zonked-out a cappella “I Get Around” quasi-cover from 2011: