1970

It's About Time

Recorded by The Beach Boys

Written by Dennis Wilson, Bob Burchman & Alan Jardine

Produced by The Beach Boys

Let’s start with a pass through the lyrics.

I used to be a famous artist,
Proud as I could be,
Struggling to express myself
For the whole world to see.
I used to blow my mind sky high,
Searching for the lost elation,
Little did I know the joy I was to find
In knowing I am only me.

I’m singing in my heart.
I’m singing in my heart.
I’m singing, love to sing,
I love to sing it from my heart.

Of the creation, yeah,
Of which I’m doing my part,
With an open-hearted laugh
Of realization in my mind.
And now I’m but a child who art
Erect in humility,
Serving out of love, everyone I meet,
In truth who are really me.

I’m singing in my heart.
I’m singing in my heart.
I’m singing, love to sing,
I love to sing it from my heart.

No-no-no no no
Hoo no hey yeah no-no-no-no.
It’s about time now, it’s about time now.
It’s about time now, don’t you know now.
It’s about time now, it’s about time now.
It’s about time now, don’t you know now.
It’s about time we get together,
To be out front and love one another.
Brothers, sisters, everybody,
We better start to help each other now.
We need it now.

When we’re sharing our love, brother,
That’s when we know we can shape another world.

Lord, lord, lord, lord, lord, lord, lord, lord,
Lord, lord, lord, lord, lord, lord, lord, oooh lord.
Lord, lord, lord, lord, lord, oh, oh,
Oh no, lord, no, no, oh.

The lyrics by themselves are interesting, but far from great poetry. Most of their appeal is on the surface, without much subtlety, and with few poetic devices employed.

The song is fairly short. There are only two verses, and they present a clear contrast. The first verse talks about the past, and the errors of the singer’s ways: drug use, pride, egotism, and a focus on the artist as an independent individual. The last lines of the first verse hint at the transformation to come.

The second verse talks about the present and future, describing a different set of characteristics: humility, self-awareness, childlike simplicity, and a sense of being part of a greater whole.

Following the second verse, there is another section of the song, containing injunctions for the listener to join in with the singer to create a better world. Structurally, in terms of words and music, this is an interesting variation from the normal pop song form, since it is neither verse, chorus nor bridge. The variation works well, since the song breaks out of past conventions just as the singer enjoins the listener to do the same: there is a palpable sense of liberation, of breaking free from old patterns.

The music of the track greatly reinforces and extends the meaning of the words, so let’s turn to that now. The song is built around a simple riff. (Audio clip - 56K.) Like all great rock riffs, it is all about expansion and contraction, ascension and descent, acceleration and restraint (the foundation for the Rolling Stones song “Satisfaction” is another interesting example).

The music immediately adds tension that was missing from the lyrics alone. The hard driving bass, the fast tempo, the drum kit and the additional drums (let’s call them congas) create a rhythmic mix sounding like something about to explode. On the third repetition of the riff, another instrument is layered on top, echoing the underlying melody, and sounding like something trying to break free from the undertow. Then the first verse starts.

Co-composer Dennis Wilson takes the lead vocal. Deviating from the normal, pretty Beach Boys sound, the delivery is spoken as much as sung, his voice expressing the pressure felt in the music. Emotional color is favored over melodic delivery, as when he reaches for two high notes with the words “sky high.” Background harmonies begin immediately and run parallel to the lead vocal, heightening the sense of tension. (Audio clip - 180K.)

The pace slows and the background music fades as Dennis hits the chorus. This produces two desirable effects. First, it provides a sort of caesura, temporarily relieving the tension, providing some needed pacing to prevent the song from either peaking too soon or becoming relentless. Second, it illustrates the sense of the words. As Dennis sings “I’m singing in my heart,” the music pauses as if to let us hear this quiet voice. Even here the group avoids sounding merely pretty. The words and melody are lovely, but the congas continue in the background, not letting the pressure escape entirely, and Dennis’ vocals are echoed by an electronic instrument that sounds vaguely like a honking goose. So while singing from your heart may be authentic and gratifying, it is not necessarily pretty. (Audio clip - 180K.)

The second verse/chorus combination follow the same musical pattern as the first, providing a pleasant sense of familiarity as the words of the second verse unfold with their tale of redemption.

Now, as the second chorus ends, the drums build to a new level of frenzy, but instead of the anticipated explosion, the song is suddenly transformed into a quiet call-and-response gospel number. Suddenly there is nothing but a slow, commanding bass line, with faint vocals overhead. Once again, but to an even greater extent now, the pace of the song is slowed, the pressure reduced, the climax delayed. (Audio clip - 388K.) As this section of the song unfolds, vocals and instruments are gradually added, slowly building back up to the previous level of intensity. Again, as with the chorus, the device serves dual purposes. In addition to the needed pacing, the relative quiet of the music serves to frame the key lyrics as they are delivered: “It’s about time we get together / To be out front and love one another / Brothers, sisters, everybody / We better start to help each other now.”

The music continues to build, ascending to the same level of tension achieved at the end of the second chorus. The drums again accelerate, foreshadowing some sort of decisive resolution to the conflict. Then the final words are delivered, providing thematic resolution: “When we’re sharing our love, brother / That’s when we know we can shape another world.” An electric guitar enters the fray, soaring above the rhythmic stew, providing the much-delayed release, beautifully symbolizing this promise of another world. (Audio clip - 212K.) Then the guitar descends, echoing the bass riff, pushing and pulling the rhythm, while the singer does the same, using the word “Lord” repeatedly, more as a sound than a unit of meaning. The song continues in this fashion, gradually fading, a reminder that we are not there yet, that this new world is a guiding vision, but not yet a reality, as we return to the tension of our current lives.

This recording is a beautiful incarnation of the rock aesthetic. It is a true collaborative work, with multiple songwriters and musicians working together seamlessly (and with little input from Brian Wilson, the often-alleged “genius” of the group). The words are meaningful and expressive, but clearly rely on rock instrumentation and vocals to achieve their impact. The recording is wonderful, with every note, instrument and sound contributing to the overall, unified effect. A sense of liberation, of release from constraints, is expressed by both words and music. The basic 4/4 rock beat serves as a sturdy foundation for the overlaid rhythmic complexity delivered by multiple drums, instruments and vocals. Electric instruments are used to provide a unique sound to the piece, with the detailed sounds of the notes mattering more than the symbolic values recorded by musical notation. And the whole recording achieves an artistic effect that far transcends traditional elements of a song.

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