The Ramones’ “I Want You Around” was my go-to whenever I wanted to let that special someone know how I felt. When it showed up on a mixtape, the recipient either knew what was going on or didn’t get it — some people just don’t understand the song’s depth. In those cases, the song was also a litmus test; if you didn’t know what I was trying to say — and didn’t love the song as much as I did — then maybe my feelings had somehow been misplaced.
“I Want You Around” is full of stupid, inarticulate innocence. You can hear the struggle to spit out the words in Joey’s vocals; he is overwhelmed by the feeling, but his natural impulse is to suppress it. That’s what makes a good pop love song great — an exuberance that cannot be denied. And what better way to say it than to tell another person that you have overcome your own dark urges to hide in the shadows and sniff glue, and instead you want to hang out and scratch his or her name into your desktop during first period? As a fellow loner and f-ed up outsider, I couldn’t think of a better compliment to give or to get than “I want you around.”
The song first showed up on the soundtrack for the Roger Corman film Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and is sung in the movie to P.J. Soles, the actress then riding a wave of iconic high school flicks that included Carrie and Halloween. It was originally produced by Ed Stasium, but remixed by Phil Spector and you can feel his special sheen of young love and longing, a leftover glitter of bells from the producer’s famous “Wall of Sound.” Spector would go on to produce the Ramones’ next album, End of the Century and famously hold the band at gunpoint in his Hollywood mansion.
Other than the repeated title phrase, my favorite passage goes like this: “You know if it comes true / I’ll be so good to you / I’ll never treat you cruel / As long as I’ve got you around.” Can you expect more from a declaration of love than the promise not to be cruel?