Behind The Song: The Beach Boys, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”

Written by Brian Wilson, Tony Asher, Mike Love

Videos by American Songwriter

There are few albums that captured the charm of late-’60s power-pop quite like The Beach Boys’ signature 1966 album, Pet Sounds. Opening track “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” chronicled a budding romance between two lovers, who long for a little more time together. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older? Then we wouldn’t have to wait so long,” reads the key opening lyric.

Guitarist Jerry Cole plucks on a 12-string guitar, and the reverb glosses the introductory chord progression with a harp-like texture. The blissful foundation mimicks the very innocent approach of the story, and it all soon careens into a groovy euphoria, courtesy of Wilson and Love’s shared lead vocals – Wilson on the verses, Love on the bridge – and a steady backbeat. 

“[The song] was definitely Brian’s idea. The innocence of the situation — being too young to get married — seemed to be immensely appealing to him,” said Asher in rock writer Nick Kent’s “The Dark Stuff: Selected Writings on Rock Music” (Updated Edition, 2002). “I can remember being in restaurants with him and some young girl would inevitably walk in and he’d almost melt, y’know. He’d get all misty-eyed and just stare at her, muttering on and on about, ‘Oh wow, she’s just so-o beautiful. Don’t you think…”

That unfiltered whimsy drapes across the song’s lilting appeal. “[It] has a very special and subtle background. One of the features of this record is that Dennis sings a special way, cupping his hands,” Wilson stated in the liner notes. “I had thought for hours of the best way to achieve the sound, and Dennis dug it because he knew it would work.”

Lyrically, Wilson wanted to underscore “the need to have the freedom to live with somebody,” he once said on Martin Brooks’ syndicated radio show. “The idea is, the more we talk about it, the more we want it, but let’s talk about it anyway. Let’s talk it over, let’s talk about what we might have if we really got down to it.”

“Wouldn’t It Be Nice” was reportedly written over the course of one of two days. Love did not initially get songwriting credit for his contribution (which was allegedly only the final couplet “Good night, baby / Sleep tight, baby”) until years later. He later famously sued Wilson for numerous such omissions.

Los Angeles musical collective The Wrecking Crew were present to lend various guitar parts and other instrumentals. Wilson further described the song, “Listen for the rockin’ accordions and the ethereal guitars in the introduction. Tony and I had visualized a scene. We had a feeling in our hearts, like a vibration. We put it into music, and it found its way onto tape. We really felt good about that record.”

Once in the studio, split sessions between Columbia Records and Gold Star Studios, the backing vocals proved to be especially difficult to track. Songwriter and record producer Bruce Johnston (who also subbed in for Wilson on occasion) explained, “I now know why Brian made us re-record this vocally. As big as ‘California Girls’ was, he was unhappy with our rhythm of singing. And with that high of a standard to get it right, ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ required a lot of perfect vocal rhythm. We re-recorded it at least four times. One time, he had a 4-track Scully [tape recorder] sent to his home, but that didn’t really work out.”

Despite a few hiccups, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” was re-released two months after the album release as the b-side to “God Only Knows.” The song eventually peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 (chart dated September 17, 1966) and has become an enduring classic all its own.

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