Wouldn’t It Be Nice

B-side “God Only Knows”
Released July 18, 1966

Format 7-inch single

Recorded January 22–April 11, 1966

Studio Gold Star Studios and CBS Columbia Square, Hollywood

Progressive pop avant-pop 2:33

“Wouldn’t It Be Nice” is a song written by Brian Wilson, Tony Asher, and Mike Love for American rock band the Beach Boys, released as the opening track on their 1966 album Pet Sounds. The song was also released as a single two months after the album’s release with “God Only Knows” as its B-side. In other countries, the sides were flipped, with “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” as the single’s B-side. Its lyrics describe a couple in love lamenting about being too young to run off to get married, fantasizing about how nice it would be if they were adults.

Like other tracks for Pet Sounds, Wilson constructed the song’s symphonic Wall of Sound arrangement using a variety of instruments not normally associated with popular music of its time, including accordions and a detuned twelve-string guitar. The music contains classical music devices that are unusual for a rock song, such as bitonality and ritardando. After recording the instrumental track, the Beach Boys overdubbed their voices to Wilson’s exact specifications. Love was not originally listed as co-writer, and only received his credit after a 1990s court case.

In 2006, Pitchfork Media placed “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” at number 7 on its list of “The 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s”

Tony Asher credits the song’s idea to Brian Wilson: “The innocence of the situation — being too young to get married — seemed to be immensely appealing to him.” Wilson composed the music, while the lyrics were written almost entirely by Asher over the course of one or two days. Mike Love’s single contribution was the ending couplet “Good night my baby / sleep tight my baby”.

Love’s contributions are disputed by some. He has claimed that he revised or added other lyrics beyond the ending tag, while Asher asserted it was not possible due to Love’s absence during songwriting sessions. Since he was touring with the group in Japan while the Pet Sounds album was being composed, Love’s attorney proposed that it may have been possible that Brian consulted Love by telephone during occasional bathroom breaks. Asher, believing the argument was “so absurd,” responded with incredulity. Love did not receive an official co-writing credit on the song until after 1994.

Earlier Beach Boys songs celebrated adolescent fun and teenage love; “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” subverts this convention in its very first lyric: “wouldn’t it be nice if we were older”. In the Endless Harmony documentary, Wilson described the song as “what children everywhere go through … wouldn’t it be nice if we were older, or could run away and get married”. Wilson added in 1996, “‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ was not a real long song, but it’s a very ‘up’ song. It expresses the frustrations of youth, what you can’t have, what you really want and you have to wait for it.” The song expresses “the need to have the freedom to live with somebody,” according to Brian. “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.” Asher has said that Wilson was “constantly looking for topics that kids could relate to. Even though he was dealing in the most advanced score-charts and arrangements, he was still incredibly conscious of this commercial thing. This absolute need to relate.”

The instrumental track was recorded at Gold Star Studios on January 22, 1966. The session was engineered by Larry Levine and produced by Brian Wilson. It took 21 takes of recording the instrumental track before Brian deemed it the master. The musicians present on that day were a group of Los Angeles session players commonly referred to as The Wrecking Crew. Wilson says, “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.” During the recording, the two guitarists who played the intro were plugged directly into the mixing board, and no one in the studio could hear them. Drummer Hal Blaine was required to wear a pair of over-the-ear headphones so that he could signal the rest of the band.

The vocals were recorded over two sessions at Columbia engineered by Ralph Balantin. The first vocal session took place on March 10, which also saw vocal work on “I’m Waiting for the Day”, “God Only Knows” and “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times”. The next session around a month later on April 11 was most likely the session at which the lead vocal for the song was recorded. Vocals for “God Only Knows” were also worked on at that particular session.

The backing vocal sessions were problematic, as Bruce Johnston recalled, “We re-recorded our vocals so many times, [but] the rhythm was never right. We would slave at Western for a few days, singing this thing, and [Brian would say], ‘No, it’s not right, it’s not right.’ One time, he had a 4-track Scully [tape recorder] sent to his home, but that didn’t really work out.” During sessions, Brian taught brother Dennis Wilson a recording technique involving cupping his hands over his mouth, elaborating: “Well, he had a lot of trouble singing on mike. He just didn’t really know how to stay on mike. He was a very nervous boy. Very nervous person. So I taught him a trick, how to record and he said, ‘Hey Brian. That works great. Thank you!’ And I said, ‘It’s okay, Dennis: He was really happy. I showed him—not how to sing, but I showed him a way to get the best out of himself—just ‘cup’ singing.”


The Beach Boys

Brian Wilson – lead vocals
Mike Love – lead and backing vocals
Al Jardine – backing vocals
Bruce Johnston – backing vocals
Carl Wilson – backing vocals
Dennis Wilson – backing vocals

Additional musicians and production staff

Hal Blaine – drums
Frank Capp – percussion, bells, tympani
Roy Caton – trumpet
Jerry Cole – detuned 12-string guitar
Steve Douglas – tenor[not in citation given] saxophone
Carl Fortina – accordion
Plas Johnson – tenor[not in citation given] saxophone
Carol Kaye – electric bass
Barney Kessel – mando-guitar
Larry Knechtel – organ
Larry Levine – engineer
Al de Lory – piano
Frank Marocco – accordion
Jay Migliori – baritone[not in citation given] saxophone
Bill Pitman – guitar
Ray Pohlman – mandolin
Lyle Ritz – string bass