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Wouldn't It Be Nice

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Title: Wouldn't It Be Nice  
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Subject: Pet Sounds, Made in U.S.A. (The Beach Boys album), Never Learn Not to Love, Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!), Little Deuce Coupe (song)
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Wouldn't It Be Nice

"Wouldn't It Be Nice" is the opening track on the 1966 album Pet Sounds by the American rock band the Beach Boys. It was composed, arranged, and produced by Brian Wilson with words largely by Tony Asher. Later, the song's credit was amended to include Mike Love for its coda's vocal arrangement and lyric.[1] It was released as a single two months after the album's release with "God Only Knows" as its B-side.[2]

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. 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 according to Wilson's exact specifications.

Pitchfork Media placed it at number 7 on its list of "The 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s".[3]


In the Endless Harmony documentary, Brian 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."[4] 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."[1][5] The lyrics were written almost entirely by Tony 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".[1] Asher has said, "Brian 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."[6] In response, music journalist Nick Kent wrote:

To this effect, "Wouldn't It Be Nice", the song that would lead off their finished creation, was little more than a sophisticated lay-off on the old "We're too young to get married" teen angst dialogue that Wilson had already zeroed in on in "We'll Run Away", the song he'd written a year or so back with Gary Usher, not to mention his plaintively fulsome reinterpretation of the Four Teens' vintage heartbreaker "I'm So Young". But this time Brian Wilson was out to eclipse these previous sonic soap operas, to transform the subject's sappy sentiments with a God-like grace so that the song would become a veritable pocket symphony: two minutes of limpid harps imitating a teenage heartstrings in a tug of love, growling horns, joyous little bells, cascading strings, harmonies so complex they seemed to have more in common with a Catholic Mass than any cocktail lounge acappella doo-wop—in short, a fantasy island of the most exquisite musical longing imaginable.[6]
Chords and voicing configurations from the song's bridge.

"Wouldn't It Be Nice" begins with an eight-beat introduction in the key of A major.[7] Following a single drum hit, the song shifts to the remote flat submediant key of F. Classical composer John Adams called this key change "nothing new in the classical or jazz world, but appearing here in the context of a standard rock-and-roll song, it felt novel and fresh. More than any other songwriter of that era, Brian Wilson understood the value of harmonic surprise."[7] One section is bitonal through a bassline playing in D major. This feature was mistaken as an error by bassist Lyle Ritz, as he explains: "[The] rest of the band was in another key. I knew that was wrong. So during a break, I looked at everybody else's music to see if it was a mistake. Because you can't do that. But he [Brian] pulled it off."[8] The song uses a ritardando before its bridge, a device that doesn't often appear in pop music, but does in classical music.[9] When the bridge is entered, the song modulates down a minor third from F to D major; this same key change from F to D also occurs in "Let's Go Away for Awhile", another Wilson composition from Pet Sounds.[10]

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.[11] Love did not receive an official co-writing credit on the song until after 1994.


An excerpt of the section leading into the bridge via tempo modulation. The distinctive harp-like instrument is a detuned 12-string guitar run directly into the console with added reverb.[9]

Isolated vocals-only excerpt taken from the song's bridge and coda.

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The instrumental track was recorded at Gold Star Studios on January 22, 1966.[12] 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."[13]

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".[12][14] 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.[12][14]

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."[1] 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."[4]

Release history

On July 18, "Wouldn't It Be Nice" was released backed with "God Only Knows" in the United States, which was the third single from the Pet Sounds album, released two months before.[12] It entered the Billboard chart on July 30 and remained there for 11 weeks, peaking at number 8 in September 1966.[15] The single also peaked at number 7 on the Cashbox chart and #5 in Record World. It also peaked at number 4 on Canada's RPM national chart. In Australia, the song was released in August 1966. It entered the charts on August 24 at number 39 and spent 17 weeks on the charts, peaking at number 2.[16] In New Zealand, the single peaked at number 12.[17]

In the United Kingdom, the song was released in July 1966 as the B-side of "God Only Knows",[18] which reached number 2. The song was reissued in November 1966 in the UK on the God Only Knows EP.[18] In July 1976 It was reissued again in the UK as the B-side of the re-issued "Good Vibrations" single. The single peaked at number 18.


"Wouldn't It Be Nice (Live)"
Single by The Beach Boys
from the album Live In London
Released 1971 (1971)
The Beach Boys singles chronology
"Cool, Cool Water"
"Wouldn't It Be Nice" (Live)
"Long Promised Road"

Live versions appear on two of the band's live albums. The 1970 release Live In London and the 1973 release The Beach Boys in Concert, the former was released as a single. On the 1986 Made in U.S.A. compilation, an alternate version with different vocals was used. That same version was also released on the 1989 Beach Boys album Still Cruisin'. In June 1990, a different recording of the song from 1966 that had appeared on the 1989 Still Cruisin' album was released in the United Kingdom as a single with the B-side featuring a "Beach Boys Medley" as well as the original recording of "I Get Around", which had also been released on the Still Cruisin‍ '​ album.

The song appears on several occasions from different stages of the recording process and in different formats on The Pet Sounds Sessions box set, including the song in its original monophonic mix; the first ever original stereo mix of the song, which was remastered by Mark Linett; over seven minutes of highlights from the tracking date, which documents the progress of the recording of the instrumental track; the finished instrumental track; the stereo track with the background vocals; an a cappella mix of the song; and two alternate mixes of the song one of which has a slight difference lyrically. In it, the song begins with the line "wouldn't it be nice to live together, in the kind of world where we belong", instead of the finished version of the song which opens with the line "wouldn't it be nice if we were older, then we wouldn't have to wait so long" and follows with the aforementioned lyric. The 2001 stereo remix of the song restores Mike Love's original bridge vocal, utilizing a mono mix, which causes slight phasing and sound quality issues.

The full recording of the instrumental track with all 21 takes can be heard on the bootleg Sea Of Tunes Unsurpassed Masters series Vol. 13 box set.[19]

Chart performance


Sourced from liner notes included with the 1999 mono/stereo reissue of Pet Sounds,[25] except where otherwise noted.

The Beach Boys
Additional musicians

Cover versions


  1. ^ a b c d
  2. ^ Badman 2004, p. 142.
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b Kent 2009, p. 17.
  7. ^ a b Adams 2011.
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b c Dillon 2012.
  10. ^ Lambert 2007, p. 227.
  11. ^ Carlin 2006.
  12. ^ a b c d
  13. ^
  14. ^ a b
  15. ^
  16. ^ Abbott, Kingsley (2003), Back To The Beach, Helter Skelter Publishing, ISBN 1-900924-46-3
  17. ^ New Zealand Single Charts
  18. ^ a b
  19. ^ Unsurpassed Masters Vol.13 track listing
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^


External links

  • Making of the studio recording
  • Full lyrics of this song at MetroLyrics
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