Wouldn’t It Be Nice (1966)
The Beach Boys
The beauty and majesty of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” lies in its yearning lyrics; the celestial harmonies; the complex eddying of orchestral instruments still new to Rock-N- Roll; and the beachside version of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound production techniques.
You could call it a “wall of water,” gorgeous as a wave breaking on a perfect Southern California day.
All of the above make it great, make it enduring, and make its youth-infused longings immortal. What generated its popularity is another story altogether.
Innocence, shake hands with Experience
Much has been made of the innocence, the sense of being just on the personal verge of experience in “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” But…
“Wouldn’t It Be Nice” occupies a time and space – the mid-1960s – rooted in the values of the Doo-Wop past while the liberating (and other not-so-positive) effects of the sexual revolution were still some years away. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” simultaneously praises and damns the moral net that the mainstream conservative society was trying in vain to preserve. The sentiments are suspended between the two poles, then, forever. It talks fairly frankly about sexual desire but it accepts the status quo without endorsing it.
The work gently chides a society that allows, even encourages, young people to fall deeply in love, as long as it is a chaste love. While the surface message says that domestic bliss is the object, young people at the time knew what the singer was impatiently waiting for. If released a handful of years later, the song would have been meaningless. Pre-marital sex had busted out all over.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older
Then we wouldn’t have to wait so long
And wouldn’t it be nice to live together
In the kind of world where we belong
You know its gonna make it that much better
When we can say goodnight and stay together
The general longing to be older is a theme as ancient as literature itself.
Telemachus itches to be a grown-up warrior like his papa in Homer’s timeless work, the Odyssey. And a good part of what spurs on Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz is the wish to be more grown up and make her own decisions. Almost every coming-of-age story has the same tension close to the surface. The freedom of adulthood is appealing to youth because the tedium of picking up the dirty socks and making ends meet hasn’t intruded upon the fantasy.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could wake up
In the morning when the day is new
And after having spent the day together
Hold each other close the whole night through
And, most prominently in the rude-awakenings-yet-to-come department:
We could be married
And then we’d be happy
Wouldn’t it be nice…
There are two accordions, two pianos, trumpet, saxophone, 12-string mandolin, electric bass, a double bass, plus the usual Beach Boys’ Rock-N-Roll band and joy-filled singing.
The song, as well as the entire Pet Sounds album, which “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” comes off of, can be termed Psychedelic Baroque. But it is also a musical F-16 in flight, sleek and polished, high on maneuverability, and awesome in the word’s true sense. Listening to it unquestionably does not get old.
It beckons us musically and thematically into the future, though never strays too far from the familiar Beach Boys sound, particularly at its finale. Though a leap in sophistication, even in its vocal arrangement and background rhythms, which are punctuated by perfect drums and percussion, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” calls us back to earlier Beach Boys pieces like “Be True To Your School” and “Wendy.” It is among the kindliest of great songs in the Rock-N-Roll inventory, sweet without being syrupy, and reflective without being disturbing, as other cuts from Pet Sounds are (“Caroline No” and “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times”).
The Brian Wilson/Tony Asher (Mike Love somehow receives official credit) composition ends with music that is best described as “riding into the cinematic sunset” music.
Optimism sparks out of every voice, every instrument. The recording is immaculate. Bob Dylan notwithstanding, on Main Street America, as rendered in “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” the times weren’t quite yet a-changin’.
Good night my baby
Sleep tight my baby
(To listen to the building of the spectacular Beach Boys harmonies of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” in the studio, click here.)
- When he was 19, composer Tony Asher’s son and his son’s girlfriend considered “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” to be “their song.” This was a full generation after the song’s initial release.
- As Asher put it in an interview, the kids chose it, “simply because it expresses so precisely the frustrations they feel or have felt” during what was then already a four-year relationship.