“Wouldn’t It Be Nice”

“Wouldn’t It Be Nice”

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Story Behind the Song

Tony Asher
“Wouldn’t It Be Nice”

Written by Tony Asher and Brian Wilson
Recorded by The Beach Boys

In the mid-sixties, I was working as a copywriter at an advertising agency (Carson/Roberts, Inc.) writing jingles and scoring commercials primarily for Mattel Toys. As a result, I spent a lot of time in recording studios. On one such occasion I ran into Brian Wilson whom I recognized but had never met. Brian was recording some song demos in another studio and we began to chat. Eventually Brian asked me to come listen to some of the things he had been recording. I later discovered that it was typical of Brian to do that. He loved to hear what anyone thought about the music he was working on. I remember one time he asked a FedEx delivery guy to listen to a song and give him his reaction. Brian wrote songs not to impress professional musicians but really for the average guy on the street.

After we listened to a couple of the tracks he had been recording, the engineers asked us to go out into the studio so they could finish up editing and transferring in time for the next scheduled session. So Brian and I sat at a piano in the studio — side by side on the piano bench — trading ideas. Brian started playing a rhythmic feel that he liked and asked me what I thought. I said something like, “Yeah. I love that. I started writing something sort of like that.” And then I played him my idea.

Brian then said something like “Wow. That would sound great in minor!” and played a few bars in a minor key. And so it went. We kept bouncing ideas off each other for quite a while. It wasn’t “one-upmanship” so much as it was really enjoying the instant connection music provided. Soon I realized I had to return to my own session down the hall and we said goodbye. I frankly wondered if I’d ever see him again.

But, as it turned out, we had a mutual friend named Loren. I didn’t know he knew Brian and apparently Brian told Loren about having met me. At the time, Brian was worried about how he was going to deliver an overdue album to Capitol Records. The rest of The Beach Boys were on tour in Japan. Besides, Brian had decided he didn’t want to write songs for the new album with any of the writers he had worked with previously. He really wanted to do something fresh and different this time out.

So the story goes that while Brian was agonizing over how he was going to get the album written, Loren said something along the lines of “Hey, why don’t you call Tony Asher? He’s a great writer and it seems like you guys got along pretty well.” Brian thought it might be worth a try and fortunately Loren had my phone number.

I had already told the people I worked with about having met Brian at the recording studio. So when the phone rang and a voice said, “Hi, this is Brian Wilson,” I naturally figured it was one of the guys in the office playing a prank on me. Of course I eventually realized it was, indeed, Brian Wilson and — incredibly — he was asking me if I wanted to write the next Beach Boys album with him. I was appropriately flabbergasted but wasted no time telling him “I’d LOVE to!”

I arranged to take a sabbatical from work and showed up as planned at Brian’s house at 9:30 on the appointed day. Brian emerged from his bedroom at around 12:45 PM and I quickly learned that morning appointments were not going to happen.

We didn’t have a specific concept for the album — or even for individual songs. Brian just said that he didn’t want to do the same kind of material the group had been doing up until then. I said that was fine with me because I didn’t know much about cars or surfing. I didn’t own even one Beach Boys album. My first love, musically, was always jazz. I played keyboards (which in those days pretty much meant piano) and I fantasized about becoming another Bill Evans (the prodigiously talented legendary jazz pianist). When we began working together, Brian didn’t even know what kind of music I liked or listened to. But we knew we were on a common wavelength. In the course of creating the album, I introduced Brian to jazz classics like “Stella by Starlight,” “Lush Life” and “Sophisticated Lady” with chord and key changes that blew him away and at the same time brought me a degree of instant credibility.

The first song I started work on turned out to be “You Still Believe In Me.” Brian had already recorded a complete background track for the song under the name “In My Childhood.” To this day, I’ve never heard those original lyrics. (You can still hear the sound of the little bicycle horn in the background, particularly in the ending fade.) Brian gave me a cassette tape (remember those?) of the track and I took it home to write a lyric. Brian thought the lyric was great and after a few minor tweaks, we moved on to other songs.

Where did song ideas come from? Brian and I would talk for hours, far away from the piano, just two young guys reminiscing about early love relationships, affairs, break-ups, the pain and pleasure of love. Wondering where the ones we loved so intensely were and how they had turned out. What would we feel for that girl who seemed so easy to fall deeply in love with only a few years ago if we saw her today? At some point, we’d go to the piano and begin to write. And those conversations we’d just been having — sometimes exhilarating, other times melancholy — set the mood for the moment and profoundly influenced the kind of song we were likely to write.

During just such a conversation, one of us mentioned a girl we’d known years before whom we remembered as being nearly perfect. Beautiful. Smart. Fun. She went away for a time and when she reappeared she had changed completely. She had become a woman but she had cut her long, glamorous hair. She looked unhappy. Bitter, as though life had been giving her a bad time. The innocence we had so loved about her had disappeared.

All during the period when we were writing together, Brian kept playing little snatches of a melody I really liked. I asked him to record it for me on a cassette so that I could work on a lyric. But he protested, “It isn’t finished yet” and, “It ’needs’ another section which I haven’t written yet.” Eventually, one day he announced that it was finished and played it a couple of times all the way through. I really liked it right away. It turned out to be “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” We began working on a lyric together. With the exception of “You Still Believe In Me,” all the other songs we had written up until then had been collaborative efforts. By that, I mean that the two of us bounced ideas back and forth about both lyrics and melody building off each other’s thoughts and suggestions. However, in the case of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” for the first time, we were working on a song for which the melody had been finished. And that proved to be a problem.

The difficulty arose from the simple fact that Brian’s job was over. The melody was finished. With previous songs, we interacted a lot. However, the melody was always a work in progress. So Brian’s primary attention was given to honing the melody and I was relatively free to do what I wanted with the lyrics. From time to time Brian made comments about the words I chose, of course. But, in the end, final decisions about lyrics fell to me. Now, suddenly, with “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” Brian began to concentrate rather intently on the lyrics and it began to drive me a little nuts. I realized that there were lots and lots of notes in the melody of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” which meant there would be lots and lots of words in the lyric. As we worked on it together, I could see that I was going to have to negotiate virtually every line. That, I decided, would simply be untenable.

So I suggested to Brian that he make a cassette recording of the melody and let me go away and come back with an entire lyric which we could then talk about. Thankfully, he agreed. And that is how the words were written. When I returned with the completed lyric, we tinkered a bit with a word here and a word there but it remained, essentially, what I had originally intended.

It’s difficult to believe today, but we were actually pushing the envelope with that song much as we did with “God Only Knows.” When that one was released in 1966, we were concerned that we wouldn’t get any airplay because of the word “God” in the title and lyric, although that’s hard to imagine in this day and age. At the time, the only way you could get away with using “God” in a song was if it was something like “God Bless America.” And in the case of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” we were talking about an unmarried young couple wishing they could sleep together which, in the day, was a fairly risqué thing to say.

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?

Soon thereafter, of course, The Beatles changed all the rules and the naiveté of those days was no more.

There have been comments made by no less than Paul McCartney and George Martin to the effect that without The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds,” Sgt. Pepper would never have happened. I’m not sure if that’s true. I know that both Brian and I are very flattered by such comments as are all the superb musicians who worked on the project. “Pet Sounds” is a wonderful legacy and I’m very proud of it and of having had the opportunity to work with a talent the magnitude of Brian.

“Wouldn’t It Be Nice”

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 it’s gonna make it that much better

When we can say goodnight and stay together…

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?

Happy times together we’ve been spending

I wish that every kiss was never ending.

Wouldn’t it be nice?

Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray it might come true.

Baby, then there wouldn’t be a single thing we couldn’t do.

We could be married

And then we’d be happy.

Wouldn’t it be nice?

You know, it seems the more we talk about it

It only makes it worse to live without it.

But let’s talk about it.

Wouldn’t it be nice?

Good night my baby.

Sleep tight my baby.

Lyrics by Tony Asher. Music by Brian Wilson. © SEA OF TUNES PUBLISHING Photo credit Lester Cohen Archives, WireImage

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