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Music

The Beach Boys song that found Brian Wilson being "naive"

@TylerGolsen

Brain Wilson had an undeniable fascination with youth. From the very beginning of The Beach Boys, the group focused on representing the upstart surf movement that teenagers were embracing during the early 1960s in California. The members themselves were teenagers in the band’s earliest days, so it felt appropriate for them to be spokesmen for the evolving adolescent scenes of America. 

But by the mid-1960s, Wilson was maturing at a remarkable rate. Still in his early 20s, Wilson nonetheless took leadership of the group away from his father Murray and began to incorporate influences from Phil Spector and classical orchestra music. Wilson knew that a massive shift away from the beaches probably wasn’t possible, but he continued to evolve his fascination with the innocence of youth into his newly-grown up material.

Songs like ‘In My Room’ and ‘Caroline, No’ showed off a new scope of inspiration beyond burger stands and big waves, but it was on the kickoff track to 1966’s Pet Sounds, ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’, where Wilson truly tapped into the rich desire and longing that was truly evocative of being a teenager. Wilson treated the trials of young love as something more than just frivolous flings: true love, infatuation, marriage, and impending adulthood were all part of the equation that gave young thoughts true weight for perhaps the first time in pop music.

According to co-writer Tony Asher, that youthful innocence wasn’t contrived. Asher said that Wilson was “definitely infatuated by” his sister-in-law, the Honeys singer Diane Rovell. However, Wilson wasn’t lusting or even considering the infidelity involved in being in love with his wife’s sister. According to Asher, Wilson was attracted to this innocent aura that she seemed to possess. “Brian was really just so naive”. 

“He’d stop in the middle of writing a song or a conversation or whatever and start going on about Diane, about how innocent, sweet, and beautiful she was,” Asher recalled in Peter Carlin’s Catch a Wave: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson. “I’d be thinking, ‘Huh! Your wife’s in the next room, and you’re talking about her sister!'”

“I can remember in ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ that we’d both had the experience of being too young to have what the rest of the world would call a serious relationship with a girl and yet wanting to be able to have it taken seriously,” Asher recalled in the liner notes of The Pet Sounds Sessions. “It was autobiographical from the point of view of both of us. We were writing about what we both knew and had experienced”.

‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ went on to become one of The Beach Boys’ most popular songs, peaking at number eight on the Billboard Hot 100 and featuring on a number of compilation albums. Although Asher and Wilson were the primary composers, Mike Love was able to successfully gain a songwriting credit after a 1994 lawsuit, where he argued that his contribution of the song’s ending couplet “Goodnight baby / Sleep tight baby” warranted inclusion in the credits.

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