For the Sam Cooke song, see Wonderful World (Sam Cooke song). For other uses, see Wonderful World (disambiguation).
"What a Wonderful World" is a pop ballad written by Bob Thiele (as "George Douglas") and George David Weiss. It was first recorded by Louis Armstrong and released in 1967 as a single, which topped the pop charts in the United Kingdom. Thiele and Weiss were both prominent in the music world (Thiele as a producer and Weiss as a composer/performer). Armstrong's recording was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. The publishing for this song is controlled by Memory Lane Music Group, Carlin Music Corp. and BMG Rights Management.
The song was initially offered to Tony Bennett, who turned it down. Thereafter, it was offered to Louis Armstrong. George Weiss recounts in the book Off the Record: Songwriters on Songwriting by Graham Nash that he wrote the song specifically for Louis Armstrong. Weiss was inspired by Armstrong's ability to bring people of different races together. The song was not initially a hit in the United States, where it sold fewer than 1,000 copies because ABC Records head Larry Newton did not like the song and therefore did not promote it, but was a major success in the United Kingdom, reaching number one on the UK Singles Chart. In the United States, the song hit No. 116 on the BillboardBubbling Under Chart. It was also the biggest-selling single of 1968 in the UK where it was among the last pop singles issued by HMV Records before becoming an exclusive classical music label. The song made Louis Armstrong the oldest male to top the UK Singles Chart. Armstrong's record was broken in 2009 when a remake of "Islands in the Stream" recorded for Comic Relief—which included the 68-year-old Tom Jones—reached number one in that chart. Tony Bennett did go on to record "What A Wonderful World" several times, as in 2003 with k.d. lang, paying homage to Bennett's friend, Armstrong.
ABC Records' European distributor EMI forced ABC to issue a What a Wonderful World album in 1968 (catalogue number ABCS-650). It did not chart in the United States, due to ABC not promoting it, but charted in the UK where it was issued by Stateside Records with catalogue number SSL 10247 and peaked on the British chart at No. 37.
The song gradually became something of a standard and reached a new level of popularity. In 1978, Armstrong's 1967 recording was featured in the closing scenes of the first series of BBC radio's cult hit, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and was repeated for BBC's 1981 TV adaptation of the series. In 1988, Armstrong's recording appeared in the film Good Morning, Vietnam (despite the film being set in 1965 — two years before it was recorded) and was re-released as a single, hitting No. 32 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in February 1988. The single charted at number one for the fortnight ending June 27, 1988 on the Australian chart. It is also the closing song for the 1995 movie 12 Monkeys.
In 2001, rappers Ghostface Killah, Raekwon and The Alchemist released "The Forest," a song that begins with three lines of lyric adapted from "What a Wonderful World", altered to become "an invitation to get high" on marijuana. The rappers and their record company, Sony Music Entertainment, were sued by the owners of "What a Wonderful World," Abilene Music. The suit was thrown out of court after Judge Gerard E. Lynch determined that the altered lyric was indisputably a parody, transforming the uplifting original message to a new one with a darker nature.
By April 2014, Louis Armstrong's 1967 recording had sold 2,173,000 downloads in the United States after it was released digitally.
Charts and certifications
- 1967: Louis Armstrong, million-selling original version
- 1989: Roy Clark, on his album of the same name (peaked at No. 73 on the BillboardHot Country Singles chart)
- 1992: Nick Cave, single sung with Shane MacGowan; in 2005 was also published on the album B-Sides & Rarities
- 1993: Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, Hawaiianukulele version (medley with "Somewhere Over the Rainbow") on the album Facing Future (sold over 2.5 million copies in the U.S. and Canada alone)
- 1999: Anne Murray, on her platinum release of the same name, which also spawned a book and video (the album reached No. 1 on the US CCM chart, No. 4 on the US Country chart, and No. 38 on the top 200)
- 2002: Joey Ramone's posthumous version was used for the ending credits of Michael Moore's film Bowling for Columbine.
- 2002: Da Vinci's Notebook ended their album Brontosaurus with an a cappella version.
- 2003: Sarah Brightman's Harem album
- 2004: Céline Dion recorded the song for her album Miracle.
- 2004: Rod Stewart recorded a version of the song with Stevie Wonder for Stewart's album Stardust: The Great American Songbook, Volume III (released in the United States as the lead single from the album and by early 2005 reached No. 13 on the BillboardAdult Contemporary chart).
- 2007: Foxygen covered the song on their self-produced first album Jurrassic Exxplosion Phillipic.
- 2007: Katie Melua, singing with Eva Cassidy's version to raise money for the Red Cross (reached No. 1 in the UK chart in December 2007)
- 2008: Ministry, along with other cover songs on their album Cover Up
- 2009: The Clarks' version was recorded for their album Restless Days. This version was also featured on The Simpsons's Season 27 premiere, Every Man's Dream. It is also used after every Home win for the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena.
- 2010: Ziggy Marley's version on The Disney Reggae Club
- 2012: Pat Byrne reached No. 3 in the Irish Singles Chart after appearing on The Voice of Ireland.
- 2012: Music charity Playing For Change recorded this song featuring Grandpa Elliott.
- 2015: Tiago Iorc's version was recorded to be used as the opening theme of the Brazilian telenovelaSete Vidas.
- 2013: Renée Geyer on her album Swing (2013)
- 2016: Tally Koren's version was recorded to be used in her album A Love Song for You.
Appearances in film and television
|The OA||Champion||Sharon Van Etten & Juggernaut Kid||2016||1|
|MythBusters||The Reunion Special||Louis Armstrong||2016||1|
|Childhood's End||#1.1||Joseph William Morgan||2015|
|The Simpsons||Every Man's Dream||The Clarks||2015||1|
|Strictly Come Dancing||Week 9 Results||Louis Armstrong||2014||1|
|Inspector George Gently||The Lost Child||Louis Armstrong||2012||1|
|The Mentalist||Blinking Red Light||Louis Armstrong||2011||1|
|An Idiot Abroad||Karl Comes Home||Louis Armstrong||2010||1|
|So You Think You Can Dance (Canada)||Top 8 Perform||Louis Armstrong||2009||1|
|The Simpsons||The Good, the Sad and the Drugly||Louis Armstrong||2009||1|
|20 to 1||Greatest Songs of All Time||Louis Armstrong||2006||1|
|Life on Mars||#1.6||Louis Armstrong||2006||1|
|House, MD||DNR||Louis Armstrong||2005||1|
|Hinter Gittern||Fahrte aufgenommen||Louis Armstrong||2004||1|
|Lust & Suhne||Louis Armstrong||2001||1|
|Hahn im Korb||Louis Armstrong||1999||1|
|Die Lugners||#1.9||Louis Armstrong||2003||1|
|Dawson's Creek||Hopeless||Louis Armstrong||2001||1|
|Gilmore Girls||Rory's Birthday Parties||Louis Armstrong||2000||1|
|The King of Queens||Head First||Louis Armstrong||1998||1|
|Cybill||Cybill Discovers the Meaning of Life||Louis Armstrong||1995||1|
|Florida Lady||Lauf dem Leben nicht davon||Louis Armstrong||1994||1|
|Twin Peaks||#2.7||Louis Armstrong||1990||1|
|The Green Man||Louis Armstrong||1990||1|
|Moonlighting||A Womb with a View||Louis Armstrong||1988||1|
|The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy||#1.6||Louis Armstrong||1981||1|
|The Muppet Show||Don Knotts (#2.1)||Rowlf (Jim Henson)||1977||2|
- Internet Movie Database
- Jim Henson's Red Book
- ^ abcdeRice, Jo (1982). The Guinness Book of 500 Number One Hits (1st ed.). Enfield, Middlesex: Guinness Superlatives Ltd. p. 117. ISBN 0-85112-250-7.
- ^"What A Wonderful World". The Pop History Dig. Retrieved 2013-04-21.
- ^"Sundance Channel : Video: : SPECTACLE: Season 1 - Episode 5 (clip)". SundanceChannel.com. Archived from the original on 2010-01-07. Retrieved 2012-07-25.
- ^Black, Johnny (2006). Singles: Six Decades of Hot Hits & Classic Cuts. Thunder Bay Press. p. 97. ISBN 978-1592236510.
- ^"45 Discography for HMV Records - UK - POP series 1001-1617". Globaldogproductions.info. Retrieved 2012-07-25.
- ^"ABC-Paramount Album Discography, Part 6". Bsnpubs.com. Retrieved 2012-07-25.
- ^ abChang, Samantha (November 1, 2003). "Court: Ghostface Rap Was 'Fair Use'". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media. 115 (44): 22. ISSN 0006-2510.
- ^Kohn, Al; Kohn, Bob (2010). Kohn on music licensing (4 ed.). Aspen Publishers. pp. 1647–1648. ISBN 0735590907. Retrieved 2012-07-25.
- ^Grein, Paul (April 16, 2014). "Chart Watch: "Happy" tops 4M". Yahoo! Music. Yahoo!.
- ^"Go-Set Australian Charts". Go-Set. Retrieved 9 August 2014.
- ^"Austriancharts.at – Louis Armstrong – What a Wonderful World" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40. Retrieved March 17, 2014.
- ^ ab"Ultratop.be – Louis Armstrong – What a Wonderful World" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved March 17, 2014.
- ^"Danske Hitlister.dk". Danske Hitlister.dk. Retrieved 9 August 2014.
- ^"Offiziellecharts.de – Louis Armstrong – What a Wonderful World". GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved March 17, 2014.
- ^ ab"The Irish Charts - All there is to know".
- ^ ab"Dutchcharts.nl – Louis Armstrong – What a Wonderful World" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved March 17, 2014.
- ^ ab"MediaMarkt Top 40". Retrieved 9 August 2014.
- ^"Norwegiancharts.com – Louis Armstrong – What a Wonderful World". VG-lista. Retrieved March 17, 2014.
- ^"Swisscharts.com – Louis Armstrong – What a Wonderful World". Swiss Singles Chart. Retrieved March 17, 2014.
- ^"Hit Parade Italia - Indice per Interprete: S" (in Italian). Hit Parade Italia. Retrieved 5 August 2014.
- ^"Australian-charts.com – Louis Armstrong – What a Wonderful World". ARIA Top 50 Singles. Retrieved March 17, 2014.
- ^"What A Wonderful World – LOUIS ARMSTRONG" (in Dutch). Top 30. Archived from the original on 9 April 2012. Retrieved 4 August 2014.
- ^"Rock on the Net". Retrieved 9 August 2014.
- ^"Italian single certifications – Louis Armstrong – What a Wonderful World" (in Italian). Federazione Industria Musicale Italiana. Retrieved March 17, 2014.
- ^Whitburn, Joel (2013). Hot Country Songs 1944–2012. Record Research, Inc. p. 78. ISBN 978-0-89820-203-8.
- ^Grein, Paul (2010-09-24). "Chart Watch Extra: Songs From The Last Century". Nielsen Business Media. Yahoo! Music. Retrieved 2012-03-22.
- ^"Rod Stewart - Chart history". Billboard. Retrieved 2016-08-03.
- ^"Playing For Change".
- ^"Abertura de Sete Vidas traz pequenas cenas que remetem a nossa memória afetiva". Globo.com. 2015-03-09. Retrieved 2015-07-09.
- ^"Louis Armstrong". IMDb. Retrieved 2015-09-11.
- ^"5/25/1977 – 'Don Knotts (MS)'". Retrieved 2016-04-30.
Many songs could be said to fuse into our collective DNA, but a rare few feel truly timeless and universal. As we in the northern hemisphere slide into autumn, jazz legend Louis Armstrong's recording of “What a Wonderful World” celebrates its 50th anniversary. The song is elegant in lyrics, delivery, and production, inspiring and optimistic on every listen, and the commemoration of its release -- officially this Saturday, the 23rd of September -- couldn't feel more soothing for the world we currently inhabit.
On this occasion, it's a pleasure to speak with Armstrong expert and author, Ricky Riccardi. As Director of Research Collections of the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens, New York, Mr. Riccardi has assembled the new exhibit, “50 Years of 'What a Wonderful World,'” featuring rare photos from the session, sheet music, and related artifacts. As the leading expert on the storied life of the man called Satchmo, Ricky appreciates the enormous value of that simple little tune, “What a Wonderful World.”
“The song was written in 1967, when the nation was being torn apart -- wars, racism, civil rights stuggles, a lot of anger -- and the whole point of the song was: Everybody take a breath, this is still a wonderful world. We have to work together, but let's not lose sight of that.
“Here we are, 50 years later, and a lot of those same themes are still around. The song, in that regard, is timeless. That theme -- we need to embrace the beauty of the world, we need to embrace different people -- it's just as true in 2017 as it was in 1967.”
I admit that I'd likely have lost a point on a trivia show in guessing when “What a Wonderful World” was released, as it seems like it's always been around.
“In 1964,” reveals Ricky, “Louis Armstrong had the biggest hit of his career: he recorded 'Hello, Dolly!' before the Broadway show even opened, and when it was released in '64, it went to the top of the charts -- became #1 on May 9th, 1964, and knocked the Beatles off the top of the charts at the height of Beatlemania! The Beatles have 14 straight weeks of #1 hits, and here comes 62-year-old Louis Armstrong with his Broadway show tune, and he totally took over the charts.”
Mr. Riccardi concedes that the next three years of Mr. Armstrong's recordings sound similar to “Hello, Dolly!” but then came a surprise -- albeit with a slow build. Producer Bob Thiele (known for Armstrong's 1961 albums with Duke Ellington), observing the turbulent times, sought a unifying song for Armstrong to sing. Thiele tasked songwriter George David Weiss to compose, and according to Ricky, upon first inspection of the melody (not the lyrics), Armstrong's reaction was, “What is this shit?”
“Then he read the lyrics,” Ricky elaborates, “and once he read the lyrics, he zeroed right in on the neighborhood he had been living in since 1943, which is in Corona, Queens. He always said he saw three generations grow up in that neighborhood -- and all of a sudden, he had his inspiration!”
Alas -- as it terribly often does in entertainment -- arrogance interfered. ABC Records president Larry Newton simply didn't get the orchestral ballad of Thiele's vision, despite Armstrong working for scale, at a mere $250! Newton intentionally put no promotion behind the single, and consequently -- despite Armstrong making the talk-show rounds to perform “What a Wonderful World” -- it only peaked at the bottom of the Easy Listening charts.
“Well, Larry Newton forgot about the rest of the world,” explains Ricky, “and in April, 1968, the record went to #1 in England -- once again knocking the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones, and everybody off the charts. Huge hit in England, huge hit in Ireland, South Africa, a worldwide hit -- but completely under the radar in America.”
Twenty years later (and almost thirty years ago today), who but Robin Williams (under the auspices of Barry Levinson) should help boost the song onto the charts anew -- as its use in Good Morning, Vietnam (soundtrack on Armstrong-appreciator Herb Alpert's A&M Records, released as its single) put the song back into global consciousness -- amazingly, 17 years after Armstrong's death. It's been with us ever since.
We chat about fave cover versions (I lean Nick Cave & Shane MacGowan; Ricky leans toward Queens' own Joey Ramone), then I ask the expert about becoming the person who brings together the incredible wealth of material on the 20th-century legend, Louis Armstrong.
“When I was 15 years old, I saw Armstrong in a movie -- The Glenn Miller Story -- and I had never really seen anything quite like it: I just absolutely fell in love with the trumpet-playing, the singing, the whole persona. I was born nine years after he died, never met him, never saw him, but I just became fascinated by him. And at the time, every time I would read a biography on Armstrong, they all had kind of the same narrative: This man was a revolutionary when he was young, and he changed the whole sound of American pop music. He became a sell-out! He went commercial! He's doing ‘What a Wonderful World and ‘Hello, Dolly!’ and what a giant waste of talent! There are a lot of books with that narrative.
“I always thought that was completely wrong-headed. I always found the music he made in his last 25 years to be astounding from every perspective: challenging and creative, he was a better singer in his later years, an amazing trumpet-player. I was on this one-man crusade just to shine the spotlight on Armstrong's later years. I went to Rutger's, I got a Master's degree in Jazz History and Research, I wrote a 350-page thesis on Armstrong's later years. Then I started doing research here at the Armstrong Archives. In 2009 I started working here as archivist, and in 2011 my book was published: What a Wonderful World: the Magic of Louis Armstrong's Later Years.
“That was a few years ago, but now I am all Armstrong, all the time: giving lectures, teaching a graduate-level course -- Musical Louis Armstrong, at Queens College -- producing CDs for Universal, writing liner notes. I go to New Orleans every year for the annual Armstrong festival -- the Satchmo SummerFest -- so I am totally dedicated to the man, to the music, to the legacy, and to keeping Armstrong relevant for the 21st century.”
Happily, this relevance prevails, as the museum has raised $23 million to build the state-of-the-art Louis Armstrong Education Center -- ground broken this summer, opening in about two years -- with Corona, Queens becoming what Ricky calls, “the Louis Armstrong version of Graceland.” Yet even amidst this development, Mr. Riccardi remains humble about his work.
“It's not a very hard job, because Armstrong still speaks to so many people; all I have to do is hit the 'play' button, and once he takes over and starts singing, playing, performing, people are captivated. There aren't too many artists born in 1901 who still have that level of fame. The 20th century is passing further and further into the rear-view mirror with each day, but Armstrong is still incredibly vital. We're still at the beginning of grasping how important he was. I think maybe 50-100 years from now, they're going to say: 'Who were the greats? Shakespeare, Mozart, Louis Armstrong.' I don't think anyone's going to question that.”
Louis Armstrong House Museum: Official Site