Wonderful World (Sam Cooke song)

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"(What a) Wonderful World" redirects here. For the Louis Armstrong song, see What a Wonderful World.
"Wonderful World"
Single by Sam Cooke
from the album The Wonderful World of Sam Cooke
B-side "Along the Navajo Trail"
Released April 14, 1960
Format 7"
Recorded March 2, 1959
Genre Soul
Length 2:09
Label Keen Records 2112
Writer(s) Sam Cooke, Herb Alpert, Lou Adler
Sam Cooke singles chronology
"Teenage Sonata"
"Wonderful World"
"Chain Gang"
"Wonderful World"
Single by Herman's Hermits
B-side "I Gotta Dream On" (UK)
"Traveling Light" (U.S.)
Released April 1965
Format 7"
Genre Beat
Length 1:57
Label MGM
Writer(s) Sam Cooke, Lou Adler, Herb Alpert
Producer(s) Mickie Most
Herman's Hermits singles chronology
"Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter"
"Wonderful World"
"I'm Henry VIII, I Am"

"Wonderful World" (sometimes referred to as "(What a) Wonderful World") is a soul song that was written in the late 1950s by soul music pioneer Sam Cooke, along with songwriters Lou Adler and Herb Alpert.


The song was first attributed to the pseudonym "Barbara Campbell" who was Sam Cooke's high school sweetheart. It was first recorded by Cooke in 1959 for his 1960 album, The Wonderful World of Sam Cooke. The song was released as a single in the spring of 1960, reaching #12 in the US and #27 in the UK. A bouncy love song, the lyrics have the singer disavowing knowledge of academic subjects (the song is often referred to informally by its first line, "Don't know much about history"), but affirming the object of his affection "but I do know that I love you".

Cooke had already left Keen for RCA when the song was 'discovered'. John Siamas of Keen had engineer Deano Lappas look through the Keen vaults for a good song, exactly as Art Rupe of Specialty had looked through the vaults and come up with 'I'll Come Running Back To You'. Bumps Blackwell and the regular session drummer were not present at the session. The drummer on this track, whose name is unknown, was likely around 15 or 16 years old and, as legend has it, recruited off of the street. Lou Rawls stood about a meter and a half away from Sam singing in the same microphone.

Herman's Hermits had a major hit with an uptempo version of the song (omitting one verse) in the mid-1960s, which reached #4 in the U.S. and #7 in the UK. The Hermits' version was, according to singer Peter Noone and guitarist Keith Hopwood, done as a tribute to Cooke upon his death.

Otis Redding recorded a version of the song on his 1965 album Otis Blue.

In 1978, Art Garfunkel recorded the song as a ballad, with Paul Simon and James Taylor as backing vocalists.

In 2004, the song was placed 373rd in Rolling Stone magazine's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

In popular culture[edit]

The song is used in the classic 1978 film Animal House in the well-known lunchroom scene. The song was also included in the 1983 film Breathless. The original Sam Cooke version of the song comprised the title soundtrack of the 2005 film Hitch.

After a Greg Chapman cover of the song was featured prominently in the 1985 film Witness in a scene where Harrison Ford dances with Kelly McGillis, "Wonderful World" gained further exposure, particularly in the United Kingdom, where a soundalike version of the song, produced by Karl Jenkins and Mike Ratledge and with vocals sung by Barbadian Tony Jackson, a backing singer for Paul Young, appeared in "Bath", a well-remembered, Roger Lyons-directed 1985 advertisement for Levi's 501 jeans.[1][2][3] As a result, the Sam Cooke version of the song became a hit in the UK, reaching #2 in re-release. In a 2005 poll by the UK's Channel Four, the song was voted the 19th greatest song ever to feature in a commercial.[4]

The author Kenneth C. Davis writes a series of books entitled Don't Know Much About, referencing this song.

Chart performance[edit]

Sam Cooke version[edit]

Year Chart Position
1960 US Black Singles Chart #2
1960 US Pop Singles Chart #12
1960 UK Singles Chart #27
1986 The Netherlands #1 [5]
1986 UK Singles Chart #2

Herman's Hermits version[edit]

Year Chart Position
1965 Pop Singles Chart #4
1965 UK Singles Chart #7

Art Garfunkel version[edit]

Year Chart Position
1978 Adult Contemporary #1 [6]
1978 Pop Singles Chart #17

Johnny Nash version[edit]

Year Chart Position
1976 UK Singles Chart #25


Sam Cooke version[edit]


  • Wolff, Daniel J., S. R. Crain, Clifton White, and G. David Tenenbaum (1995). You Send Me: The Life and Times of Sam Cooke. William Morrow & Co. ISBN 0-688-12403-8. 
  1. ^ Bryan Appleyard (22 August 1986). "Spectrum: I Sold It Through the Grapevine / Pop Music in Advertising". The Times. 
  2. ^ Sam Ingleby (17 May 2004). "Karl Jenkins: Fanfare for the Common Man". The Independent. 
  3. ^ "Latest Releases". Ron Roker. Retrieved 2014-06-28. 
  4. ^ "Coke theme is top of the pops". The Manchester Evening News. 1 July 2005. Retrieved 2013-04-30. 
  5. ^ "De Nederlandse Top 40, week 21, 1986". Retrieved 2008-03-03. 
  6. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2002). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961-2001. Record Research. p. 99. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"Desiree" by Neil Diamond
Billboard Easy Listening Singles number-one single by Art Garfunkel with James Taylor and Paul Simon
February 11, 1978 (5 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Can't Smile Without You" by Barry Manilow