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