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
Radio Recorders
(Los Angeles, California)
Genre Rhythm and blues, soul
Length 2:09
Label Keen
Writer(s) Lou Adler, Herb Alpert, Cooke
Producer(s) Cooke
Sam Cooke singles chronology
"You Understand Me"
(1960)
"Wonderful World"
(1960)
"With You"
(1960)

"Wonderful World" (occasionally referred to as "(What A) Wonderful World") is a song by American singer-songwriter Sam Cooke, released on April 14, 1960 by Keen Records. Recorded during an impromptu session the previous year, it was cut during Cooke's last recording session at former label Keen Records. He signed with RCA Victor in 1960, and "Wonderful World," then unreleased, was issued as a single in competition. "Wonderful World" was mainly composed by songwriting team Lou Adler and Herb Alpert, but Cooke revised it before recording to reference the subject of education more.

"Wonderful World" ended up doing substantially better on the charts than several of his early RCA singles, becoming his biggest hit single breakthrough since "You Send Me" (1957). The song peaked at number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100, and hit number two on Billboard's Hot R&B Sides chart. Herman's Hermits charted better with a cover of the song in 1965, reaching number four in the United States and number seven in the United Kingdom, respectively. Another cover by Art Garfunkel in the late 1970s impacted the charts as well.

The song was famously featured in a scene from the 1978 film Animal House, and gained greater recognition in the UK upon a 1986 re-release, when it peaked at number two on the UK Singles Chart, going silver. Its success was attributed to soundalike versions featured in the film Witness (1985) and a memorable Levi's 501 television commercial.

Background[edit]

It was light, it wasn't, 'Listen to this song.' Sam always told me, 'You got to be talking to somebody.' Even if the lyric was heavy, his approach to it wasn't that intense.

Co-writer Lou Adler[1]

Lou Adler and Herb Alpert composed the song, which mainly consists of the theme that neither knowledge nor education can dictate feelings, but that love "could make the world a wonderful place."[1] Adler did not take the song very seriously, but Cooke appeared to be taken with it. "He’d say, ‘What about that song, you know?’ And then he'd start on it again," recalled Adler.[1] Cooke was particularly interested the lyrics referencing education, and desired to steer the song toward the subject of schooling. Cooke revised the song and decided to cut it at a recording session set for March 2, 1959, five days following the completion of his Billie Holiday tribute album, Tribute to the Lady.[1]

The meeting's main goal was to record three songs Cooke recently had composed, and unlike many sessions, there was no arranger or orchestra, and the session solely consisted of Cooke, guitarist Cliff White, bassist Adolphus Alsbrook, teenage drummer Ronnie Selico, and a quartet of unknown singers that Cooke biographer Peter Guralnick believes may have been the Pilgrim Travelers — J.W. Alexander, Lou Rawls, and George McCurn (nicknamed Oopie).[1]

No footage of Cooke performing the song in his lifetime is known to exist. ABKCO president Allen Klein in 1986 offered a $10,000 reward for anyone obtaining such footage.[2]

Release and reception[edit]

Cooke signed to RCA Victor in 1960, but his first two singles on the major label — "Teenage Sonata" and "You Understand Me" — failed to register on the charts.[3] Meanwhile, John Siamas, co-founder of Keen Records, discovered the "demo" recording of "Wonderful World" among unreleased Cooke recordings.[3] Keen released "Wonderful World" in competition with RCA's issue of "You Understand Me" in the same week.[3] "Wonderful World" quickly became Cooke's best-performing single since his breakout hit "You Send Me," reaching number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number two on the magazine's Hot R&B Sides chart.[3] Billboard reviewed the single upon its release, giving it four stars and writing, "Moderate rocker gets a smooth belt from Sam Cooke in his usual, salable style."[4]

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

Cover versions[edit]

"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"
(1965)
"Wonderful World"
(1965)
"I'm Henry VIII, I Am"
(1965)

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 popular culture[edit]

The song is used in the classic 1978 film Animal House in the well-known lunchroom scene where Bluto (John Belushi) gathers food in preparation for a food fight.[5] 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. It also appears towards the end of the trailer for the 2014 film Inherent Vice.

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.[6][7][8] 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.[9]

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

The American television show Modern Family references this song. This song is sung by characters Mitchell Pritchett and Cameron Tucker during the second episode of the fifth season (First Days).

Charts and certifications[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

Personnel[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Guralnick 2005, p. 279.
  2. ^ Nelson George (April 26, 1986). Rhythm & the Blues 98 (17). Billboard. p. 25. Retrieved August 1, 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c d Guralnick 2005, p. 324.
  4. ^ Reviews of THIS WEEK'S SINGLES. Billboard. April 4, 1960. p. 57. Retrieved August 1, 2014. 
  5. ^ Bluto's a Zit - Animal House (5/10) Movie CLIP (1978) HD, YouTube
  6. ^ Bryan Appleyard (22 August 1986). "Spectrum: I Sold It Through the Grapevine / Pop Music in Advertising". The Times. 
  7. ^ Sam Ingleby (17 May 2004). "Karl Jenkins: Fanfare for the Common Man". The Independent. 
  8. ^ "Latest Releases". Ron Roker. Retrieved 2014-06-28. 
  9. ^ "Coke theme is top of the pops". The Manchester Evening News. 1 July 2005. Retrieved 2013-04-30. 
  10. ^ a b c "Archive Chart" UK Singles Chart. Retrieved August 1, 2014.
  11. ^ a b c "Sam Cooke – Awards". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved August 1, 2014. 
  12. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – Sam Cooke search results" (in Dutch) Dutch Top 40. Retrieved August 1, 2014.
  13. ^ "Herman's Hermits Album & Song Chart History" Billboard Hot 100 for Herman's Hermits. Retrieved August 1, 2014.
  14. ^ "Art Garfunkel Album & Song Chart History" Billboard Hot 100 for Art Garfunkel. Retrieved August 1, 2014.
  15. ^ "Archive Chart" UK Singles Chart. Retrieved August 1, 2014.
  16. ^ "British single certifications – Sam Cooke – Wonderful World". British Phonographic Industry.  Enter Wonderful World in the field Search. Select Title in the field Search by. Select single in the field By Format. Click Go

References[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. 
  • Guralnick, Peter (2005). Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke. Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 978-0316377942. 

External links[edit]