What a Wonderful World

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"What a Wonderful World"
Louis Armstrong What a Wonderful World.jpg
Scandinavian release cover
Single by Louis Armstrong
from the album What a Wonderful World
B-side"Cabaret"
ReleasedSeptember 1, 1967
Recorded1967
StudioUnited Recording, Las Vegas, Nevada, US
GenreTraditional pop
Length2:21
LabelABC
Songwriter(s)Bob Thiele (as George Douglas)
George David Weiss[1]
Producer(s)Bob Thiele[1]
Louis Armstrong singles chronology
"Mi va de cantare"
(1967)
"What a Wonderful World"
(1967)
"Hello Brother"
(1968)

"What a Wonderful World" is a song 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. It topped the pop chart in the United Kingdom,[1] but performed poorly in the United States because Larry Newton, the president of ABC Records, disliked the song and refused to promote it.

After it was heard in the film Good Morning, Vietnam, it was reissued as a single in 1988, and rose to number 32 on the Billboard Hot 100.[2] Armstrong's recording was inducted to the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.

Composition and production[edit]

Thiele produced the track under his own name, but as a co-composer was initially credited under the pseudonym George Douglas. His real name has appeared on it from its 1988 issue onward.

One source claims the song was first offered to Tony Bennett, who turned it down,[3] although Louis Armstrong biographer Ricky Riccardi disputes this.[4][non-primary source needed] In Graham Nash's book Off the Record: Songwriters on Songwriting, George Weiss says he wrote the song specifically for Louis Armstrong, as he was inspired by Armstrong's ability to bring together people of different races.

Armstrong was gigging at the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas, so he chose to record the song nearby at Bill Porter’s United Recording studio. The session was scheduled to follow Armstrong's midnight show, and by 2 am the musicians were settled and tape was rolling. Arranger Artie Butler was there with songwriters Weiss and Thiele, and Armstrong was in the studio singing with the orchestra. Armstrong had recently signed to ABC Records, and ABC president Larry Newton showed up to photograph Armstrong. Newton wanted a swingy pop song like "Hello, Dolly!", a big hit for Armstrong when he was with Kapp Records, so when Newton heard the slow pace of "What a Wonderful World", he tried to stop the session. Newton was physically removed and locked out of the studio for his disruption, but a second problem arose: Nearby freight train whistles interrupted the session twice, forcing the recording to start over. Armstrong shook his head and laughed off the distractions, keeping his composure. The session ended around 6 am, going longer than expected. To be sure the orchestra members were paid extra for their overtime, Armstrong accepted only $250 musicians' union scale for his work.[5]

Release and reception[edit]

Because Newton refused to promote the song, it initially sold fewer than 1,000 copies in the US.[6] It was a major success in the United Kingdom, however, reaching number 1 on the UK Singles Chart.[1] In the US, it eventually reached number 16 on the Billboard Bubbling 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 before it became an exclusively classical music label.[7] The song made Armstrong the oldest male to top the UK Singles Chart.[1] (His 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 1.)

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,[8] but charted in the UK where it was issued by Stateside Records with catalogue number SSL 10247 and peaked on the British chart at number 37.

Enduring success[edit]

The song gradually became something of a standard and reached a new level of popularity. An episode of The Muppet Show produced in 1977 and broadcast early in 1978 featured Rowlf the Dog singing the song to a puppy. In 1978, it was featured in the closing scenes of BBC radio's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and was repeated for BBC's 1981 TV adaptation of the series. In 1988, Armstrong's recording was used in the film Good Morning, Vietnam (despite its setting in 1965, two years before the song was recorded) and was re-released as a single, reaching number 32 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in February 1988. It charted at number 1 for the fortnight ending June 27, 1988 on the Australian chart. It is also the closing song for the 1995 movie 12 Monkeys and the 1998 film adaptation of Madeline.

When the ABC television sitcom Family Matters premiered in 1989, Armstrong's version of "What a Wonderful World" was used as the show's theme song. However after the fifth episode, it was replaced by the original song "As Days Go By".[9]

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.[10] The rappers and their record company, Sony Music Entertainment, were sued by Abilene Music, the owners of "What a Wonderful World". The suit was thrown out after Judge Gerard E. Lynch determined that the altered lyric was a parody, transforming the uplifting original message to a new one with a darker nature.[10][11]

After it was released digitally, Armstrong's 1967 recording had sold over 2,173,000 downloads in the United States as of April, 2004.[12]

In 2021, it was ranked at No. 171 on Rolling Stone's "Top 500 Best Songs of All Time".[13]

Charts and certifications[edit]

Weekly charts[edit]

Chart (1967–68) Peak
position
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[14] 1
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[15] 6
Denmark[16] 2
Ireland (IRMA)[17] 2
Norway (VG-lista)[18] 6
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[19] 7
UK Singles (OCC)[20] 1
West Germany (Official German Charts)[21] 6

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Denmark (IFPI Danmark)[34] Gold 45,000double-dagger
Italy (FIMI)[35] Platinum 70,000double-dagger
United Kingdom (BPI)[36] Platinum 600,000double-dagger
United States (RIAA)[37] Gold 500,000*

* Sales figures based on certification alone.
double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

Eva Cassidy and Katie Melua version[edit]

"What a Wonderful World"
Eva Cassidy Katie Melua What a Wonderful World.jpg
Single by Eva Cassidy and Katie Melua
from the album The Katie Melua Collection
B-side"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" (by Katie Melua)[38]
ReleasedDecember 3, 2007
Length4:19
LabelTesco
Producer(s)Mike Batt
Eva Cassidy singles chronology
"Fields of Gold"
(2007)
"What a Wonderful World"
(2007)
"Songbird"
(2007)
Katie Melua singles chronology
"Mary Pickford"
(2007)
"What a Wonderful World"
(2007)
"If the Lights Go Out"
(2008)
Music video
"What a Wonderful World" on YouTube

In 2007, Georgian-British singer-songwriter Katie Melua recorded a version of "What a Wonderful World" with American singer and guitarist Eva Cassidy, who had died in 1996. Recorded by Melua singing over the original Cassidy track, the duet was released in late 2007 as a charity single for the British Red Cross.[39] Melua, who considers Cassidy one of her musical idols, had previously sung with Cassidy in this manner on Christmas Eve 2006, when she performed "Over the Rainbow" on the BBC One television program Duets Impossible with a videotape of Cassidy singing the song.[39] This version of "What a Wonderful World" was available for purchase only at Tesco stores and on the Tesco Direct website.[40]

Upon its release, the single debuted at number 45 on the Scottish Singles Chart on the week of December 9, 2007.[41] The next week, the song rose 44 positions to number one while also debuting at number one on the UK Singles Chart, giving both Cassidy and Melua their first number-one single in the United Kingdom. It also became the first UK number-one single available through only one retailer, with 97 percent of its weekly 56,114 sales coming from the physical CD format sold at Tesco.[42] The song quickly dropped off the UK chart after peaking, spending only five weeks in the UK top 100. In Scotland, the song stayed in the top 100 for 11 weeks. The cover was also successful in Sweden, reaching number 19 in November 2008, and it became a minor hit in the Wallonia region of Belgium.

When the song reached number one in the UK, Melua thanked everyone who bought the single, saying, "Thank you to everyone who has shown such festive goodwill."[39] The duet was later included on her 2008 compilation album The Katie Melua Collection.[43]

Charts[edit]

Weekly charts[edit]

Chart (2007–2008) Peak
position
Belgium (Ultratip Wallonia)[44] 24
Europe (Eurochart Hot 100)[45] 6
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[46] 19
Scotland (OCC)[47] 1
UK Singles (OCC)[48] 1

Year-end charts[edit]

Chart (2007) Position
UK Singles (OCC)[49] 58

Other notable versions[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Rice, Jo (1982). The Guinness Book of 500 Number One Hits (1st ed.). Enfield, Middlesex: Guinness Superlatives Ltd. p. 117. ISBN 0-85112-250-7.
  2. ^ "Chart History: Louis Armstrong – Hot 100". Billboard. Retrieved August 7, 2020.
  3. ^ "Sundance Channel : Video: : SPECTACLE: Season 1 – Episode 5 (clip)". SundanceChannel.com. Archived from the original on January 7, 2010. Retrieved July 25, 2012.
  4. ^ "Ricky Riccardi: Video Pops What a Wonderful World": The First Fifty Years". Facebook. Retrieved August 4, 2018.
  5. ^ "What A Wonderful World". The Pop History Dig. Retrieved April 21, 2013.
  6. ^ Black, Johnny (2006). Singles: Six Decades of Hot Hits & Classic Cuts. Thunder Bay Press. p. 97. ISBN 978-1592236510.
  7. ^ "45 Discography for HMV Records – UK – POP series 1001–1617". Globaldogproductions.info. Retrieved July 25, 2012.
  8. ^ "ABC-Paramount Album Discography, Part 6". Bsnpubs.com. Retrieved July 25, 2012.
  9. ^ "22 Facts About Family Matters". MentalFloss.com. Retrieved November 21, 2021.
  10. ^ a b Chang, Samantha (November 1, 2003). "Court: Ghostface Rap Was 'Fair Use'". Billboard. Vol. 115, no. 44. p. 22. ISSN 0006-2510.
  11. ^ Kohn, Al; Kohn, Bob (2010). Kohn on music licensing (4 ed.). Aspen Publishers. pp. 1647–1648. ISBN 978-0735590908. Retrieved July 25, 2012.
  12. ^ Grein, Paul (April 16, 2014). "Chart Watch: "Happy" tops 4M". Yahoo! Music.
  13. ^ "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Rolling Stone. September 15, 2021. Retrieved July 19, 2022.
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  15. ^ "Louis Armstrong – What a Wonderful World" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved March 17, 2014.
  16. ^ "Danske Hitlister.dk". Danske Hitlister.dk. Retrieved August 9, 2014.
  17. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – What a Wonderful World". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved January 15, 2021.
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  35. ^ "Italian single certifications – Louis Armstrong – What a Wonderful World" (in Italian). Federazione Industria Musicale Italiana. Retrieved December 21, 2021. Select "2021" in the "Anno" drop-down menu. Select "What a Wonderful World" in the "Filtra" field. Select "Singoli" under "Sezione".
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  38. ^ What a Wonderful World (UK CD single liner notes). Eva Cassidy, Katie Melua. Tesco. 2007. TD001.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
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External links[edit]