What a Wonderful World

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"What a Wonderful World"
Louis Armstrong What a Wonderful World.jpg
Single by Louis Armstrong
from the album What a Wonderful World
B-side "Cabaret"
ReleasedSeptember 1, 1967
Recorded1967
Studio United Recording, Las Vegas, Nevada, US
Genre
Length2:21
Label ABC
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, which topped the pop charts in the United Kingdom, [1] though it performed poorly in the United States because Larry Newton, the president of ABC Records, disliked the song and refused to promote it.

Contents

After appearing in the film Good Morning, Vietnam , the song was re-released as a single in 1988, and it rose to number 32 on the Billboard Hot 100. [2] Armstrong's recording was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. The publishing for this song is controlled by Concord, BMG Rights Management and Carlin America.

Composition and background

The song was written by producer Bob Thiele (as "George Douglas") and composer and performer George David Weiss. [3]

One source claims the song was first offered to Tony Bennett, who turned it down, [4] although Louis Armstrong biographer Ricky Riccardi disputes this claim. [5] 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.

Because he was gigging at the Tropicana Hotel, Armstrong recorded the song in Las Vegas 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 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 make sure the orchestra members were paid extra for their overtime, Armstrong accepted only $250 musicians union scale for his work. [3]

The song was not initially a hit in the United States, where it sold fewer than 1,000 copies because Newton did not like or promote it, [6] but was a major success in the United Kingdom, reaching number one on the UK Singles Chart. [1] In the United States, the song hit No. 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 exclusive classical music label. [7] The song made Armstrong the oldest male to top the UK Singles Chart. [1] 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.

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 No. 37.

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 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 and the 1998 film adaptation of Madeline .

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. [9] 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 a parody, transforming the uplifting original message to a new one with a darker nature. [9] [10]

By April 2014, Louis Armstrong's 1967 recording had sold 2,173,000 downloads in the United States after it was released digitally. [11]

Charts and certifications

Weekly charts

Chart (1967–68)Peak
position
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40) [12] 1
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders) [13] 6
Denmark [14] 2
Ireland (IRMA) [15] 2
Norway (VG-lista) [16] 6
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade) [17] 7
UK Singles (OCC) [18] 1
West Germany (Official German Charts) [19] 6

Certifications

RegionCertification Certified units/sales
Denmark (IFPI Denmark) [32] Gold45,000Double-dagger-14-plain.png
Italy (FIMI) [33] Gold15,000*
United Kingdom (BPI) [34] Platinum600,000Double-dagger-14-plain.png
United States (RIAA) [35] Gold500,000*

* Sales figures based on certification alone.
Double-dagger-14-plain.png Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

Eva Cassidy and Katie Melua version

"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
ReleasedDecember 3, 2007
Length4:19
Label Dramatico
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. [36] 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. [36] This version of "What a Wonderful World" was available for purchase only at Tesco stores and on the Tesco Direct website. [37]

Upon its release, the single debuted at number 45 on the Scottish Singles Chart on the week of December 9, 2007. [38] The next week, the song rose 44 positions to number one while also debuting at number one on the UK Singles Chart, becoming both Cassidy's and Melua's first number-one single in the United Kingdom. However, 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." [36] The duet was later included on her 2008 compilation album The Katie Melua Collection . [39]

Charts

Weekly charts

Chart (2007–2008)Peak
position
Belgium (Ultratip Wallonia) [40] 24
Europe (Eurochart Hot 100) [41] 6
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan) [42] 19
Scotland (OCC) [43] 1
UK Singles (OCC) [44] 1

Year-end charts

Chart (2007)Position
UK Singles (OCC) [45] 58

Other notable versions

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