"Wonderful World" (occasionally referred to as "(What A) Wonderful World") is a song by American singer-songwriterSam Cooke. Released on April 14, 1960 by Keen Records, it had been recorded during an impromptu session the previous year, Cooke's last recording session at Keen Records. He signed with RCA Victor in 1960 and "Wonderful World," then unreleased, was issued as a single in competition. The song was mainly composed by songwriting team Lou Adler and Herb Alpert, but Cooke revised the lyrics to mention 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 since "You Send Me" (1957). The song peaked at number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and hit number two on Billboard'sHot 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 with James Taylor and Paul Simon charted at number 17 in 1978. The Sam Cooke version was featured in 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 (it had peaked at number 27 on the UK singles chart on first release in 1960). Its 1986 success was attributed to sound-alike versions featured in the film Witness (1985) and a memorable Levi's 501 television commercial.
Lou Adler and Herb Alpert composed the song with the theme that neither knowledge nor education can dictate feelings, but that love "could make the world a wonderful place." 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. Cooke wanted to steer the song toward the subject of schooling, revised the song and decided to cut it at a recording session on March 2, 1959, five days after completing his Billie Holiday tribute album, Tribute to the Lady.
The session's main goal was to record three songs Cooke had composed. There was no arranger or orchestra and the personnel consisted of Cooke, guitarist Cliff White, bassist Adolphus Alsbrook, teenage drummer Ronnie Selico and a quartet of singers that Cooke biographer Peter Guralnick believes may have been the Pilgrim Travelers – J.W. Alexander, Lou Rawls, and George McCurn (nicknamed Oopie).
No footage of Cooke performing the song in his lifetime is known – in 1986 ABKCO president Allen Klein offered a $10,000 reward for anyone obtaining such footage.
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. Meanwhile, John Siamas, co-founder of Keen Records, discovered the "demo" recording of "Wonderful World" among unreleased Cooke recordings. Keen released "Wonderful World" in competition with RCA's issue of "You Understand Me" in the same week. "Wonderful World" quickly became Cooke's best-performing single since his first hit "You Send Me," reaching number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number two on the magazine's Hot R&B Sides chart.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."
Herman's Hermits had a major hit in the mid-1960s with an uptempo version of the song (omitting one verse) which reached number four in the US and number seven 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.
In 1978, Art Garfunkel recorded the song at a slow tempo with Paul Simon and James Taylor as backing vocalists. This reached number 17 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and number 15 on the Cash Box Top 100. Their version also became a number-one US Adult Contemporary hit for five weeks. This song was the second new song for Simon & Garfunkel after their first new single "My Little Town" was released in 1975. Simon & Garfunkel sang this song as a duet with James Taylor on lead and backing vocals.
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. 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, and also during the film, when Doc Sportello returns the heroin planted upon him to the 'Golden Fang'.
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 copy 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 No.2 and selling a certified 250,000 copies. In a 2005 poll by the UK's Channel Four the song was voted the 19th-greatest song ever to feature in a commercial.Australian group Human Nature covered the song on their 2014 album Jukebox.
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. ISBN0-688-12403-8.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
Guralnick, Peter (2005). Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke. Little, Brown and Company. ISBN978-0316377942.