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Signature Songs: “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong

Some songs are so iconic, they eclipse everything else in an artist’s catalog.

For famed Jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong that song is “What a Wonderful World.”

Though, that may not have been the case if one record executive had the final say in the matter.

But, in the end, Larry Newton of ABC Records couldn’t keep a good song down, and Armstrong’s version of “What a Wonderful World” would get its due in 1988, more than 20 years after it was first recorded.

What A Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong

It’s little surprise that “What a Wonderful World” eventually became a hit.

The lyrics are simple and feel-good, the message hopeful. At least, it can be.

The song can certainly be ironically interpreted (and frequently has been).

Taken at face value, it’s a nice song with a nice meaning, but there may be way more here than meets the ear.

What A Wonderful World Stats

Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” at last hit the U.S. Billboard Chart on February 20, 1988 and peaked at #32 on the Hot 100 on April 2.

(It peaked at #7 on the Adult Contemporary chart.)

While it might seem suspect that a song that peaked at #32 on the Hot 100 would be anyone’s signature song, “What a Wonderful World” made up for its lack of chart position in sales.

It would end up selling more copies than Armstrong’s only #1 (and only Top 10) hit – “Hello, Dolly!”

“What a Wonderful World” also performed better overseas with its initial release in 1967 than it did in the U.S.

In 1968, the song hit #1 in the UK, and reached the Top 10 in multiple other Western European countries, including Austria, Ireland, Denmark, and West Germany.

So, why didn’t it do well in the U.S.?

Remember ole Larry Newton of ABC Records mentioned above?

Well, he didn’t like “What a Wonderful World” as a single.

He wanted a song more like Armstrong’s only #1 hit, “Hello Dolly!”

So, he made a big stink about it, and wouldn’t promote “What a Wonderful World” upon its release.

As a result, the single sold less than 1,000 copies in the U.S. with its initial release, but became the best-selling single in the UK in 1968.

Then, 20 years later, Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” would become an even bigger hit when it was used in the movie Good Morning, Vietnam and re-released as a single.

Along with finally hitting the U.S. charts, this re-release would reach the Top 10 in multiple countries again, including Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Canada.

When all was said and done, Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” would go on to sell over half a million copies in the U.S. and over half a million copies in the UK, becoming Armstrong’s only platinum single.

Why was it so successful?

You might say “What a Wonderful World” is a nice song about the beauty of the world, and that’s where its success lies.

And, in part, that may be true.

But it’s probably worth noting the world was not particularly nice or beautiful in many of the places where the song became a hit in 1968.

1968 was the start of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, while the UK and much of Western Europe, like the U.S., saw protests over the Vietnam War and civil rights issues.

Twenty years later, when the song was used in “Good Morning, Vietnam,” it was used ironically, playing over a montage of horrific scenes of war.

So, do most people hear “What a Wonderful World” as nice? Or do they hear it as a bit satirical?

It’s really hard to say.

But it can certainly be interpreted either way.

What A Wonderful World Songwriters

“What s Wonderful World” was written by Bob Thiele (originally under the pseudonym George Douglas) and George David Weiss.

What a Wonderful World Lyrics

I see trees of green
Red roses too
I see them bloom
For me and you
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

I see skies of blue
And clouds of white
The bright blessed day
The dark sacred night
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

The colors of the rainbow
So pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces
Of people going by
I see friends shaking hands
Saying, “How do you do?”
They’re really saying
I love you

I hear babies cry
I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more
Than I’ll ever know
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

Yes, I think to myself
What a wonderful world

5 Cool Facts About “What A Wonderful World”

1 – “What a Wonderful World” was written specifically for Louis Armstrong.

At least according to the song’s co-writer George Weiss.

2 – Louis Armstrong got paid scale for the recording session.

When the session ran long due to train whistles interrupting the recording, Armstrong took only union scale pay to ensure the members of the orchestra were paid for their overtime.

3 – “What a Wonderful World” has been on the soundtrack of nearly twenty movies (and plenty of TV shows).

In how many of those movies and TV shows was the song used ironically?

I don’t have the exact count, but, given it was used in some doozies like Twelve Monkeys and Black Mirror, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say quite a few.

4 – “What a Wonderful World” made Louis Armstrong the oldest male singer to hit #1 on the UK Singles chart… at the time.

The distinction would stand for more than 40 years, until Tom Jones broke the record in 2009.

5 – Tons of legends besides Armstrong have covered the song.

You can find versions of “What a Wonderful World” by Tony Bennett, Barbra Streisand, Willie Nelson, Sarah Brightman, B.B. King, Céline Dion, The Ramones, and plenty of others.

Basically, whatever type of music you favor, you can be pretty sure someone in the genre has taken a crack at it!

Listen to What A Wonderful World

To finish things off, here’s Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” for your listening pleasure.

What a Wonderful World (Remastered)

What are signature songs?

Signature songs are the songs artists become associated with for the rest of their careers and for future generations.

Artists with signature songs are not to be confused with one-hit wonders who have only one successful song over the entirety of their careers.

Signature songs are simply the songs most people recognize by an artist, the ones even non-fans know, the ones crowds at every concert can sing along to.

An artist may have many hits, but these are the ones that define them for a mass audience.

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