Thursday, March 4, 2021

"What a Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong

Song#:  3423
Date:  02/20/1988
Debut:  67
Peak:  32
Weeks:  11
Genre:  Pop, Standards

Pop Bits:  Released late in '87, the comedy-drama film Good Morning, Vietnam starring Robin Williams became a box office hit and earned Williams an Oscar nod for his performance. With Williams portraying Armed Forces Radio DJ Adrian Cronauer, who arrived in Vietnam in 1965, there were quite a few songs from the early 60s used in the movie. Several of these tracks, including old hits like "I Get Around" by The Beach Boys and "Nowhere to Run" by Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, were assembled into a soundtrack and surrounded by vocal snippets of Williams from the film. Also included in the movie and on the soundtrack was this now-classic song from jazz legend Louis Armstrong. Although technically Armstrong's 1967 original recording was two years older than the year the film was set in, the song seemed to be a perfect fit for the movie and was include. Its use had people rediscovering the song and to help promote the soundtrack it was issued out as a single. It would be a hit at AC reaching #7. Surprisingly, the song also caught on at pop radio and it ended up cracking the Pop Top 40. With both the single and the movie doing well, the soundtrack would end up being a #10 platinum seller. It would also, oddly, win the Grammy award for Best Comedy Album (due to Williams' vocal tracks). The record would be a posthumous hit for Armstrong who had died years earlier in 1971.

ReduxReview:  This song was basically the forerunner of John Lennon's "Imagine." Both are melodramatic pieces about humankind and how wonderful it is or could be. I never really bought into either one as this kind of gooey sentimentality just doesn't mesh with my cynical personality. However, the Armstrong standard is more palatable to me. The music and melody are lovely and I think Armstrong's gravely, sincere voice helped to lift the song's treacly lyrics. I never long to hear the tune, but I understand the universal appear of it and don't mind if I happen to hear it on occasion.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Armstrong was as popular as ever in the early 60s thanks to his cover version of the title song to the 1964 musical Hello, Dolly!, which hit #1 on the Pop chart. At the time, it made Armstrong the oldest person (62 years old) to have a #1 Pop hit - a record that still stands. A couple of years later, Armstrong signed on with ABC Records, who were hoping to secure a hit from Armstrong. After one of his performances, Armstrong went into the studio to record "What a Wonderful World," a song written by Bob Thiele and George Weiss. ABC president Larry Newton dropped by the session and apparently had a fit that Armstrong was recording the ballad instead of a hit-bound swing tune. Newton was tossed out of the session and Armstrong finished the recording. The single got released, but received nearly zero promotion because Newton hated it. Because of that, the record sold poorly and failed to make the Pop chart (it did get to #12 at AC). However, it was a different story in the UK where the song got to #1. Despite it not being in a hit in the US upon initial release, the song still became a popular standard that got used in TV shows, films, and ads. Thanks to its use in Good Morning, Vietnam, the song finally had its moment on the Pop chart. Although many artists have recorded the tune, Armstrong remains the only one to have reached the Pop chart with a version.


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