What a Wonderful World - a song by Louis Armstrong

(This review was written by Ian Grant)

Louis Armstrong’s recording contributions to the peace scene were distinguished by powerful messages wrapped in the subtlest of lyrics. He chose material that emphasised the aspirations and feelings common to people regardless of their race or political persuasion – love of family, a place to call home and a life free of fear. His best work in this vein , “What a Wonderful World”, “Hello Brother’ and “The Home Fire”, can fortunately all be found on the one album – “What a Wonderful World”.

The “What a Wonderful World” album was originally released in 1968. The CD re-release contains the same 11 tracks as the original album. In addition to social commentaries, the content list includes a number of rollicking 30’s style jazz tunes and some easy listening fifties style ballads. The tracks and my observations follow:

What a Wonderful World

When Louis released his well-known protest single “What a Wonderful World” in 1968 it was strangely not a major hit in either the US or Australia (arguably where it was most relevant), but was huge in the European market (1968 UK #1). Twenty tears later, here in Australia it finally made #1 following its inclusion in the “Good Morning Vietnam” soundtrack.

“What a Wonderful World” found Louis in the uncharacteristic position of being backed by a 16-piece string orchestra. His gravely voice contrasts magnificently against such a lush backing and the performance has become one of his most loved recordings.

The subtle lyrics were intended to convey the message of how wonderful the world could be if it was free of violence, but for many this got lost in the translation. Ultimately, Louis rerecorded the song a few years later with a talking preamble to make sure listeners understood what he was about. For those that may not have heard this later version,   here is a link to the recording:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2nGKqH26xlg

key parts of his talking introduction are reproduced below:

Some of you young folks been saying to me – ‘Hey Pops what you mean what a wonderful world, how about all them wars all over the place. You call them wonderful? And how about hunger and pollution? ... How about listening to old Pops for a minute. Seems to me it ain’t the world that’s so bad, but what we are doing to it. All I’m saying is see what a wonderful world it would be if we would give it a chance.”

I see skies of blue, and clouds of white
 The bright blessed day, 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, sayin' "how do you do?"
 They're really sayin' "I love you"
 I hear babies cryin', 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
 Oh yeah