By Amy Wong
Positive Playlist: What a Wonderful World
The glorious spring weather this week has had me humming “What a Wonderful World” on my walks to and from work. The aging Louis Armstrong made the song famous, singing in his gravelly voice, “I see skies of blue ... clouds of white ... the bright blessed day ... the dark sacred night ...”
Music is one of the best mood-lifters around, an extremely effective way to restore or reinforce a positive attitude. And “What a Wonderful World” is one of those songs I always find uplifting, even the slightly melancholy versions that have been released recently. To me, it’s the lyrics—they’re down to earth yet they’re also sentimental and spiritual, touching on a world greater than our individual selves, a future brighter for our children and grandchildren.
I did a little online research today and discovered that the idealistic, optimistic message was very much the intent of songwriters Bob Thiele and George David Weiss. The song was released in the fall of 1968, a year that saw America torn by racial and political conflict. A presidential election with bitter campaign fights. The height of protests against the war in Vietnam. The assassinations of two leaders committed to civil rights, Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy. Riots that erupted in more than 100 cities after the killing of Dr. King.
Thiele and Weiss hoped that their song, performed by the grandfatherly 66-year-old Armstrong, whose popularity transcended race, would help heal a divided nation and remind the American people of what they had in common.
Forty-four years later, our country has changed for the better. But there are still bitter political divisions. A long and costly war. Racially charged tension after a tragic and senseless shooting. You might ask, have we changed enough? Is this such a wonderful world?
I think Louis Armstrong put it well in his intro to a performance in 1970 (check out the first video below), “Some of you young folks been saying to me, ‘Hey Pops, what you mean a wonderful world? How about all them wars all over the place? You call them wonderful? And how about hunger and pollution? ... Well, how about listening to old Pops for a minute? Seems to me, it ain’t the world that’s so bad but what we’re doing to it. And all I’m saying is, see what a wonderful world it would be if only we’d give it a chance. Love, baby, love. That’s the secret, yeah. If lots more of us loved each other, we’d solve lots more problems.”
I’ll leave you with a few different takes on Louis Armstrong’s optimistic classic. Here’s to the wonderful world Pops was celebrating in words and song.
Louis Armstrong: Here’s the 1970 version with the spoken intro I mentioned.
Eva Cassidy: Her voice just gets you. She died too young.
Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole: I love this ukelele rendition by the late great Hawaiian musician.
Coldplay: An intro to their song “Fix You” at the Glastonbury Festival 2011
Alison Mosshart: A recent cover by the indie rocker
Amy Wong is the executive editor of Guideposts and was a founding editor of Positive Thinking. She lives in New York City with her adopted dog, Winky, a natural-born positive thinker who believes that everyone has a treat for her and every day is the best day of her life. Amy hopes to be that optimistic someday (she’s working on it!).