Story of a Song: What the World Needs Now Is Love

Hal David—longtime songwriting partner with Burt Bacharach—had a sudden burst of inspiration while composing the lyrics for one of the Sixties’ most uplifting songs.

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Posted in , Jan 27, 2022

Lyricist Hal David (right) and composer Burt Bacharach; Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Songwriter Hal David was stuck. It was the early 1960s, and he’d written the lyrics: “What the world needs now is love, sweet love. / It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.” No matter how many times he tried, he couldn’t come up with the verses to match the chorus and finally set aside the song in despair.

A couple years later, David was driving from his home on Long Island, New York, to Manhattan to work with his partner, Burt Bacharach. Suddenly it hit him: The song was addressed to God! As soon as he could, David wrote, “Lord, we don’t need another mountain,” and the rest of the lyrics flowed from there.

After Bacharach put a melody to the words, the team showed Dionne Warwick, who had already recorded many of their songs.

For the first time, however, Warwick turned them down.

David and Bacharach then offered the song to Jackie DeShannon, who snapped it up and released her recording in 1965. “What the World Needs Now Is Love” reached No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Warwick changed her mind and later covered the song—as did The Supremes, Petula Clark, Luther Vandross and even Bacharach himself. The uplifting anthem has been performed in more than 220 films and TV shows.

Following the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, DeShannon’s version was played over and over on the radio. The world always needs love but, in troubled times, has also needed Hal David’s hard-won song of comfort and inspiration.

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