The Story of... 'What a Wonderful World' by Louis Armstrong

8 August 2018, 17:17 | Updated: 9 August 2018, 13:03

Louis Armstrong
Picture: BBC

By Tom Eames

Louis Armstrong's 'What a Wonderful World' is one of the most timeless songs of all time.

Released in 1968, it remains one of the most relaxing and beautiful pop songs ever made, but what is it's backstory? Who wrote it and how did Louis get involved?

7 of the best Louis Armstrong songs ever

Here are all the big and most interesting facts behind the classic song...

  1. Who wrote 'What a Wonderful World'?

    The song was written by Bob Thiele and George Weiss.

    Thiele was a producer for ABC Records, while Weiss was a songwriter who helped create the hit version of 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight' among others.

  2. What is the song about?

    'What a Wonderful World' is simply about appreciating the beauty of your surroundings.

    In the song, Louis sings of seeing various events and natural wonders that make him smile, while also perhaps lamenting the passage of time, noting: "I hear babies crying, I watch them grow, they'll learn much more than I'll never know".

    Weiss was also said to be inspired by Armstrong's ability to bring people of different races together.

  3. Louis Armstrong wasn't offered it first

    Although Weiss says he wrote the tune specifically for Armstrong, it was offered to Tony Bennett first, who turned it down.

    However, Bennett went on to cover the song several times, including a 2003 duet with k.d. lang.

    Although it became the song most associated with Louis Armstrong, it wasn't indicative of his music, as he didn't play his famous saxophone, and it wasn't in his usual jazz style.

  4. It wasn't a hit in the US at all

    What a Wonderful World
    Picture: ABC Records

    The song was not initially a hit in America, where it sold less than 1,000 copies because ABC Records head Larry Newton did not like the song and chose not to promote it.

    However, it was a huge success in the UK, reaching number one and becoming the biggest-selling single of 1968. The song made Louis Armstrong the oldest male to top the UK Singles Chart. Tom Jones later broke this record in 2009.

    In 1988, Armstrong's recording appeared in the film Good Morning, Vietnam (despite the film being set in 1965 — two years before it was recorded) and was re-released as a single. This time, it reached a new peak of number 32.

  5. Who else has recorded it?

    Many artists over the years have recorded the song. Including:

    - Eva Cassidy and Katie Melua (a UK number 1 hit in 2007)
    - Nick Cave and Shane McGowan
    - Celine Dion
    - Rod Stewart and Stevie Wonder
    - Cliff Richard
    - Israel Kamakawiwo'ole (a medley with 'Over the Rainbow', see above)

  6. What are the 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 crying, I watch them grow
    They'll learn much more than I'll never know
    And I think to myself what a wonderful world
    Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world