Sam Cooke – Wonderful World

Sam Cooke is one of the artists that you have to think…what could have been if he wouldn’t have had such a tragic death at such a young age… Not that he didn’t have a very successful career to that point. He had 20 Top Ten Hits, 29 Top 40 Hits, and 4 Number 1 hits in the R&B Charts.

In the Billboard 100, he had 34 songs in the top 100 and 4 top ten hits. He died when he was only 33 years old. I would suggest reading All Things Thriller’s post about Sam Cooke’s death.

The first time I heard the Cooke version of this song was in Animal House when Belushi was heading down the cafeteria line and for me this is my go-to version. Cooke had such a smooth soulful voice.

Cooke recorded Wonderful World on Keen Records shortly before he left the label over a royalty dispute in 1959. In 1960, Cooke had moved on to RCA Victor, but Keen, still owning the rights to Wonderful World, released the single in April 1960.

From Songfacts

“Wonderful World,” or “(What a) Wonderful World,” was one of Sam Cooke’s 29 US Top 40 hits released between 1957 and 1964. The song was released on April 14, 1960 and quickly reached #2 on the US Black Singles chart, #12 on the US Pop Singles chart, and #27 on the UK Singles chart.

“Wonderful World” was originally written by music legends Lou Alder and Herb Alpert, but Cooke added the finishing lyrical touches, and the trio used the songwriting pseudonym “Barbara Campbell,” the name of Cooke’s high school sweetheart. Adler went on from this success to found Dunhill Records and manage big name artists such as Jan & Dean, The Mamas & The Papas, and Carole King. Not to be outdone, his writing partner, Herb Alpert, put the “A” in A&M Records after performing for several years with his band Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass.

Don’t let the bouncy rhythm and upbeat tempo fool you. According to Craig Werner, a professor of African American Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the song may have a more politically charged meaning. In his book, A Change Is Gonna Come: Music, Race and the Soul of America, Werner writes that “Wonderful World” may be one of the first examples of Cooke’s crossover into politics, where he informs white listeners that he “don’t know much about history” and “don’t know much biology” as a comment that these are the things to forget about African-Americans, and all they need to remember is love.

Throughout the years, “Wonderful World” has been covered by a number of artists including Otis Redding, Bryan Ferry, Michael Bolton, and Rod Stewart. After Sam Cooke’s death in 1964, there were a rash of “tribute” covers released including a 1965 up-tempo version by Herman’s Hermits, which reached #4 on the US Pop Singles chart and #7 on the UK Singles chart, and a rendition by The Supremes released on their 1965 album “We Remember Sam Cooke.” In 1977, Art Garfunkel put his spin on the hit for his album, Watermark, which featured harmonies by friend, James Taylor, and former partner, Paul Simon.

“Wonderful World” has been a hit with filmmakers since its release. The song can be heard in the famous lunchroom scene of the 1978 classic, Animal House. It was also featured in the 1983 Richard Gere drama, Breathless, and appeared in the opening titles of the 2005 Will Smith comedy, Hitch. A Greg Chapman cover of “Wonderful World” was spotlighted in the 1985 film, Witness, which spurred resurgence in popularity for the single and led to use of the Cooke original in a well-remembered 1986 British ad for Levi 501 Jeans. The song originally peaked at #27 in the UK, but after the commercial, the song was re-released there and reached #2.

According to Rolling Stone, before the song came out, Cooke liked to sing it for women he met, telling them he’d made it up on the spot just for them.

Wonderful World

Don’t know much about history
Don’t know much biology
Don’t know much about a science book,
Don’t know much about the french I took
But I do know that I love you,
And I know that if you love me, too,
What a wonderful world this would be

Don’t know much about geography,
Don’t know much trigonometry
Don’t know much about algebra,
Don’t know what a slide rule is for
But I do know that one and one is two,
And if this one could be with you,
What a wonderful world this would be

Now, I don’t claim to be an “A” student,
But I’m tryin’ to be
For maybe by being an “A” student, baby,
I can win your love for me

Don’t know much about history,
Don’t know much biology
Don’t know much about a science book,
Don’t know much about the french I took
But I do know that I love you,
And I know that if you love me, too,
What a wonderful world this would be

Science book
French I took
But I do know that I love you,
And I know that if you love me, too,
What a wonderful world this would be

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

25 thoughts on “Sam Cooke – Wonderful World”

  1. This is such a beautiful song.
    I first heard it back in 1979 in a movie titled “Promises in the Dark, ” with Marsha Mason and Kathleen Beller.

    Wow, that brings back memories. I’ll have to watch that movie again.

    Sam Cooke’s voice was soulful, strong and powerful. You could hear his genuine hurt and pain in many of his songs. Gone way too soon!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh yes… His voice was so smooth.

      I’ve never seen that. Whenever I hear it I can see Belushi stuffing food in his mouth in Animal House. That is probably not the way Sam would wanted people to remember it lol.


      1. I’ll have to watch Animal House again so I can see that part and laugh.

        Promises in the Dark was a movie about a 17-year-old girl who discovers she has cancer.
        It’s a sad movie, but I always think of it when I hear that song.

        Sam probably would have laughed really hard at the scene with John Belushi stuffing food in his mouth. 😁

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I always loved that movie…

        You know Promises in the Dark is very familiar…I’ve heard of it at least I know.

        You are probably right lol.


      3. I probably have… I just looked up a preview on youtube…I know I’ve seen it…it’s just been a while


  2. For many of us, Sam Cooke was murdered, without a doubt, and the world lost the sweetest voice in soul! As you say, at the start of your post, Max, we can only wonder, “What could have been……”.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Jim Morrison was very upset in 1968 because his cronies were considering licensing the song “Light My Fire” for Buick (“Come On Buick, Light My Fire!”). And then the band agreed never to sell their songs to the advertising industry.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Many people were mad at Yoko for selling Nike the rights to Revolution in the 80s…I was one of them…. The other Beatles had it stopped shortly afterward.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. A great tribute post. Very well written and thoughtful. This song really resonates with people. You know, I’ve never heard anybody say they didn’t like french fires. They may not eat french fries but they like them. It’s the same with this song. I’ve never known anybody who doesn’t like Sam Cooke’s version of “Wonderful World.” They may not listen to Soul, but they like this song.

    Liked by 2 people

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