Monday, August 22, 2011
"What a Wonderful World" - Two Versions
I'm just taking it easy for a day or so. But I ran across this gem on You Tube. I was going to post something more about the universal appeal of music, and the perceived threat that it poses to organized governments. Really, I have it all laid out in my head, but am too lazy to do it today.
But basically, you take a song like "What Wonderful World", which has been done by so many artists over the years, and explore the general societal circumstances under which is was written, and the different cultures, in which it turns up. And you begin to see the universality of music.
Louis Armstrong recorded the song first. It was recorded in New York City, where Mr. Armstrong lived, in 1967, at the height of the Vietnam War. The song itself was written by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss that same year. George Douglas is also sometimes listed as a co-writer. It didn't get a lot of mainstream airplay at the time, though it did "chart".
The song was about just what the title said - "What Wonderful World" it could be. Not a great record for the radio to be playing while the listeners were viewing the daily "Body Count" of the war on the evening news. The song was recorded on August 16, 1967,and went to number one in Europe. It did moderately well among the jazz set of the time in America, but didn't really hit it's stride until it was featured in the film "Good Morning Vietnam".
The composers, Bob Thiele and George David Weiss were both long known in the jazz circle as writers and producers. Bob Thiele was with Impulse Records, and had worked with many of the legends of his time, including John Coltrane, Charlie Mingus, and Charlie Haden.
David Weiss, was strictly a songwriter, having penned some great songs in his time. If he had only written Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love", that song alone would've cemented his place in music history forever.
George Douglas is somewhat of a mystery, so I have nothing to say about him.
Then ukelele atrist Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, known simply as IZ, took it to a whole new level when he re-recorded the song as a medley with "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" in Hawaii on the album "Ka 'Ano'i" in 1993. I have posted that video here before, it is truly a moving portrait of a very unusual artist. In a way, he has made that song his own epitah, as it was recorded shortly before he passed away in 1997.
Watch the video through to the end. It really is a stunning piece of work. By coupling "What a Wonderful World" with "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" he has completed the circle of thought. His message is that, although it "could" be a wonderful world down here, there is someplace waiting where that dream has already been achieved. In short, there is always hope.
And I think that's why music is such a threat to certain groups. Whether you believe that or not, it's still a very comforting thought. The scenes after 2 minutes and 40 seconds are of IZ's funeral, in the blue waters of his beloved Hawaii.
There will always be people who can't stand hope. It makes them feel threatened. Sometimes they have used music for propaganda, but it doesn't work for long. Real hope is hard to fake. So, this one's for them!