Aug 06

LOUIS ARMSTRONG – “What A Wonderful World”

FT + Popular38 comments • 7,622 views

#249, 27th April 1968

I went to a wedding at the weekend and this was their choice of first song. In that context, an occasion anyhow suffused with goodwill, it works fine. Otherwise, it’s too cloying for me – an overload of wide-eyed sincerity. Armstrong’s voice, taken just as a sonic event, is really quite strange: all phlegm, growl and chuckle, every line wheezing out but never quite ending. He overplays the wise old grandfather angle – he sounds parodically ancient, preposterously kindly, a giant threadbare teddy bear stuffed with mucus. On the similar, but better, “We Have All The Time In The World”, the obvious contradiction between hopeful sentiment and wizened performance gives the song some bittersweet weight, but this is like a relative’s overlong hug and I’m happy when it ends.



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  1. 26
    Mark G on 15 Sep 2008 #

    Has there ever been a song that’s turned around so much in ‘critical’ appraisal? Back then, it was all about Louis selling out, now it’s a reflection on his life and optimism for the future.

    So, who was right? Who knows…

  2. 27
    The Intl on 17 Sep 2008 #

    I never heard it before Good Morning Vietnam. How did I miss this? Oh wait, April 1968. Now I know: Hendrix, Cream, Airplane. The Hot Fives/Sevens sides ARE glorious in their early swinging grooves, though.

  3. 28
    Matthew on 16 Jan 2009 #

    Sentimentality is good, this is good. Mind you, I can’t extricate it in my mind from montages of war, torture, pollution and violence, or a half-remembered Spitting Image filk of it where the lyrics had become “and I think to myself, we’ve ruined the world”.

    The “wide-eyed sincerity overload” of this is exactly what makes it work: in a world that is constantly finding new ways of going to sh**, the sheer guilelessness of this is eternally heartbreaking. And the fact that it hails from 1968’s summer of optimism, from an age that couldn’t possibly have imagined how bad things might still be able to get, is the cherry on the cake.

  4. 29
    Waldo on 29 Oct 2009 #

    Louis’ wise old git act notwithstanding, this is a beautiful arrangement. But I agree with Tom. I’m glad when the record finishes. The “friends shaking hands” line would threaten anybody’s breakfast and by the time we get to crying babies the game is well and truly up. I can’t believe that Flushing Tennis Club would have named one of their show courts after Satchmo on the back of this. Actually what has Louis Armstrong got to do with tennis anyway? Arthur Ashe, I get and heartily applaud but come on!

  5. 30
    thefatgit on 14 Mar 2011 #

    The connection may only be tenuously genre-specific, but here’s as good a place as any to say RIP Joe Morello. My Dad’s favourite drummer.

  6. 31
    crag on 14 Apr 2011 #


    Louis Armstrong, Jazz trumpeter, Singer(1968)

    Henry Hall, bandleader(1968)

    Sir Alec Rose, sailor(1969)

    Diane Rigg, actress(1970)

    Ian Hendry, actor(1973)

    Michael Bond, writer(1976)

    Kiri Tikaniwa, opera singer(1980)

    Mollie Harris, actress, writer(1983)

    Marco Pierre White, chef(1991)

    Will Carling, rugby player(1992)

    Gavin Laird, trade unionist(1992)

    Neil Simon, playwright(1995)

    Simon Weston, Falklands War Veteran(1996)

    John Cleese, actor, comedian(1997)

    Nicole Kidman, actress(1998)

    Willard White, opera singer(1999)

    Ronald Harwood, playwright(2000)

    Bishop John Sentamu, Bishop of Birmingham(2003)

    Karin Bilimoria, Businessman(2004)

    Ronald Searle, illustrator, writer(2005)

    Nicholas Parsons, broadcaster(2007).

  7. 32
    wichita lineman on 11 Jun 2011 #

    Another “missing” double A side. Brian Matthew just played Cabaret, which was a soft’n’cosy trad version of title song from the 1967 musical. Quite pleasant, but hard to imagine it reaching no.1 on its own strengths.

  8. 35
    Lena on 13 Dec 2011 #

    I want my baby back: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.com/2011/12/sophisticated-misery-englebert.html Thanks for reading, y’all!

  9. 36
    mapman132 on 17 Feb 2014 #

    Four?! Well, everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. For me this is a true classic. Strangely, it missed the Hot 100 entirely back in 1968 because some clueless record company executive declined to promote it. Too bad as while sentimental it is, Armstrong’s heartfelt delivery and optimism makes it work for me 46 years later and counting. It’s worth noting that Armstrong had proven he could have US hit singles as his version of “Hello Dolly” had ended the first wave of US Beatlemania four years prior. WAWW would become a belated US Top 40 record in 1988 when Armstrong would’ve been 86 or 87 (depending on who you ask)…possibly a chart record of some sort. I was half-expecting it to be released yet again as a charity record in the wake of Katrina, although perhaps the world wasn’t feeling too wonderful at the time.

    Not quite a 10 for me, but definitely a high 9.

  10. 37
    hectorthebat on 11 May 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    Dave Marsh (USA) – The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made (1989) 969
    Pitchfork (USA) – Top 200 Songs of the 60s (2006) 132
    RIAA and NEA (USA) – 365 Songs of the Century (2001) 84
    The Recording Academy Grammy Hall of Fame Albums and Songs (USA)
    HarperCollins GEM (UK) – Single of the Year 1949-99 (1999)
    Mojo (UK) – The 100 Greatest Songs of All Time (2000) 87
    Q (UK) – The 1001 Best Songs Ever (2003) 696
    The Guardian (UK) – 1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear (2009)
    Les Inrockuptibles (France) – 1000 Indispensable Songs (2006)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

  11. 38
    lonepilgrim on 25 May 2016 #

    at the time my friends and I would get great pleasure from trying to emulate the raspy growl of this song. We’d previously done the same with ‘Wandering Star’. This is pleasant enough but without Louis singing the song veers into greeting cards territory

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