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Feb 07

THE NEW SEEKERS – “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing”

FT + Popular49 comments • 9,244 views

#308, 8th January 1972

 

In his book How Brands Become Icons, marketing expert Douglas Holt lays out his theory of brands that transcend simple commercial strength and assume a role as cultural icons. Coca-Cola is one of his examples. He theorises that whereas standard branding plans involve continuous restatement of a set of brand values, the iconic brand relies more on a series of dramatic performances that address and resolve existing cultural contradictions, cementing the brand’s position at the heart of the zeitgeist. Most of his examples involve adverts in which, for instance, black people and white people are nice to one another.

The “Teach The World To Sing”/”Buy The World A Coke” campaign features heavily in his analysis of Coca-Cola’s iconic development. A dramatic success on its debut in 1971, it gave Coke a worldwide sales fillip and cemented its status as one of America’s top brands. Holt argues that this was because its unifying message was what the US needed to hear in the troubled wake of our old friend, the Vietnam War. Whatever the truth of this, the New Seekers’ decaffeinated folk warble became an absolute monster of a hit, so maybe resonances were being struck somewhere.

The hit was so big, and so simple, that it made the crossover to playgroups and school assemblies. By 1975 or so, you could buy a chunky music box which, at the turn of a dial, would play the song’s melody while a frieze of smiling faces, apple trees, honey bees rotated gently to illustrate the lyrics. Somebody bought that music box for me, and so it is that – even though I wasn’t born at the time – this is my earliest musical memory from the list.

Not a particularly happy memory, though. I got bored of hearing the tune well before I got bored of bashing the box around, and my main recollection is of how the toy and the tune gave me an accidental introduction to sound manipulation, as holding the dial back or forcing it to turn faster would speed or slow the music. Listening to the New Seekers now the song is as repetitive, static and chimingly cloying as I remember from the box. And, dramatic cultural performance or no, it sounds older than almost anything surrounding it: for all the horrid persistence of “Imagine” as a standard, this kind of singalong message song has vanished from pop’s remit.

{democracy:35}

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Comments

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  1. 1
    Rosie on 2 Feb 2007 #

    Taken aside from its commercial context it’s a pleasant enough ditty but not, I’d have thought, blockbusting material. Its bland, cloying sugariness has about the same effect on my teeth that Coca Cola does – I’ve never been a fan – so I guess it’s appropriate.

    Where’s the box for ‘should have been a 10, Tom? Nah – only kidding!

    Two might be a tad harsh but I’d be hard-pressed to give it more than three.

  2. 2
    Tom on 2 Feb 2007 #

    Erm yes I “forgot” should have been a 10.

    I did actually forget, but then could have gone back and changed it, but then couldn’t be bothered. New Seekers fans should complain to the “Leave A Reply” box below.

  3. 3
    Erithian on 2 Feb 2007 #

    The biggest selling single in the UK for four years – according to some sources the first UK million-seller since “The Last Waltz”.

    The number 1s of 1972 range from the sublime to the downright inexplicable – but when I was compiling my all-time top 10 number 1s for an office poll to mark the 1000th, 1972 was the only year with two entries in my top 10 (Don McLean and Alice Cooper, since you ask).

  4. 4
    Tom on 2 Feb 2007 #

    Don McLean

    Ulp. That comments box could get interesting :)

  5. 5
    jeff w on 2 Feb 2007 #

    I quite like this, and am (just) old enough to have memories of the original Coke ad. Am I right that in the ad version, the song starts with one voice singing the tune, then two, three => a multitude? A very effective way of tying music to message, if so.

    This is something the (five?) New Seekers on their own couldn’t really replicate. Hence their version must always fall short.

    Now, “Beg, Steal or Borrow” (their Eurovision entry), that was a classic!

  6. 6
    wwolfe on 2 Feb 2007 #

    Did the Coke commercial air on British TV? If not, then that means it was a bigger hit in the UK than it was in the US, despite the UK listeners not hearing it twice an hour for months on end while watching TV, as we did in the US. That must mean something, but I’m not sure what.

    Funny that this should be Greenaway and Cook’s biggest hit. (Not sure if that’s “funny/strange” or “funny/haha.”)

  7. 7
    Doctor Mod on 3 Feb 2007 #

    Like jeff w and wwolfe, I can’t hear this song without thinking “Coca-Cola.” Indeed, I immediately hear the backing vocal line that wasn’t in the recording–“It’s the Real Thing!” And, yes, I seem to recall that the commercial featured “the whole world” (figuratively speaking, of course) backing the New Seekers vocally.

    Well–crass commercialism indeed.

    I was going to vote “too low” because there are so many other songs that are far worse. And then I remembered that “This is My Song” got a 1–and it’s better than this.

  8. 8

    yes it aired on brit TV, and yes, as jeff sez, it begins with one voice — strapping blonde girl iirc — then two then three, then more and more as the camera pulls back and up

    i was kind of fascinated by the ad bcz it seemed to be part of a story i wasn’t party to (by no means the first time this happened with a song but the first time it happened with an ad): like who WERE all these people and why where they all gathered, apparently in a desert, singing? wqhat doies singing in harmony have to do with coke? what IS coke? (normally british ads were extremely self-explanatory)

  9. 9
    Marcello Carlin on 3 Feb 2007 #

    this kind of singalong message song has vanished from pop’s remit

    um…feed the world…

  10. 10
    Tom on 3 Feb 2007 #

    That was 20 years ago though! (OK, Band Aid 20 wasn’t, I admit)

  11. 11
    Tommy Mack on 3 Feb 2007 #

    Wonder if Noel Gallagher had that same music box as a nipper?

  12. 12
    Billy Smart on 3 Feb 2007 #

    If this merits a 2, then I trust that by the time we get to 1988 ‘First Time’ will get a zero. Though I don’t know with which song the experience of drinking Coca Cola bears the least affinity; global harmony or losing your virginity.

    However ‘Things go Better With Coca Cola’ by the 5th Dimension (as found on the RPM ‘Magpie’ compilation) really does sound like sunshine and pleasure

  13. 13
    Chris Brown on 4 Feb 2007 #

    Speaking of backing vocals, I remember Jim Tavare performing this in his show at Edinburgh many a year ago, with a pre-Landlord Al Murray supplying the backing vocal “…Shit with love”. And that’s about as much as I’ve ever enjoyed the song, although being forced to sing it at school didn’t help. I blame the teachers.

    I suppose there’s a certain aptness when we’re talking about brands that this is the work of the New Seekers, whose connection to the old Seekers is tenuous.

    BTW, of course Don McLean had a Number One in 1972. I’ll save my comments for the time.

  14. 14
    Doctor Mod on 4 Feb 2007 #

    I suppose there’s a certain aptness when we’re talking about brands that this is the work of the New Seekers, whose connection to the old Seekers is tenuous.

    In effect, the New Seekers, unlike Coca-Cola, weren’t “the Real Thing.”

  15. 15
    Martin Skidmore on 4 Feb 2007 #

    What I remember about this isn’t the lame and annoyingly ubiquitous song so much as the demonstration of my late-developerness in grasping how music releases worked. I was 12, and had grown up in a home without a record player, with parents with zero interest in music. The New Seekers had an album out at the time or pretty immediately after this, and I was confused because I thought albums were collections of singles, and even including B-sides there surely weren’t 12 tracks, which I seemed to think was the standard requirement.

  16. 16
    Marcello Carlin on 5 Feb 2007 #

    Number Two Watch: I mean that most sincerely friends, Opportunity Knocks winner 12-year-old Neil Reid and his heartrending “Mother Of Mine”!

  17. 17
    intothefireuk on 5 Feb 2007 #

    Re:- Neil Reid, for heart-rending read nails down the blackboard.

    I was always disappointed hearing this that the words were completely different to the ad (I was too young to understand about advertising restrictions). ‘Over and over’ just isn’t the same as ‘Coca Cola’ ! Although the ad was mind numbingly catchy, the New Seekers version was pretty appalling and 2 is very generous.

  18. 18
    Erithian on 5 Feb 2007 #

    Neil Reid – call it heart-rending, nails down the blackboard, or perhaps in keeping with the concurrent number one, just tooth-rotting. Number 3 at the same time (don’t worry I won’t make a habit of this) was “A Horse With No Name”, which would have been a great improvement.

    Sadly, Jeff, Number 2 Watch is the only place we’ll encounter “Beg, Steal or Borrow”. I liked the occasional New Seekers song at the time (and had a big primary school crush on Eve Graham), although wouldn’t argue much in their favour these days. I remember a pep talk given at work by our new head of division, which boiled down to admitting that our ‘new deal’ was as close to a decent deal as the New Seekers’ version of “Pinball Wizard” was to Pete Townshend’s power chord.

  19. 19
    Jon on 6 Feb 2007 #

    This is a pretty good tune. It has a much stronger melody and hook line than alot of the songs you have given 5 or higher. I bet you give the Oasis tune that rips of the melody a higher score when you get to the Ninties.

  20. 20
    Pete Baran on 6 Feb 2007 #

    I wouldn’t bet on it Jon.

  21. 21
    Tom on 6 Feb 2007 #

    That Wasis track didn’t get to #1, so it’s moot really. If it’s the one I’m thinking of I would indeed have given it a higher mark – 4 probably.

  22. 22
    Marcello Carlin on 6 Feb 2007 #

    “Shakermaker” which got to #11.

  23. 23
    Kat on 6 Feb 2007 #

    We had to sing this at school as well. The eighties, there.

  24. 24
    Jon on 7 Feb 2007 #

    What kind of lunacy is this where plagiarism would get a hypothetically higher mark than the original? Is it because you don’t like the New Seekers or because you don’t like Coke?

    I know its kind of irrelevant because Shakermaker didn’t get to number one – but still this seems rather unfair on the New Seekers.

  25. 25
    Tom on 7 Feb 2007 #

    I think Liam has a better voice than the New Seekers, the Oasis track has better lyrics, and the band do more with the hook.

    (“Better” and “more” being relative as 4 is still not a high mark.)

  26. 26
    Marcello Carlin on 7 Feb 2007 #

    Tom are you John Harris?
    (nb: DNFTT)

  27. 27
    Jon on 8 Feb 2007 #

    Noels lyrics:

    I’d like to be somebody else and not know where I’ve been
    I’d like to build myself a house out of plasticine
    Shake along with me
    I’ve been driving in my car with my friend Mr. Soft
    Mr. Clean and Mr.Ben are living in my loft
    Shake along with me!

  28. 28
    CarsmileSteve on 9 Feb 2007 #

    Mr Benn, obv.

  29. 29
    Marcello Carlin on 9 Feb 2007 #

    Not necessarily. He could have been harbouring Mr Ben Benison, seldom-renowned co-star of Vision On and The Up And Down In And Out Roundabout Man.

  30. 30
    Lena on 9 Feb 2007 #

    “Grasshoppers in Honey” by The Meligrove Band is better than anything else mentioned here.

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