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Feb 07

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

FT + Popular49 comments • 9,255 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

  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.

  31. 31
    Marcello Carlin on 9 Feb 2007 #

    (nb: the MB song paraphrases the New Seekers one)

  32. 32
    Erithian on 13 Feb 2007 #

    Blimey, this site got a bit feisty while I was away over the weekend! What can one say but “it’s only rock’n’roll”…

    Tom has justifiably closed discussion on the “Telegram Sam” thread and not invited it on his entry about comment box policy, but I hope it’s not too late to have my two-penn’orth, and I hope you don’t mind me posting it here.

    To be honest I thought I’d been the target of flaming from certain people here when I ventured to suggest that I liked the Sandi Thom record and preferred “Black Night” to “Band of Gold”. Those were among my first postings on the site, having “lurked” for a while, and at the time I felt like backing out of the debate myself, much as Doc Mod is talking of doing. But I’ve persisted and like to think that I’ve gained a measure of respect, while recognising that some people do have strong views and forceful ways of expressing them. So when Tom hinted earlier in this thread that my liking for a certain upcoming Number 1 (errr… it’s about a painter) might prove controversial, my reaction was “bring it on”.

    We don’t want to lose someone with insights of the quality of Doc Mod (and btw it’s good to see the other Doc back as well) so I fully echo what Tom said in his separate post. As for “spoilers”, I don’t know whether it’s a particularly British usage deriving from newspapers giving away soap plots in advance, but I think DM is taking it a little too literally when she says “sorry if I spoiled the fun”. I do agree with Marcello to the extent that some people on this site are not as familiar with the sequence of number ones as others, and it is part of the game to hold off commenting on them until Tom gets there (with the obvious proviso that it’s fine if you’re making relevant comparisons) – but it’s nothing personal to appeal to people not to jump the gun. Please stick around though Doc – the more the merrier.

    And Tom, not to jump the gun but I’ve had a certain synthesizer-based intro running around my head for a week now.

  33. 33
    Bill Compton on 4 Jun 2007 #

    Hi Jim. Photos i received. Thanks

  34. 34
    Matthew on 17 Jan 2009 #

    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.

    !!! Snap, exactly the same as me in every respect! I had the very same toy, and obviously I performed the same sound manipulations by abusing the dial too. Because this was my first ever, pre-conscious, pop song, I suddenly realise I never thought of it as something some band sat down and wrote, just as a sort of timeless, universal tune of the order of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star or Baa, Baa Black Sheep. Hurrah, I knew nursery-rhyme-pop would strike back at the top of the charts with a vengeance after a couple of years of relative absence.

    I feel a strange undying New-Seekers-based kinship to you now, Tom.

  35. 35
    Waldo on 19 Oct 2009 #

    Nowadays, if you aired a desire to “buy the world a coke”, you would be in all sorts of trouble from as diverse groups as G8 protestors, for whom all multinational companies are the cause of all the tragedies of the straving world, and the Elf n Safety lunatics, who would not favour giving some poor mad-hungry fucker in Mali or Niger a coke, lest he became obese, which would represent a much more serious situation than his/her previous postion of hopeless, pitiful starvation, drought and consequent imminent death.

    As I outlined when discussing the subsequent New Seekers’ number one, I had big crushes on both Lyn and Eve with Lyn just winning by a short head, if you pardon the expression. I certainly would have enjoyed singing lessons or a coke with either of them. Soft drinks aside, ILTTTWTS is a nice enough trip to the fromagerie and the sentiment of singing a song to the world probably remained in the head of a cynical teenaged scruff in Dublin back in the day.

  36. 36
    Patrick on 1 Apr 2010 #

    Wow I had that music box too!… and had completely forgotten about it until this moment. Matthew’s observation is spot-on, have always thought of the tune as one of those melodies that seems to have been around forever (and which are often credited to Mozart). Definitely better in music-box form than the New Seekers’ version, which is kind of horrible. Having said that, still think it merits more than a 2.

    By the way I’ll probably go back to lurking now, at least until 1978 when my stork comes along.

  37. 37
    Snif on 2 Apr 2010 #

    Pop over to here

    http://www.halfhearteddude.com/page/2/

    and scroll down to “The Originals Vol 38” for an interesting account of how the song came about (along with a copy of its “predecessor”)

  38. 38
    lonepilgrim on 19 Sep 2011 #

    a variety of versions of the Coca Cola tune that preceded this one can currently be found here:

    http://www.bigozine2.com/archive/ARrarities/ARcoke.html

  39. 41
    Brendan on 11 Sep 2012 #

    This is my ‘stork’ no 1. I found Popular a couple of weeks ago and have thoroughly enjoyed reading every word up to this point. I had a sneaky peek to see where Tom is up to and was a little saddened to see that there were mutterings that it might not be continued but I shall happily read on in the hope that by the time I reach the ‘end’ as it currently is, it won’t still be the end. Either way, a great read and I hope I can contribute a few more thoughts of my own now that I’ve gotten round to introducing myself.

    Brendan

  40. 42
    Brendan on 14 Sep 2012 #

    – just figured out how to do it from reading a future entry.

  41. 43
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    Now i am just looking for info, enable, ideas, etc.!.

  42. 44
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  43. 45
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  44. 46
    Mark G on 13 Jan 2015 #

    Unlimited articles would be disastrous, we like small amounts of informed comment. But thanks anyway.

  45. 47
    weej on 13 Jan 2015 #

    “I am sure you spend a lot of time posting content, but you can save it for other tasks” – This is the most depressing SEO spam I’ve ever read. I think I need a bit of a lie down.

  46. 48
    lonepilgrim on 18 Aug 2018 #

    As initially appealing and sugary sweet as Coke itself, I liked this at the time but eventually tired of it. It’s reminiscent of happy clappy choruses and I remember the “It’s the real thing” slogan being commandeered by religious types with ‘Jesus Christ – he’s the real thing’ stickers being handed out at Sunday School.
    It’s worth noting that the song features as an ambiguous ending to ‘Mad Men’ with Don Draper surfing the zeitgeist as it is suggested that he creates this ad campaign and (possibly) the 1970s following his own ‘awakening’ at a religious/psychotherapeutic retreat.

  47. 49
    Mark M on 19 Aug 2018 #

    Uh, Lonepilgrim’s comment at 48 should come with a massive SPOILER ALERT. I know the episode went out several years ago but lots of people are still making their way through recent TV classics. (I had seen it for what it’s worth, and it is worth mentioning in this context of this song).

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