What a Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong
Working towards writing this piece, I was horrified to discover that Clear Channel, the corporation that owns a large percentage of the commercial radio stations in America added Wonderful World to the ‘inappropriate’ list of songs that should not be played in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. As well as completely misunderstanding the meaning of the song, surely exactly the thing you need in times like those is something which reminds you that actually this world is a wonderful place to live even if there’s minority of people existing on it who have a habit of doing some very, very evil things.
I’ve no compunction about saying that this is one of my favourite songs. Top ten, any list, John Lennon’s a hack for appropriating the sentiment. From hearing it over the closing titles of the non-rubbish radio and tv versions of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy to the closing titles of the film Twelve Monkeys, I can’t think many songs infused with such hope and beauty that were also originally sung by someone who sounds as though they’ve been swallowing gravel at every meal time for their entire life. The simple accompaniment on that version, a small orchestra emphasising that voice is perfect and it’s absolutely right it should have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.
It’s been covered often but rarely well. The Joey Ramone is a gold standard because it’s different enough from the original to stand alone. All too often though, balladeers, female usually, overdo that sentiment to the point of rancidity, emphasising the chorus to the point of absurdity and, well, making it sound like every other ballad they’ve ever sung. Orchestral versions fare better, The Pavão Quartet inevitably hitting just about the right tone, even if, by the mid-section you could imagine it being used on a daytime charity commercial with a Paul McGann voiceover.
The problem is, in the midst of all that, I can’t really talk. In November 2006, at a quarter to midnight according to the file’s date stamp, I recorded my own version. I don’t remember now exactly why it happened, and why I thought it would be a good idea, especially since I can’t really sing. At all (despite what I said yesterday about Zadok) . Listening back to it now, I can detect a certain amount of affection, a misguided attempting at professionalism which just sounds a bit wrong. But it is what it is even if it just sits there.
I remember dropping it onto a mix cd for someone (hello Kat) and them saying something nice. There it sits on my hard disk – and now on this blog, because it does appear to sum up what the song means to me and even if it isn’t perfect, and includes a couple of moments when I start thinking I'm Louis, it seems only fair that after criticising other people’s voices and music I should offer some of my own.
What A Wonderful World. Acapella (sorry). (2.3 mb .mp3 download)