"I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)" is a pop song that originated as the jingle "Buy the World a Coke" in the groundbreaking 1971 "Hilltop" television commercial for Coca-Cola. "Buy the World a Coke" was produced by Billy Davis and portrayed a positive message of hope and love, featuring a multicultural collection of teenagers on top of a hill appearing to sing the song.
The popularity of the jingle led to it being re-recorded by The New Seekers and by The Hillside Singers as a full-length song, dropping references to Coca-Cola. The song became a hit record in the US and the UK.
The idea originally came to Bill Backer, an advertising executive working for McCann Erickson, the agency responsible for Coca-Cola. Backer, Roger Cook and Billy Davis were delayed at Shannon Airport in Ireland. After a forced layover with many hot tempers, they noticed their fellow travelers the next morning were talking and joking while drinking Coca-Cola. Backer wrote the line "I'd like to buy the world a Coke" on a napkin and shared it with British hit songwriters Cook and Roger Greenaway.
The melody was derived from a previous jingle by Cook and Greenaway, originally called "True Love and Apple Pie" that was recorded in 1971 by Susan Shirley.
The commercial ended with the statement:
"On a hilltop in Italy,
we assembled young people
from all over the world
to bring you the message
from Coca-Cola bottlers
all over the world.
It's the real thing. Coke."
The song became so popular that it was recorded by The New Seekers and by The Hillside Singers as a full-length song--without the mention of Coke--and both versions became huge hits. A version of the song was rerecorded by Susan Shirley and released in 1971. Cook, Greenaway, Backer, and Billy Davis reworked the song and recorded it as a Coca-Cola radio commercial.
"Buy the World a Coke" contains the line "I'd like to buy the world a Coke" and repeats "It's the real thing", which was Coca-Cola's marketing slogan at the time. Coca Cola introduced that slogan in October 1969.
Versions as an ad
Several versions of the ad have been made.
- The song first aired on American radio on February 12, 1971, but failed. When the feedback was favorable, Backer persuaded McCann-Erickson to film a commercial using the song. The TV commercial, titled "Hilltop", was directed by Roberto Malenotti. The ad cost $250,000, the most expensive commercial in history at that time.
- The first attempt at shooting was ruined by rain and other location problems. The finished product, first aired in July 1971, featured a multicultural group of young people lip syncing the song on a hill in Manziana, outside Rome, Italy. The global unity of the singers is emphasized by showing that the bottles of Coke they are holding are labelled in a variety of languages. The South African government asked for a version of the commercial without the black actors. Coca Cola refused their request. The company later reduced its investment in that country with the (then) CEO saying "We have been reducing our investment in South Africa since 1976, and we have now decided to sell our remaining holdings in that country".
- In the mid-1970s, another version of the commercial was filmed for the holiday season. This reworking featured the same song but showed the group at night, with each person holding a lit white candle. In the final zoom-out crane shot, only the candle flames remain visible, forming a triangle reminiscent of a Christmas tree; this impression is cemented by a Coke bottle logo superimposed at the top of the "tree", and the words "Happy Holidays from your Coca-Cola bottler" below. This version was reused for many years during the holiday season.
- Starting in 1983, for several years, the Christmas version, translated into Italian, was broadcast in Italy.
- Yet another variation had a different ending, with Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters decorating a giant Christmas tree in front of the Sleeping Beauty Castle before the establishing crane shot captures an animated Tinker Bell lighting it up with her wand.
- In 1991, a follow-up to this commercial, called "Hilltop Reunion" and directed by Jeff Lovinger, aired during coverage of Super Bowl XXV. It featured the original singers (now adults) and their children, and culminated in a medley of this song and the then-current "Can't Beat the Real Thing" jingle.
- In 1996 the hilltop commercial was referenced in the rap lyrics of the "Get Real" Coca-Cola campaign.
- G. Love remade the song for the Coca-Cola Zero commercial "Everybody Chill", which aired in 2005.
- In 2006, the song was used again in a Coca-Cola commercial in the Netherlands, performed by Dutch singer Berget Lewis.
- In 2010, Coca-Cola once again used the song in a television commercial featuring the entire line of its sponsored NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers. The commercial included the drivers singing the song while driving in a race.
- In 2011, information on how many dollars it would take "to buy the world a Coke" was given in a commercial featuring the red silhouette of a Coke bottle and the melody of the song.
Significance and reception
In 2007, Campaign magazine called it "one of the best-loved and most influential ads in TV history". It served as a milestone--the first instance of the recording industry's involvement with advertising.
Marketing analysts have noted Coca-Cola's strategy of marrying the idea of happiness and universal love of the product illustrated by the song.
The commercial has continued receiving accolades in more recent times. In 2000, Channel 4 and The Sunday Times ranked the song 16th in the 100 Greatest TV Ads, while ITV ranked the advertisement 10th in their list of the greatest advertisements of all time by in 2005.
The Hillside Singers
After the TV commercial aired, radio stations began to get calls from people who liked it. Billy Davis' friends in radio suggested he record the song, but not as an advertising jingle. It became so popular that the song was rewritten without brand name references and expanded to three verses. Davis recruited a group of studio singers to take it on because The New Seekers did not have time to record it. The studio group named themselves The Hillside Singers to identify with the ad, and within two weeks the song was on the national charts. The Hillside Singers' version reached #13 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #5 on Billboard's Easy Listening chart. Billboard ranked this version as the No. 97 song for 1972.
The New Seekers
The New Seekers later recorded the song and sold 96,000 copies of their record in one day, eventually selling 12 million total. "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)" climbed to UK #1 and US #7 in 1971 and 1972. The song became a gold record in the U.S., and has also sold over a million copies in the UK. The Coca-Cola Company waived royalties to the song and instead donated $80,000 in payments to UNICEF.Billboard ranked this version as the No. 93 song for 1972.
New Seekers version
|U.S. Billboard Hot 100
Hillside Singers version
|U.S. Billboard Hot 100
Covers and inspiration for other music
- A Japanese version was recorded in 1972, 3 people would later become members of The Candies the following year.
- The British rock band Oasis was sued after their recording "Shakermaker" borrowed its melody and some lyrics directly; they were forced to change their composition.
- Oasis tribute band No Way Sis released a cover of "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing", entering the British charts at number 27 in 1996.
- In 1997, the rock band Smash Mouth put a reference of the song in early lines of their first major single Walkin' on the Sun.
- A version of the song was included in a Kidsongs video.
- The VeggieTales covered the song on their album Bob and Larry Sing the 70's.
- Gordon Webster recorded a live cover of the song on his 2013 album Live at Boston Swing Central.
- In 2017, The Canadian vocal group The Tenors used parts of 'Teach the World' in the song "Santa's Wish (Teach the World)" on their Album 'Christmas Together'
In popular culture
The commercial was used as the final scene in the Mad Men series finale, "Person to Person" (airdate May 17, 2015), which was set in November 1970, at an oceanside spiritual retreat in California.
The song was also used in Jeremy Paxman's final edition of Newsnight in 2014.
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