Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Don't Know Nothin' 'Bout Nothin' at All

Sam Cooke's delightful song "Wonderful World" was first recorded for Cooke's 1958 debut album but didn't become a hit until it was released as a single in the spring of 1960, by Keen Records, a label that Cooke had already left (for RCA) and which went rummaging through its vaults to find some more Cooke product to put out. The song is normally credited to the songwriting team of Lou Adler, Herb Alpert and Cooke himself, although on my original 1965 vinyl copy of The Best of Sam Cooke, it's credited to Campbell, referring to Barbara Campbell, a.k.a Mrs. Sam Cooke. At the time, Sam was still under contract to Art Rupe, owner of another of his old record companies, Specialty, where he had cut his gospel records with the Soul Stirrers. But Barbara wasn't, so she was free to receive all the royalties from "Wonderful World."

Rolling Stone magazine says that Adler, who was not just Cooke's producer but his roommate as well, wrote the tune, and Cooke worked up the lyrics; Alpert at that time was Adler's songwriting partner, which doesn't necessarily mean he had anything to do with "Wonderful World." Why the song wasn't credited to Campbell, Adler and Alpert, that I couldn't tell you.

Now we move ahead to October 1977, when Art Garfunkel releases his album Watermark, consisting entirely of songs written by the great Oklahoman Jimmy Webb. The first single, "Crying in My Sleep," as well as the album as a whole, flopped. So the record company hurriedly added a version of "Wonderful World" on which Artie sang with James Taylor and Paul Simon, and Watermark was re-released in the January 1978, and shortly thereafter the new "Wonderful World" became a Top 20 hit.

What's odd about that hit, though, is that somewhere, the three of them came up with another verse for the song. It's quite a good one, laced with double and triple negatives:

Don't know much about the Middle Ages
Looked at the pictures and I turned the pages
Don't know nothin' 'bout no rise and fall
Don't know nothin' 'bout nothin' at all
Girl it's you that I've been thinkin' of
And if I could only win your love
What a wonderful world it would be

My question is, who wrote that verse? On Watermark, the song is still credited to Cooke, Adler and Alpert. Did Sam just leave off that last verse when he initially sang the song? Or did he add it later? Did Barbara Campbell write it?

Here's my guess: The original "Wonderful World" had two verses, one of which was repeated after the middle eight. The Garfunkel remake needed to include three voices, though, and it would seem like an insult to the final singer to merely make him repeat a verse someone else had already sung. So I suspect that someone rewrote the final verse as it appears above.

And I suspect that person was Paul Simon. Go ahead, prove me wrong.

1 comment:

MJN said...

Can't prove you wrong, because there's every possibility that you're right. I don't think the Otis Redding version includes the "Middle Ages" verse, and that's the only cover I could find prior to Garfunkel/Simon/Taylor.

You media types are the ones chatting with George Clooney, Black Francis, et al.; why doesn't somebody give Mr. Garfunkel or Mr. Simon a jingle and ask them?