How I wrote ‘I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing (In Perfect Harmony)’ by Roger Greenaway
The acclaimed songwriter explains how the song ended up soundtracking a famous Coca-Cola TV ad and became a million-selling hit
Bristolian songwriter and record producer Roger John Reginald Greenaway OBE is best known for his collaborations with Roger Cook, who became the first UK songwriting partnership to be granted an Ivor Novello Award as ‘Songwriters of the Year’ in two successive years. Greenaway and Cook’s prolific discography started in 1964 with You’ve Got Your Troubles, which was a Top 10 hit on both sides of the Atlantic for The Fortunes.
This, coupled with several years of commercial success as the pop duo David and Jonathan, meant the pair caught the attention of Coca-Cola’s advertising agency and were hired to make music for the drink’s commercials. Roger Greenaway and Roger Cook would end up writing the million-selling I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing (In Perfect Harmony), a single release for The New Seekers that originated as the jingle ‘Buy the World a Coke’ for the famous 1971 television commercial.
But as Greenaway explains here, the song was almost confined to the archives of the ad agency’s tape library…
“In 1966, because The Fortunes had had such a big hit in America with You’ve Got Your Troubles, I got a call from a guy called Bill Backer who was the account executive for McCann Ericsson on the Coca-Cola account in New York. In those days, if there was a hit group in the charts, they would hire them to sing Coca-Cola commercials. So we were asked to write a commercial for the Fortunes, which we did, and from that moment on – for literally the next five years – Roger Cook and I wrote dozens of Coke commercials for different acts. We worked with people like Ray Charles, Bobby Goldsboro, The Vogues, OC Smith, Lesley Gore, and we also worked on Coca-Cola commercials for people like The Tremolos, The White Planes and The Troggs, and others.
“Then around about 1970, we were commissioned to write a commercial for The New Seekers, which was going to be a two- minute radio ad for Coke. Normally, Roger and I would sit with Bill and a guy called Billy Davis, who was a producer at McCann Ericsson, and we’d show them our ideas – unfinished songs – and then we’d finish them with whichever act we were working with. On this particular occasion, I think Roger was up north working with Blue Mink, and Bill got caught in a storm and his plane was diverted to Shannon (Ireland). But Billy Davis made it in, so he and I sat in our offices in Park Street, and I played him a melody – about eight bars of something Roger and I had written while we were on holiday in Portugal. Billy liked it so we finished that song and it was called True Love And Apple Pie. The next day Roger was back and Bill managed to make it in, so the four of us were sat in the office and we played the song. Bill Backer said he loved the melody, but the lyric wouldn’t work, so it was re-written as I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing.
“There was a middle eight that we couldn’t use because it would be too long. So although I’d Like To Teach… had two bridges, to me it was always an unfinished song. Anyway, it went on air in America for three months as a two-minute radio commercial, and got no reaction whatsoever!
“Then, about six months later – nearly a year after it was originally recorded – a guy called Harvey Gabor went to Bill Backer in the New York offices of McCann Ericsson. He always produced the TV commercials for Coca-Cola, and he said, ‘I’ve got this idea for an ad with men and women standing on a hill, holding a bottle of Coke in their hands, singing an anthemic song. Is there anything you’ve recorded over the past few years that you think would fit the bill?’ And Bill said, ‘Look, there’s a tape library with 10 years of music in there – why don’t you go and listen?’ So Harvey was in the library for three days, and eventually, he came out with a tape in his hand and said, ‘I think I’ve found it, it’s I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing by The New Seekers.’
“The commercial went on air, and within a week of it being on television throughout America, the main office of The Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta had received in excess of 10,000 letters from the public, asking where they might find copies of the music. So they knew they had something special. As luck would have it, The New Seekers were performing at the St. Regis hotel in New York that month and Billy Davis took them into the studios one afternoon, to produce the single that went to the top of the charts. Within two nights of it being on television here [in the UK], we were selling 150,000 records-a-day. It went to No 1 at Christmas and it sold a million copies in less than 10 days!
“I say to this day, Teach The World To Sing… would never have been a hit had it not been for that wonderful idea that Harvey Gabor had of all the kids up on the hill with all the bottles of Coke in their hand.”
Interview: Aaron Slater