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I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing
1971 single by The New Seekers
"I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)"
"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 and sung by The Hillside Singers. "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 in two versions; one by The New Seekers and another 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. Cook, Greenaway, Backer, and Billy Davis reworked the song into a Coca-Cola radio jingle, which was performed by English pop group The New Seekers and recorded at Trident Studios in London. The radio jingle made its debut in February 1971 before being adapted for the iconic Coca-Cola "Hilltop" television commercial later that year.
The commercial ended with the statement:
On a hilltop in Italy,
We assembled young people
From all over the world...
To bring you this message
From Coca-Cola Bottlers
All over the world.
It's the real thing. Coke.
The song became so popular that its creators revised it, adding three verses and removing product references to create a full-length song appropriate for commercial release. The full-length song was re-recorded by both The Hillside Singers and The New Seekers and both versions became huge hits.
"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. The Coca-Cola Company 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.[clarification needed] 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 ($1.6 million today), 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 its request. The company later reduced its investment in that country, 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 lighted 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 1990, a follow-up to this commercial, called "Hilltop Reunion" and directed by Jeff Lovinger, aired during coverage of Super Bowl XXIV. 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.
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 NASCARSprint 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.
In 2012, As part of the Google Project Rebrief campaign, the Hilltop ad was reimagined for the digital age. Via the web, people were able to "send" a Coke to special vending machines located around the globe. Recipients of the Coke could then record a thank-you message to send back to the sender. Machines were located in Buenos Aires; Cape Town; Mountain View, California; and New York City.
In 2018, Coca-Cola in Spain re-recorded the music giving it a contemporary production, and recording an ad with young winners of a famous talent show in Spain.
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.
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.
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. It is implied that the show's fictional protagonist, Don Draper, was behind the commercial's creation.