By Richie Unterberger

The New Seekers' "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)" was a worldwide success in two mediums -- first as a Coca-Cola commercial, and then, with some altered lyrics, as a mammoth hit single. It was one of the ultimate cross-marketing successes of the era; if they didn't get you on the tube between innings of the Game of the Week, they'd assault you on the hour on the AM radio dial. No doubt there are many survivors of the blitz that still suspect the group responsible for the 45 to have been some studio-only, motley crew of jingle singers, quickly thrown together to cash in on a tune that had already sold itself to uncounted millions of listeners, almost as a by-product of the actual product it was selling.

    In reality, the New Seekers were an actual group, albeit a somewhat manufactured one, that had already landed big hit singles in both the United States and Great Britain. Moreover, they had evolved, albeit in a tenuous fashion, from one of the most popular singing groups of the 1960s, and would have some more Transatlantic hits after "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" had completed its mission. It's that tune, however, that the New Seekers would always be known for, even if it's doubtful the world really needed their assistance to carry it.

    The New Seekers were tenuously related to, but not the same, as the Seekers, the group that had huge hits in the mid-1960s with "I'll Find Another You" and "Georgy Girl." After they disbanded in 1969, Seekers guitarist-singer Keith Potger soon put together an entirely different group in Britain, the New Seekers. Although he did sing and perform with them at first, as well as producing their first album, he soon retreated entirely to the management side of the operation. By the time "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)" entered the charts in late 1971, the group had already had a big hit the year before in both the US and UK with a cover of Melanie's "Look What They've Done to My Song, Ma." Too, they had already released four albums and half a dozen singles, and were into their second lineup, with only Marty Kristian and Eve Graham remaining from the original version.

    The germ of "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" was written by Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway, the British songwriting team responsible for numerous pop smashes of the 1960s and early 1970s, including the Fortunes' "You've Got Your Troubles," Gary Lewis's "Green Grass," White Plains' "My Baby Loves Lovin'," Gene Pitney's "Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart," and (with Allan Clarke) the Hollies' "Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress." "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" began life as a Cook-Greenaway collaboration called "True Love and Apple Pie," and was even recorded under that title by Susan Shirley. The song was then rewritten, however, with new lyrics by Cook, Greenaway, Coca-Cola account executive Bill Backer, and Billy Davis. Davis, incidentally, had already enjoyed a long career as songwriter (co-penning some of Jackie Wilson's early hits with Berry Gordy and Gordy's sister Gwen) and producer (most notably with his co-production of Fontella Bass's "Rescue Me").

    The New Seekers first recorded this odd quartet's retooling as a Coca-Cola radio commercial, with the lyric "I'd like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company." First aired on American radio in 1970, it was also used as a TV commercial a year later, sparking public demand for its release as a single. Reworked, again, to remove the references to the soft drink's brand name, it was hurriedly recorded while the group was appearing in New York. Eve Graham told British journalist Keith Altham in 1972 that she had been pushing for it to be released for months, though the group's support for the tune wasn't unanimous; as fellow New Seeker Lyn Paul told the BBC in 2002, "I remember thinking I wasn't very keen on it. How wrong can you be?"

    The song rocketed to #7 in the US and all the way to #1 in the UK, though in America it had to fight off a simultaneous cover of the same tune by the Hillside Singers, who got to #13 with their version. Its success, naturally, meant that an album had to be rushed out to capitalize on it, though their most recent LP, New Colours, had only been out for a short while. So Elektra simply took the same tracks that had been on New Colours, replaced "Move Me Lord" with "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)," and repackaged the LP under the new title We'd Like to Teach the World to Sing. To back up the discographical traffic jam further, their UK label took no such measures, and when an LP also titled We'd Like to Teach the World to Sing appeared in Britain in early 1972, it boasted a different cover and only two tracks ("I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)" and "Wanderer's Song") in common with its American counterpart.

    The music on the US version -- the one you're holding right now -- demonstrated that the group's amiable if middle-of-the-road pop-folk-rock stretched to a wider range of material than those who first heard them on a Coke commercial might have suspected. One of the three original compositions, Paul Layton's "Sweet Louise," even faintly echoed the glam-tinged rock of early-'70s Elton John and David Bowie, though it wasn't too characteristic of the New Seekers' quest. Also included were covers of songs by old favorite Melanie ("Nickel Song"), Carole King ("Child of Mine"), and Richard Kerr (who co-wrote "Evergreen"); Kerr also co-wrote the "Brandy," a 1971 UK hit for Scott English, which with some lyrical tweaking became Barry Manilow's first smash single, "Mandy."

    The biggest surprises, however, were covers of Roy Wood's "Tonight," which had been a British hit for the Move in 1971 (and was also issued as the topside of a New Seekers Elektra 45 in the US right before "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing," though it didn't chart), and Richard Thompson's "No Man's Land," from Fairport Convention's classic second album, What We Did on Our Holidays. These might well have been the biggest royalty-earners Wood and Thompson had seen in the US (where the Move and Fairport Convention had only cult followings) up to that point, since the album made it to #37 in the US charts. Art's all very good, but another priority is putting food on the table -- something that the New Seekers helped do for Wood and Thompson, and which the Move and Fairport Convention records frankly didn't do much of, at least in America. And which you've done now as well, by buying this CD reissue. -- Richie Unterberger

contents copyright Richie Unterberger , 2000-2010
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