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It Could Be a Wonderful World

Lawrence Bush
July 1, 2017

Tin Pan Alley songwriter Hy Zaret (Zaritsky), whose output included “Unchained Melody,” “One Meatball,” “The Song of the French Partisan,” and “It Could Be a Wonderful World,” died at 99 on this date in 2007. His collaborators included Sammy Cahn, Lou Singer, Joan Whitney, and Alex North, among others. “Unchained Melody” (with Alex North) was turned into a mega-hit by the Righteous Brothers (1965), lavishly produced by Phil Spector, and was covered by many others; “The Song of the French Partisan” (with Anna Marley) was covered by Leonard Cohen as “The Partisan.” In the late 1950s, Zaret and Lou Singer wrote a six-album series, “Ballads for the Age of Science,” with songs about space, energy, weather, nature, and scientific experimenta- tion. The alternative rock band They Might Be Giants covered two of these songs in 1994 and 2011. Zaret was clearly a progressive, as indicated by his anti-racist anthem, “Brown-Skinned Cow” (“You can get good milk from a brown-skinned cow, the color of its skin doesn’t matter no-how. . .”) and “It Could Be a Wonderful World” (“If we could consider each other a neighbor, a friend, or a brother . . .”) To hear Pete Seeger singing it, look below.

“Unchained Melody” was “nominated in 1955 for an Academy Award for best original song. In 1992, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers gave it an award for being the year’s most-performed song. In 1999, Ascap said it was one of the 25 most-performed songs and musical works of the 20th century. In a list released in 2003, Ascap called it the most-performed love song of the 1950s.” —New York Times

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.