April 12, 2023, the National Library of Congress inducted the ethereal vocals of Jackie DeShannon singing ‘What the World Needs Now is Love’. Written and composed in 1965 by the acclaimed musical partnership of Hal David and Burt Bacharach. “What the World Needs Now is love” has come to distinguish itself as an uplifting anthem of comfort and hope.
Written in February 1965, the subtext of Hal David’s lyrics stemmed from the ongoing Vietnam War, and the dominating divisiveness emerging from a once United States of America. It was a time that saw Civil Rights Leader Martin Luther King Jr., along with 700 protesters arrested in Selma, Alabama, also known as ‘Bloody Sunday’; fellow Civil Rights Activist Malcolm X was assassinated in New York, and nuclear testing began in the Nevada testing sites and in the Pacific Ocean. The lyrics of ‘What the World Needs Now is Love’, was Hal David’s reaction to the times, and penned as a universal prayer, or a humbled wish in conversation with God.
Through the graciousness of God,
he gave us life, he gave us
‘mountains and hillsides, oceans and rivers,’
but ‘now all we need’, all that we require is
‘love, sweet love’. It’s the only thing that
there’s just too little of”.
Raw and vulnerable are the lyrics, but powerful in emotion, Hal David has stated that he consciously constructed his lyrical writing style to be “believable and with simplicity, so that there would be an emotional impact to which others could respond and be moved by”. Adding the soulful vocals of Jackie DeShannon was, in hindsight, the final element needed to give the song it’s universal appeal and acceptance and deliver on Hal David’s much sought-after emotional impact.
Visually, DeShannon is a timeless, Angelic beauty, whose voice seemingly and effortlessly reaches to the heavens in this original version of the song. Blessed with a voice of unisex appeal, DeShannon has a feminine quality of tone and softness, with a vocal range that allows her still, to sing low enough, also giving her masculine appeal.
Born in Hazel, Kentucky, DeShannon said she loved the song immediately. Singing with passion and sophistication, DeShannon could visualize Hal David’s words about the cornfields and wheatfields because they reminded her of home. Always the consummate professional, DeShannon remembers following the wishes of Burt Bacharach to “sing the notes – without taking liberties with the melody, but rather to purely sing the song according to the exact notes that he had written”. The song was recorded March 23, 1965, in a second take, in real time, with choir singers, background accompaniment, and an orchestra at Bell Sound Studios in New York City.
Since it’s inception in 1965, and up to 2022 and counting, ‘What the World Needs Now’ has had more than 3 million plays, more than 300 versions of the song recorded, with 11 International adaptations around the world, and can been heard in more than 200 movies and TV shows. According to Second Hand Songs, Jackie DeShannon’s original recording continues to be voted the most popular and best rated version of them all.
With its timeless message, ‘What the World Needs Now is Love’ has become a symbol for those in search of salvation. After it’s initial release in 1965, the song received its greatest airplay on radios across the country after the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in 1968.
Rarely is there a song so timeless and relevant as the one created by the magical musical collaboration of Hal David, Burt Bacharach, and Jackie DeShannon. Now officially recognized by The Library of Congress and housed in the World’s largest library, this original version of the song is preserved for its historical significance and its sound and production, for future generations to enjoy.
Written by Sherry Nelson
David, Hal. 2017. ‘Words From Hal David’ http://www.haldavid.com/words.htm
Gross, Terry. 2010, Jun 14. ‘What the World Needs Now Is Jackie DeShannon’ NPR. https://www.npr.org/transcripts/127541549
- ‘Historical Events in February 1965’.On This Day. https://www.onthisday.com/events/date/1965/february
- ‘What the World Needs Now is Love by Jackie DeShannon’. Songfacts. https://www.songfacts.com/facts/jackie-deshannon/what-the-world-needs-now-is-love