This was written by the songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. It was offered to Dionne Warwick and Gene Pitney, who both passed on it. In our 2012 interview with Jackie DeShannon
, she explained: "When Hal suggested that Burt play 'What the World Needs Now' Burt was not that enthused about showing it to me at that moment. So we went on, played some more songs, and tried to decide on the four sides that we would record for the session. At that point Hal again suggested that Burt play 'What the World Needs Now.' And reluctantly, I think, he played it for me. Of course it was love at first hearing and first sight at those gorgeous words and fantastic melody. There were cornfields and wheat fields in my back yard where I grew up in Kentucky on a farm, and I heard a little bit of a gospel feel in the chorus. I thought it was a match made in heaven. The minute Burt heard me singing it, he said, 'Off to New York! We're off to New York!' That's where we recorded the song."
Released two years before the Summer Of Love, this was an early pacifist anthem about the importance of love in the world. The Beatles had a very similar theme on their 1967 song "All You Need Is Love
Jackie DeShannon wrote several hit songs, including The Searchers "When You Walk in the Room" and Brenda Lee's "Dum Dum." The song "Bette Davis Eyes
," which became a huge hit for Kim Carnes, appeared on her 1975 album New Arrangement
Burt Bacharach (from Record Collector magazine): "Dionne (Warwick) rejected that song. She might have thought it was too preachy and I thought Dionne was probably right. Hal pushed me to play it for Jackie De Shannon who we were gonna record. Otherwise I would have let it be and it would still be in the drawer. Once I heard Jackie sing four bars of it, I thought 'this is great.' Jackie had such a great voice. Love her voice. Whether it's a song she wrote herself or singing 'What The World Needs Now Is Love,' she's special. I wish we could have repeated that success with Jackie but the material we gave her on the next session wasn't as good."
Lyricist Hal David discussed this track in the book Chicken Soup For the Soul: The Story Behind The Song: "I was living in Roslyn, New York, on the north shore of Long Island, which is where my children were raised. I would drive into Manhattan every day to meet Burt (Bacharach) at the Brill Building in Famous Music's offices on the sixth floor, where we did our writing. Mine was a rock and roll house where each of my kids had a band that practiced there. It was hard for me to find somewhere quiet to work so I would drive into town slowly, which would give me the opportunity to think and get ideas. I would write in my head during the ride.
One day, I thought of the first two lines of this song:
What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It's the only thing that there's just too little of
Before I got to Manhattan I had the rest of the chorus set the way it is today. Then I needed the verse section. When I began to write the first verse, everything I thought about just seemed off: We don't need a plane to fly faster, we don't need a submarine to go deeper. I tried and tried, showed it to Burt, then put it away and went on to something else.
In a month or two or three, I tried again. It was always the same thing. I needed something to compare it to and everything I thought about had nothing to do with the person I was talking to – God. It took more time to write these lyrics than any other. I realized that I needed to write the antithesis – what we didn't need. One day on the ride to New York, it came to me.
Lord, we don't need another mountain
There are mountains and hillsides enough to climb
There are oceans and rivers enough to cross
Enough to last till the end of time
I knew that was it. I wrote about all of the things that had to do with nature and what God gives us. I gave the lyrics to Burt and he wrote a fabulous melody.
There were three ways Burt and I wrote together. He'd have melody ideas; I'd have lyric ideas. We'd show each other what we had, pick out what we both liked and work on it together. Sometimes we'd be writing three songs at once. Sometimes I'd take the melody home and write lyrics to it, sometimes Burt would take the lyrics home and write the melody to them.
We showed the song to Dionne Warwick, who had recorded many of our songs, and it is the only song of ours that she ever turned down. We put it aside and then received a call from Liberty Records to meet with Jackie DeShannon. We played this song for her and she wanted to do it. Burt did a great arrangement and we recorded it."
Dionne Warwick evidently changed her mind, as she did later record the song for her 1966 album Here Where There Is Love.
In 2016, 65 Broadway stars participated in a new recording of this song to honor victims of the mass shooting on June 12, when a gunman entered a gay nightclub in Orlando and opened fire, killing 49 people. Proceeds from the single went to the GBLT Community Center of Central Florida.
Billed as "Broadway For Orlando," participants include Kristen Bell, Whoopi Goldberg, Joel Grey, Carole King (the musical Beautiful is based on her life and songs), Idina Menzel and Billy Porter.
On Day 2 of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia (July 26), over 40 of the stars gathered on stage to perform the song in support of gun control. After the song, the singers lingered on stage as the crowd chanted, "Love trumps hate."
This was used in the 1994 movie Forrest Gump when Forrest is introduced to the game of ping pong.