FRANKLIN, TENN. – It’s not Sunday morning, but that doesn’t stop Roger Cook from breaking into a hymn.

“Amazing Grace/How sweet the sound/Who saved a wretch like me,” he croons with a faded British accent, softly strumming a Mahogany ukulele.

“Some churches here sing it to this melody,” Cook, who turns 77 next month, explains over the simple chord progression. “It works, you know, just perfectly.”

The tune is instantly familiar, but doesn’t match the words Cook is singing.

“Once I was lost but now I'm found/Was blind but now I see,” he continues before taking a lyrical detour that gives away the melody’s rightful owner.

“I’d like to buy the world a home and furnish it with love… It's the ree-al thing.”

Cook is one of four composers credited with writing “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke”, which soundtracked the iconic 1971 Coca-Cola commercial known as “Hilltop” and enjoyed a second life as a hit song in the U.S. and Europe. We visited him at his home about 45 minutes outside Nashville to unpack the story behind the jingle-turned-single and learn more about the art and science of writing music for both the pop charts and commercials – something he’s done quite a few times over the last five-plus decades.

Here are 11 things we learned during our afternoon with Cook:

1. His connection to Coca-Cola started with a hit song he co-wrote in the early-‘60s.

Cook was born in Bristol, England. He and his friend, Roger Greenaway, grew up singing in harmony groups – known as doo-wop groups in the U.S. – in their early-20s.

“My group stayed around until about 1960, when we came off the road and everybody went out and got real jobs,” Cook recalled. “Roger (Greenaway) was with a group called the Kestrels, who’d gotten pretty successful, opening for people like The Beatles. In fact, they taught The Beatles how to bow. 

“In 1963, I got a call from Roger and he says, ‘One of the guys is dropping out of our group. Would you take his place?’ I was longing to get back into it, so I said yes. We stayed on the road for six months, then the group folded. But just before that, Roger and I wrote a song called ‘You’ve Got Your Troubles.’ It took off and it was a hit around the world. Bill Backer from McCann Erickson (Coke’s ad agency) heard it and asked us to come to the U.S. and write some jingles.”

2. ‘I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke’ wasn’t the first jingle they worked on.

“On that first trip to New York, we wrote a thing called ‘Truck Driver’, which became a very successful radio jingle for the 'Things Go Better with Coca-Cola' campaign,” Cook recalled. “It was very exciting. We ended up doing three or four a year with Bill, and eventually met Billy Davis, who started working for Bill. Between the two of them and the two of us, we cranked out a bunch of jingles.”

'Coke had been asking McCann Erickson for something that was larger than just a regular jingle… thematic in the sense of ‘we're all brothers, let's get together’, you know, brotherhood of man kind of thing. That's what Bill had in mind when he came over. He wanted to try and have a thematic thing that people would want to sing along to, like ‘This Land is Our Land’. That kind of song.'


3. Stakes for the jingle that would become ‘I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke’ were high.

“Coke had been asking McCann Erickson for something that was larger than just a regular jingle… thematic in the sense of ‘We're all brothers, let's get together'. You know, brotherhood of man kind of thing. That's what Bill had in mind when he came over. He wanted to try and have a thematic thing that people would want to sing along to, like ‘This Land is Our Land’. That kind of song." 

Bill Backer, creative director at McCann Erickson.

4. Cook and Greenaway already had the melody for the jingle.

“Roger and I were hired to come up with melodies and lyrical ideas. We wrote primarily on ukuleles. The main theme of the jingle would come from Bill and Billy. Billy's job was to envision the jingle and take it from there into the studio. Bill’s was to shorten the melody and make it concise.

“Bill might have a little idea, which is how ‘I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke’ came about. He said, 'Have you got any tunes that'll work with this?' And Roger and I had this tune and it was a real dog of a lyric. I think it was called ‘True Love and Apple Pie’. So, we sang it, and he loved it. We used the old chords of ‘You've Got Your Troubles’, going from a C chord to a D chord.

"And we went to work straightaway on the lyrical idea. I think Roger came up with the idea of ‘I'd like to teach the world to sing’ and I might have thrown in ‘in perfect harmony’. That's the way it came together, with four heads. And we thrashed that out for three or four hours and had the song written.”

5. Coke didn’t initially plan to record and release the jingle as a pop song.

In February 1971, "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke" shipped to radio stations across the U.S. DJs were getting requests to play it like it was a hit record. A few months later, the TV ad known as “Hilltop” debuted.

“From the moment that video came out, with the girl holding a Coke bottle, and all those different nationalities on the hillside, it was over,” Cook said. “The very first time I saw it on TV, I thought, ‘Wow!’ Within weeks, Coca-Cola was getting invaded by thousands of letters saying, ‘Where can be buy the tune or the sheet music, or, you know, get a hold of a record of some kind?’ But there was no record.”


6. Billy Davis recorded two versions of the song with two different singing groups.

“Bill Backer and Billy Davis decided to sit down and write some extra lyrics,” Cook said. Davis wanted to produce a record version of the commercial with New Seekers. He took them into a London studio on a Sunday and produced 'I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (in Perfect Harmony),' which became a Top 10 hit there, followed by the Hillside Singers' version as No. 13 on the American pop charts.

“For the first time in a long time, there were two versions of one song battling their way up the charts. It caught America's imagination and England's. We were six weeks at number one with that record in Christmas of '72."

Roger Cook (left) and Roger Greenaway in January 1966.

7. Cook and Greenaway were a red-hot songwriting team in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

“We had a huge run,” Cook said. “We ended up writing over 50 hits in Europe and quite a bunch of them, 10 or so, came over and were big hits here. And we were both on the road with different bands. I was with a band called Blue Mink, and we had about eight or nine hits. And Roger was with the Pipkins and Brotherhood of Man and White Plains.”

8. Beatles producer George Martin was a fan of ‘You've Got Your Troubles’.

“He asked us to his office and said, ‘I'd like to produce you’. It was one of the most wonderful days of my life. The Beatles' producer producing us! But we had to wait three months because he was doing a little thing called Rubber Soul with the boys at the time. In that short space of time, The Fortunes got hold of it. So, George took us in the studio and cut 'Michelle' with us, which was a song from Rubber Soul, and we had a big top 10 hit here with it as David and Jonathan. And let me tell you, to be English and have a big pop hit in 1966, we were like little gods. It was wonderful.”

'There’s an intensity when you write jingles. It's heads down, walking around, worrying about one line, going over and over, and changing a word here and there. It was business.'

9. After short stints in New York and Los Angeles, Cook moved to Nashville in 1975 and transitioned to country songwriting.

“I came here for a week just to visit, and I’ve stayed 42 years,” he said. “It's the musicianship in this town... it's crammed with great musicians. They love songwriters more than any other town in the world. In fact, the motto here is, ‘It all begins with a song.’ 

Crossing over to country turned out to be toughter than Cook expected. “I was so used to having pop hits when I came here," he said. "I thought, ‘I'll write a country hit… how hard can it be?’ Three chords and the truth. Well, it's harder than that. Two years later, and I'm still without a hit in Nashville.

“I eventually got with a guy called Bobby Wood, and we wrote a song called ‘You’ve Been Talking in Your Sleep’ for Crystal Gayle. It went to number 1 and was the BMI Song of the Year. Suddenly I was a known factor and I attracted other writers to write with me. That opened the marketplace up for me. I've had seven or eight number ones in country.

“I'm proud of the fact that I had to really learn a trade all over again, because writing country songs is different than pop songs. It's a simpler structure. It's the lyric that matters in country music, getting the story across. And it didn’t come easy for a boy from England." 

10. Writing an ad jingle, in many cases, is harder than writing a song.

“There’s an intensity when you write jingles,” Cook explained. “It's heads down, walking around, worrying about one line, going over and over, and changing a word here and there. Trying to get so much information over in one or two lines is tough.

“With a jingle, you start on the project, and you’ve got 58 seconds or 29 seconds to do it. With a song, you have have three or four minutes to explain the storyline. And you’ve got hours to do it in, maybe weeks.

“You try to find an angle, something original, which is pretty hard to do. Bill had one with ‘It's the Real Thing’. That's an angle. You can't talk about trees and love and broken hearts and trucks and dogs for too long. It’s been covered.”

'I've written over 5,000 songs. It’s hard to know where it begins and where it ends. It's amazing you can still come up with an idea that nobody's heard before. That's when the hairs stand up on your arm, you think, oh, I might have one here, you know. Sometimes you're right.'

11. Songwriting inspiration can come from anywhere.

“I listen to people,” Cook explained. “When people talk, they let go of some great titles sometimes, whether in the bar or the crowd watching a football game. You think, I'll stick that one away somewhere.

"Usually you'll start with a small lyrical idea. Then the melody comes along with a first little collection of words, maybe one or two lines. And you develop it. It's as simple as that.

“I’ve done this for 55 years. The ideas come pretty quick and easy. Most songs take no more than about three hours to write. Things like 'Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress' took two hours. I've written over 5,000 songs. It’s hard to know where it begins and where it ends. It's amazing you can still come up with an idea that nobody's heard before. That's when the hairs stand up on your arm, you think, oh, I might have one here, you know. Sometimes you're right.”