The Early ’70s Coca-Cola Song That Became an Iconic Ad and a Hit for the Hillside Singers and the New Seekers

By the 1970s, anyone watching television would have likely come across the sweet folk song “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony),” while holding bottles of Coca-Cola. In the commercial, produced by Coke, a group of young people from multi-cultural backgrounds are seen singing together on a hilltop. The ad was meant to illustrate unity and positivity and reinforce the idea that a classic soft drink could bring people together.

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On the Hilltop

British hit songwriters Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway, who had also written the Hollies‘ 1972 hit “Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress),” and songs for Engelbert Humperdinck, Deep Purple, Cilla Black, and more, wrote the bones of “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony),” which was originally called “True Love and Apple Pie.”

For the Coca-Cola ad, dubbed the “Hilltop” commercial, Cook and Greenaway rewrote the lyrics with advertising executive Bill Backer and songwriter Billy Davis, the musical director on the Coca-Cola account, who all worked on jingle for radio spots and the song for the commercial.

London Fog

The idea for the song first came to Backer while he was flying to London to meet Davis, Cook, and Greenaway. When a heavy fog flooded came into London, his plane was forced to land in Shannon, Ireland, leaving most of his fellow passengers uneasy. The next day, Backer witnessed everyone sitting around, talking, snacking, and drinking Coca-Cola.

“In that moment [I] saw a bottle of Coke in a whole new light,” said Backer in a 2012 interview. “[I] began to see a bottle of Coca-Cola as more than a drink that refreshed a hundred million people a day in almost every corner of the globe. So [I] began to see the familiar words, ‘Let’s have a Coke,’ as more than an invitation to pause for refreshment. They were actually a subtle way of saying, ‘Let’s keep each other company for a little while.'”

Backer added, “So that was the basic idea: to see Coke not as it was originally designed to be—a liquid refresher—but as a tiny bit of commonality between all peoples, a universally liked formula that would help to keep them company for a few minutes.”

“I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke”

Then, Backer came up with the line I’d like to buy the world a Coke / And keep it company. When he shared his title with the team for “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke,” Davis wasn’t too keen on the idea of buying everyone a Coke.

“Well, if I could do something for everybody in the world,” said Davis, “it would not be to buy them a Coke.” Backer responded, “What would you do?” Davis said, “I’d buy everyone a home first and share with them in peace and love.”

Backer added, “Okay, that sounds good. Let’s write that and I’ll show you how Coke fits right into the concept.”

I’d like to buy the world a home
And furnish it with love
Grow apple trees and honey bees
And snow white turtle doves

I’d like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony
I’d like to buy the world a Coke
And keep it company
That’s the real thing

I’d like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony
And I’d like to buy the world a Coke
And keep it company
It’s the real thing

I’d like to buy the world a Coke
And keep it company
It’s the real thing


When it was released in July 1971, “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” immediately connected with viewers. The Coca-Cola Company received more than 100,000 letters about the commercial, and people were calling radio stations requesting the song.

The Hillside Singers v. the New Seekers

Initially, the company wanted the British pop group The New Seekers to sing the song in the commercial, but when they turned it down due to scheduling, Davis assembled a group of studio singers and called them the Hillside Singers.

The version by the Hillside Singers was released as a single and peaked at No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 5 on the Adult Contemporary chart, which prompted the New Seekers to release their own rendition. At that point, the New Seekers’ biggest hit was a cover of Melanie’s “What Have They Done to My Song, Ma” in 1970, which went to No. 14 in the U.S.

The New Seekers’ version of “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)” went to No. 7 on the Hot 100 and No. 1 in the UK, and sold nearly 100,000 records in its first day. The group’s cover of the song remains the most well-known rendition.

I’d like to build a world a home
And furnish it with love
Grow apple trees and honey bees
And snow white turtle doves

I’d like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony
I’d like to hold it in my arms
And keep it company

I’d like to see the world for once
All standing hand in hand
And hear them echo through the hills
For peace throughout the land

That’s a song I hear
Sing it along
Let the world sing today
Over and over

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“We thought it was a silly, soppy song, so it was hilarious when they decided to make it into a single,” said Lyn Paul of the New Seekers in 2009. “I suppose it was a nice feel-good song, but seven million records. Even now I think, how did this very ordinary song ever do it?”

In 1971, The New Seekers repackaged their previous album, New Colours, and released it as We’d Like to Teach the World to Sing, featuring their new hit song.

New Coke

In 1985, Coca-Cola reintroduced the old song in another ad campaign to launch its new formula, New Coke. Part of the campaign also featured commercials with New Edition and the computer-generator host Max Headroom. The new recipe was created to match the sweeter taste of its competitor Pepsi but was a marketing failure. The brand returned to its original formula for the soft drink three months later and rebranded it Coca-Cola Classic.

In 1990, Coca-Cola released a new commercial featuring a group of singers on a hilltop singing a mashup of “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” and the 1989 Coca-Cola Classic slogan song “Can’t Beat the Feeling.”

The New Coke was renamed Coke II in 1990 and was eventually discontinued in 2002.

‘Mad Men’

The 2015 series finale of Mad Men, ended ambiguously as Don Draper, played by Jon Hamm, is seen meditating at a retreat in California. Toward the end of the scene, the original Hilltop commercial begins playing.

Photo of The New Seekers: Youtube / The Ed Sullivan Show

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