Who Wrote the Candy-Coated Fantasy Song “Pure Imagination”

Recently, America was reintroduced to the confectionary classic “Pure Imagination” when singer and America’s Got Talent contestant Jimmie Herrod sang it with aplomb and finesse.

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But the song has been around for decades and became famous thanks to a fictional candy maker, Willy Wonka.


“Pure Imagination” was written for the 1971 movie Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, which was based on the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by author Roald Dahl, who also wrote James and the Giant Peach and many more.

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The song was written by British musicians Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse, who revealed that the song was written over the phone in one day. “Pure Imagination” was sung by actor and comedian Gene Wilder, who played the film’s titular character—a chocolatier and candy maker who has his own factory full of surprises, sweets, and dangers for the unsuspecting.

Bricusse was known for writing songs for films like Dr. Dolittle, Goldfinger, and Superman. Newley has written songs for films and has been covered by artists such as Tony Bennett and Mariah Carey.

The Performance

The music, as the song begins, is both bright and eerie. As Wilder begins, he is as bewildering as he is inviting. The song is, in one way, an introduction to what’s ahead for the children and parents who are visiting his candy factory. Paradise is everywhere, but it also even defies expectation, Wonka warns.

Wilder sings:

There is no life I know
To compare with pure imagination
Living there, you’ll be free
If you truly wish to be

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As the movie continues while Wilder sings and the music plays, the visiting children and their parents run through the candy fields of the factory, one even gets lost in a flowing chocolate river.

Amazingly, the now-popular and beloved movie from which the song was initiated, was not a hit in its time. And even from the film’s soundtrack, others performed better. Later, when people began to watch the movie on TV and own copies at home, the song became better known. When Wilder died in 2016, the song’s downloads rose by more than 1,000%.

Fiona Apple

Incredibly, Fiona Apple covered the song for a short film for the fast food company, Chipotle. Apple’s version is circusy and eerie in a slightly more punk rock way than Wilder originally recorded it, making it her own.

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As the years continue, the song will only become more popular and find more audiences. Imagination only grows and this song, as Apple indicates, is the soundtrack for just that. There is room for everyone to explore their creativity, from the weird and the wild to candy-coated.

Photo by George Rose/Getty Images

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