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, pictured playing piano, was the creative director from McCann Erickson, Coke's Ad Agency. He was one of the first to hear Roger Cook's work and asked him to  come to the U.S. and write some jingles.
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.”