When the 32-year old song “One World” charted Top 30 last week, it crept into that category of a “standard,” a song that that stays relevant enough to get recorded again, after a long period of time.
Standards have long been the mainstay of the music publishing universe.
But “One World” is not a song of today’s moment, written out of the grief and frustrations Covid 19 has brought upon our world.
It is a song with its deep roots in seeing suffering and oppression first-hand. In 1988, we songwriters found ourselves in pre-Putin Communist Russia, the Russia of Joseph Stalin, Nikita Kruschev, and Leonid Brezhnev.
In 1988, the Hammer & Sickle emblem was affixed to the top of the Kremlin. Tanks were stationed on the dark depressing streets of Moscow.
We saw no neon signs. We had to check in with armed guards at the doors to Hotel Rossya, where we were accommodated.
People on the streets looked grey and shapeless as they hurried about their business.
We had brought gifts of pencils and individual cigarettes and old jeans to give to perfect strangers on the streets of Moscow.
We had visited the GUM department store, a massive grey edifice with severe and forbidding looking cubicles, such as a handbag “store” that had many copies of one handbag style for sale.
Everything was government approved.
We went to a banquet and I stood and made a short toast to freedom, and everyone looked wide-eyed at me as if I were about to be sent to a Siberian Gulag.
I realized my blunder too late, and sat down abruptly. Luckily the Russian officials present were indulgent of the stupid American.
But we were young Americans, used to our freedom of speech, freedom to wander, to go anywhere, be anything, live as we chose.
We did not understand the world we had somehow been transported to, we, a group of mere songwriters!
Who would have thought we would be ambassadors of creativity, the first ever artists to be invited by the Soviets to collaborate with their own?
But this was the era of Mikhail Gorbachev, still moving toward the Social Democracy he was to embrace in the early 1990’s.
This was the time known as “Glasnost,” meaning “Openness.”
It was just after President Ronald Reagan urged Mr. Gorbachev to end the Cold War and tear down the Berlin Wall; and a year before the wall actually began to be torn down.
What a time for us to be eyewitnesses to history! For, after all, are songwriters not chroniclers of our times?!
So, against this turbulent backdrop, our songwriters’ eyes were opened. We saw not oppressed people but other songwriters, creatives like ourselves, handsome charming people, filled with talent and enthusiasm.
What an opportunity we had!
We could write songs together. What a world changer that was at that time.
When Franke Previte and I sat in my hotel suite and were introduced to Sergei Manoukyan and Mikk Targo from Tallin, Estonia, we four were ecstatic and filled with a kind of lofty awareness of the game-changing moment we were part of.
This was not a moment to write a mere romantic love song, no forgettable ditty.
We felt the need to write something that was perhaps a bit majestic.
Reflecting this uncharted territory of Glasnost and openness, and the spirit of coming together.
Thus was “One World” born, the progeny of Hope and Optimism.
The original second verse said: “We meet at last, Hello my friend/The road was long to where we stand/But in my heart, I always knew/The path would lead to me and you.”
Which led into our chorus, “There’s only One World/One love to share/I’ve seen it in your eyes, I see it everywhere/We’re not alone/We all share a home in One World.”
It’s easy to imagine what inspired that chorus.
When, in 2020, it was time to update the song to address Covid 19; Franke and I took several days to find a simple way to capture the current moment in our song – for, after all, simple is the hardest thing to do.
We wrote, “This day will pass, hang on my friend/I know you long to dream again/Just take heart, and I will too/Be there for me, I’m here for you.”
Perhaps, if in 1988 Russia, we had not been feeling the swell of change and excitement at what was to come – for after all, our being invited there would never have happened at any time before that;
If we had not realized we were a living breathing part of the change from oppression to the light ahead, perhaps what we wrote as this second lyric, might have been what we’d have been moved to write for the first version of “One World.”