"Pure Imagination," the iconic theme from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, has hit the iTunes Top 100 Charts in several countries following the death of its performer and star of the film, Gene Wilder. Ironically, when the song was released in 1971, it flopped and failed to chart.
The world has been mourning the death of legendary actor Gene Wilder, who starred in numerous hit films, including brilliant collaborations with Mel Brooks in Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. The actor, however, is best known and loved for his role as Willy Wonka in the classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, in which he sings the iconic "Pure Imagination."
Many TV and radio tributes offered this week to the late actor almost all ended with the famous image of Wilder in his purple Wonka suit, with the gentle and inspiring tune playing in the background. Superstar acts ranging from Maroon 5 to Barbara Streisand have covered the song during the 45 years since its debut, but many readers will be surprised to learn that the song flopped upon its initial release.
Leslie Bricusse, who wrote the six songs featured in the film along with Anthony Newley, recalls that the song did "absolutely nothing" when it first came out in tandem with the movie.
"We thought it was a lovely tune that carried the mood of the movie, sung by a man who comes up with all these wonderful enchantments," says Bricusse. "It was a nice message to put forward to children. But the song went nowhere."
Part of the reason was that the song was overshadowed by the success of another tune on the soundtrack, "Candy Man," which was covered by Sammy Davis Jr. and went on to become a number one hit. Another reason the song wasn't initially successful, however, was that the film itself was only a minor hit at the time, earning $4 million at the box office on a $3 million budget.
It wasn't until the film began airing regularly on TV during the 1970s and 1980s that it really took off and became a classic, ultimately selling massive amounts of VHS tapes and DVDs. While "Pure Imagination" became a much-loved and iconic tune as well, it never actually charted or received re-release even though the movie was released again in 1996.
Now, in the wake of Wilder's death, "Pure Imagination" has finally shown up on the iTunes charts in both the UK and Australia, where it currently holds the number 62 and number 44 positions, respectively.
In 1971, even the concept of iTunes would have seemed radically bizarre, but 45 years later, with the world having been transformed by the same technology that makes iTunes a reality, the lyrics of "Pure Imagination" seem more fitting than ever: "Anything you want to, do it. Want to change the world? There's nothing to it ... Want to be a dreamer, be one. Anytime you please and please save me one."