This was recorded May 31, 1969 at a "Bed-In" Lennon staged in room 1472 of Queen Elizabeth's Hotel in Montreal. John and Yoko stayed in bed for eight days, beginning on May 26, in an effort to promote world peace. They got a great deal of media attention, which is exactly what they wanted to promote their cause.
Some of the people in the hotel room who sang on this were Tommy Smothers, Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, and Petula Clark
. Smothers also played guitar on this. Along with his brother, Dick, Smothers had a TV show from 1967-1969 called The Smothers Brothers' Comedy Hour
. The show was canceled after Tommy complained about CBS censoring their political skits.
This was Lennon's first hit away from The Beatles. It was credited to The Plastic Ono Band, the name Lennon used on many of his recordings.
Visitors to John and Yoko's bed-in, including reporters, staff, and celebrities, banged on everything from doors to tabletops for rhythm. John thought the first take sounded weak, so the next take added a group of Hare Krishna drummers. The drumming was remixed in the studio, because John came in too soon on the third verse. (thanks, Ekristheh - Halath)
This song quickly became the anthem of the antiwar movement as many Americans felt the country should not be fighting in Vietnam. On October 15, 1969, a multi-city demonstration called The Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam, took place, with protesters singing this song in mass. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
Looking back on this song in 1998, Yoko Ono told Uncut, "I think we kind of made a point there. We thought that we were presenting a thought through an alternative theater setting and that was the platform and the world was the theater."
Yoko explained that she and John saw the humor in the stunt and knew they would sound silly, but they felt is was an effective way to get their message across.
With long notes and vocals sung in a choir screaming for attention, this is similar to Verdi's Opera-Choirs, for example "Va pensiero" or "The choir of the prisoners" in the opera Nabucco from 1842. Lennon often used elements of Classical music in his compositions. (thanks, Johan Cavalli, who is a music historian in Stockholm)
John Lennon was very much a pacifist. When asked after the release of this song if he would ever fight in a war, he replied: "I wouldn't fight at all. Never ever any intention of fighting. Up until about 18, there was still call-up when I was a teenager and I remember the news coming through that it was all those born before 1940, and I was thanking God for that as I'd always had this plan about Southern Ireland. I wasn't quite sure what I was going to do when I got to Southern Ireland. Hippies and dropouts weren't that famous. There was no thinking, 'He did it, he went to Ireland and lived happily ever after.' So I was never sure what I could do, but I had no intention of going and fighting. I just couldn't kill somebody, you know, I couldn't charge at them."
On July 10 2008, Christie's auction house in London sold John Lennon's hand-penned lyrics to "Give Peace a Chance" for £421,250 ($834,000). Lennon had written the lyrics during the eight-day Bed-in and gave the sheet to 16-year-old Gail Renard who had sneaked into the Queen Elizabeth Hotel with a friend. The teenagers became friendly with Lennon and Yoko and the Beatle gave her several mementoes, including the lyrics, telling her: "One day they will be worth something." Renard is now a comedy writer and presenter.
This was released on the album Live Peace In Toronto 1969. It was from a concert Lennon performed backed by Eric Clapton on guitar, Klaus Voorman on bass, and Alan White on drums.
Paul McCartney and John Lennon had a very contentious relationship when The Beatles broke up, but McCartney has expressed his appreciation for Lennon's work and included this song in many of his later concerts, including his historic show in Tel Aviv on September 25, 2008.
John Lennon told Rolling Stone
that he wrote this song to be sung during demonstrations such as The Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam. He explained: "In me secret heart I wanted to write something that would take over "We Shall Overcome
." I don't know why. The one they always sang, and I thought, 'Why doesn't somebody write something for the people now, that's what my job and our job is.'"
In our 2013 interview with Yoko Ono
, she said that the song's lyrical message rings true now more than ever. "I think all of us are giving peace a chance," she said. "It's a powerful time."
According to Christie's, when Lennon saw television footage of nearly half a million anti-Vietnam War protesters singing this song outside the White House in November 1969, he considered it to be "one of the biggest moments of my life."
When the group Hot Chocolate formed in 1969, the first song they recorded was a reggae version of "Give Peace A Chance," which seemed to have no chance of getting released because they changed some of the lyrics and needed John Lennon to approve. Lennon not only approved it, but released the song on Apple Records, the label set up by The Beatles. Hot Chocolate was later signed by Mickie Most; they scored a string of hits including "You Sexy Thing
" and "Emma
Yoko Ono recorded a new version for Wake Up Everybody, compilation album recorded to encourage people to vote in the 2004 US presidential election.