You wouldn’t necessarily think John Lennon had all that much in common with British singer-actress Petula Clark, but there’s a live recording featuring them both. The motley line-up in its chorus also included LSD guru Timothy Leary, Beatles publicist Derek Taylor, poet Allen Ginsberg, and American DJ Murray the K. Reporters and hotel staff were also invited to hit anything they could for the stomping percussive accompaniment. It could only be “Give Peace A Chance,” which debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 on July 26, 1969.
Credited to the Plastic Ono Band, the impromptu track was recorded during John’s “bed-in” peace campaign with his wife of three months, Yoko Ono, in room 1742 at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal. Lennon thus became the first Beatle to make the American singles chart at the helm of a non-Beatles release, two months before the release of Let It Be.
The message of “Give Peace A Chance” was unequivocal, but Lennon later insisted that he and Yoko were not trying to tell governments or individuals how to run their lives. It wasn’t like ‘You have to have peace!’ Just give it a chance,” he said in one of his last interviews, in 1980. “We ain’t giving any gospel here – just saying how about this version for a change? We think we have the right to have a say in the future. And we think the future is made in your mind.”
“Give Peace A Chance” was recorded in one take, also featuring the Canadian chapter of the Radha Krishna Temple. Within weeks, the London-based branch of the devotees would be in the UK Top 20 with their “Hare Krishna Mantra” single on the Beatles’ Apple label, produced by George Harrison.
The Plastic Ono Band single, also on Apple, was already in the UK Top 5 as it entered the Hot 100 at No.62, a place below Glen Campbell’s theme for the new movie he starred in, True Grit. The Apple release spent three weeks at No.2 in Britain, rising to a more tentative No.14 in the US in early September. “I think we kind of made a point there,” Yoko told Uncut in 1988. “We thought that we were presenting a thought through an alternative theater setting and that was the platform and the world was the theater.”
Buy or stream “Give Peace A Chance” on GIMME SOME TRUTH. The Ultimate Mixes.