The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #70: Give Peace a Chance by John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band (RS)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #70: Give Peace a Chance by John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band.

As the 1960s drew to a close, the members of The Fab Four began to explore their individual lives beyond the organizational structure of the band that have shaped their existence for almost a decade. In March of 1969, Paul McCartney married long time girlfriend, Linda Eastman.

A few weeks later, John Lennon and Yoko Ono began a short, European odyssey in an attempt for formalize their union, too. Unfortunately for them, they ran into a series of roadblocks that were, almost, comedic in nature. First of all, they went to Southhampton, England and boarded a liner that was headed to France. They asked if they could be romantically married at sea, only to be told that ship’s Captains didn’t perform that service anymore. So, they switched to Plan “B”, which was to be married in Paris. Unfortunately, not being citizens of France, they did not qualify for a legal marriage license. At this point, John Lennon asked where the closest location was to Paris at which he and Yoko could be married. The answer was Gibraltar. So, John Lennon and Yoko Ono became husband and wife in a ceremony by The Pillars of Hercules in Gibraltar. After the ceremony, the pair returned to Paris and then, a day later, on to Amsterdam, where they shared their honeymoon with the world by staging the first, of two, protests against War that became known as “Bed-ins”.

The first “Bed-in” protest was aimed at capitalizing on the publicity from their wedding. In Amsterdam, John and Yoko rented the Presidential Suite in the Amsterdam Hilton for a week. Each day, from 9:00am-9:00pm, the world’s press were invited in to the suite. At first, the salacious press thought that John and Yoko would be having sex in their presence, only to find them holding court, in bed, in pyjamas, speaking about Peace and Love. During the week-long Bed-in, the pair sent 50 acorns (which are symbols of Peace) to 50 Heads of State from around the world. All of these efforts were noted by Paul McCartney who used the Bed-in antics for fodder for his song, “The Ballad of John and Yoko”. Overall, while John and Yoko were happy with the attention they received, they were equally unhappy at having their peaceful protest viewed more as a publicity stunt, rather than the earnest attempt at starting a worldwide dialogue about Peace. So, they decided to try again. This time, in North America.

The original plan for the second Bed-in protest was that it would be staged in NYC. However, because John Lennon had a criminal record (for cannabis possession), he was denied entry into the U.S. So, once again, the two lovers found themselves forced to set out on an international journey. Their first stop was the Bahamas but, they found it too hot. Since both were legally allowed to enter Canada, they set course for Toronto. Once there, they were issued a ten-day Visa. John, then, decided that since Montreal was closer to New York City, geographically-speaking, that the next Bed-in should happen there which is why John Lennon and Yoko Ono ended up spending the week at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal.

Once there, the pair invited journalists, along with many Left-leaning friends such as The Smothers Brothers, comedian, Dick Gregory, LSD proponent, Timothy Leary and his wife, Rosemary, along with many others. Over the course of the first few days, John and Yoko were asked many times why they were staging the Bed-in and what they hoped to accomplish. Again and again, Lennon replied, “It’s to give Peace a chance”. After having made that statement a dozen times or so, Lennon realized a song was forming and asked for writing paper. It was, while in bed, surrounded by dozens of media and friends, that John Lennon sketched the brief outline for the lyrics to, what was to become, one of the most well-known and beloved anti-war songs of all-time, “Give Peace a Chance”.

John Lennon asked for a sound engineer to be brought to the room. After a short delay, someone showed up with four microphones and a four track recorder. The assembled guests were encouraged to unite their voices with John and Yoko’s and sing out as enthusiastically as possible for Peace. John delivered the verses in a style that resembled what would soon come to known as rapping. He sang the verses and the assembled crowd joined in on the chorus which was, famously, “All we are saying………is give peace a chance”, repeated, again and again, over and over. In the video that you will soon see, “Give Peace a Chance” soon became an anthem and a battle cry at university campuses all across the US and Canada; as student unions organized walk-outs and sit-ins, all in the name of ending war and starting more peaceful times for everyone.

In a side note, if you want some Beatles trivia, in the lyrics to “Give Peace a Chance”, Lennon name checks many of the special friends who were in attendance in their hotel room. Among the names mentioned are Timothy Leary and his wife, Rosemary. As stated earlier in the post, Timothy Leary had been a university professor who had taken part in a famous study on the positive emotional and intellectual benefits to taking LSD. He eventually lost his job because he started to participate in the study, himself. Anyway, Leary became a “cause-celebre” and decided to use his fame to take a run at the Governorship of California. At that time, the Governor was, none other than, Ronald Reagan. So, part of the reason that Leary ended up in Montreal at The Queen Elizabeth Hotel was that he was trying to recruit John as a supporter for his campaign and, what’s more, he wanted John to write his campaign theme song. Leary’s slogan was “Come Together: join the party!”. John agreed to create a rough outline for Leary. Out of that process came the foundation for the song, “Come Together”. Leary never connected with Lennon again after seeing him in Montreal so, Lennon took the song back to England and it ended up being included on their final album, “Abbey Road”.

So, as we end this post, let me tell you that you are getting three videos for the price of this one post. Naturally, I will play the original video from the Bed-in in Montreal from which, “Give Peace a Chance” came to be. I am tossing in “The Ballad of John and Yoko” by Paul McCartney because that song contains a lot of incident-specific information related to John and Yoko’s attempts to get married and their first Bed-in protest in Amsterdam. Finally, I will play “Come Together” from “Abbey Road”. Enjoy them all, folks. See you at the next post.

The link to the video for the song, “Give Peace a Chance” by John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band, can be found here.

The link to the song, “The Ballad of John and Yoko” by The Beatles, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Come Together” by The Beatles, can be found here.

The link to the official website for John Lennon, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Yoko Ono and the Plastic Ono Band, can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Beatles, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.