On June 1st 1969, John Lennon and The Plastic Ono Band recorded the ever-relevant ‘Give Peace A Chance’ during their ‘bed-in’ at the Hotel La Reine in Montreal, Canada, which became an anti-war anthem throughout the 1970s and across America—a message which, sadly, feels more appropriate today than it did when the song was released 51 years ago.
The first week-long ‘bed-in’ took place in the presidential suite at the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel on March 25th of the same year, an idea that derived from the couple’s knowledge that, following their wedding in Gibraltar a few days previously, the newlyweds would be stalked by the press during their honeymoon regardless of the location. Instead, they decided to use that media attention for good.
With that in mind, Lennon and Ono came up with the idea to involve the media in their post-wedding celebrations and change the narrative of the story to something bigger than themselves.
From 9am to 9pm for every day from 25th-31st March, the world’s press would gather in a hotel suite to see Lennon and Ono dressed in pyjamas and talking about how we can achieve peace. The couple sent out a card that read: “Come to John and Yoko’s honeymoon: a bed-in, Amsterdam Hotel”. Lennon was quoted as saying in The Beatles Anthology that the media thought they were going to “make love in public,” based on the fact that the art for their 1968 album Two Virgins featured the couple naked, but in fact, they famously wore pyjamas.
Lennon professed: “We knew whatever we did was going to be in the papers. We decided to utilise the space we would occupy anyway, by getting married, with a commercial for peace,” before adding: “We would sell our product, which we call ‘peace.’ And to sell a product you need a gimmick, and the gimmick we thought was ‘bed.’ And we thought ‘bed’ because bed was the easiest way of doing it because we’re lazy.”
Following the success of the first ‘bed-in’, the power couple would go on to recreate the message of their Amsterdam stay but this time in North America. Their second stand was initially proposed for a New York venue. However, Lennon was refused entry back into the US over a controversial cannabis conviction. Undeterred, the couple changed their plan on the fly and headed up to the protest to Montreal with the Hotel La Reine playing host.
On 1 June 1969, in Room 1742 at the La Reine, André Perry, owner of a local recording studio in Montreal, arrived and used a simple setup of four microphones and a four-track tape recorder he brought with him for the ensemble cast to record the perennial ‘Give Peace A Chance’.
There were a large cast of journalists and celebrities in attendance which included Timothy Leary, Rabbi Abraham Feinberg, Joseph Schwartz, Rosemary Woodruff Leary, Petula Clark, Dick Gregory, Allen Ginsberg, Roger Scott, Murray the K and Derek Taylor, several of these names are included in the song’s lyrics.
The track would quickly evoke the desired effect that Lennon and Ono dreamt it would do, becoming the anthem of the anti-Vietnam-war and counterculture movements from the disillusioned youth of America during the proceeding few years.
‘Give Peace A Chance’ went on to take on a life of its own as the couple had envisaged when it was created in that now-legendary Canadian hotel room. Only a few months following it being recorded, the song would be sung in unison by half a million demonstrators in Washington, D.C. on Vietnam Moratorium Day, on 15 November 1969. Pete Seeger lead the chorus of disillusioned demonstrators who interspersed phrases like, “Are you listening, Nixon?” and “Are you listening, Agnew?”, between the choruses of protesters singing, “All we are saying … is give peace a chance”.
Some years later for as part of a MoMO retrospective on her career, Ono reflected: “John and I thought after Bed-In, ‘The war is going to end.’ How naïve we were, you know? But the thing is, things take time. I think it’s going to happen. I mean, that I think we’re going to have a peaceful world. But it’s just taking a little bit more time than we thought then.”
Listen to the poignant anti-war anthem below, which message is one that we all need to get behind some 51-years after ‘Give Peace A Chance’ was originally recorded.