NPR logo Old Music Tuesday: 40 Years of Giving Peace A Chance

Old Music Tuesday: 40 Years of Giving Peace A Chance

This Saturday, July 4, 2009, the song "Give Peace A Chance" turns 40 years old.

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John Lennon and Yoko Ono recorded this anthemic song with just four microphones and a four-track reel-to-reel tape recorder. It was released first in Europe, as a single, followed by a US release a few days later.

The phrase "give peace a chance" had come spontaneously to Lennon while answering a reporters question at a "bed-in," Lennon and Ono's way to protest war and promote peace by staying in bed all day. They held two, week-long bed-in sessions, one in Amsterdam and one in Montreal.

It was at a Montreal bed-in that the song was recorded. Those in attendance included Timothy Leary, Dick Gregory, Petula Clark, Derek Taylor, Murray the K and Allen Ginsberg. John Lennon played acoustic guitar and so did Tommy Smothers of the Smothers Brothers. Some of those names became part of the lyrics.

Though it may feel trite or be thought of as simply naive, there was always a joy in the early days of the song, to sing the song's refrain out on the streets with hundreds of thousands of other voices, with hopes of ending war and hate.

It was the first single to come out by a Beatle while the band was still a band. It was originally credited to Lennon-McCartney. In a book by Philip Norman called John Lennon: The Life, Lennon talked about "[being] guilty enough to give McCartney credit as co-writer on my first independent single instead of giving it to Yoko, who had actually written it with me." Later releases show Lennon as the sole writer.

Here are the words:

Ev'rybody's talkin' 'bout
Bagism, Shagism, Dragism, Madism, Ragism, Tagism
This-ism, that-ism, ism ism ism
All we are saying is give peace a chance
All we are saying is give peace a chance
(C'mon)
Ev'rybody's talkin' 'bout
Minister, Sinister, Banisters and Canisters,
Bishops, Fishops, Rabbis, and Pop Eyes, Bye bye, Bye byes
All we are saying is give peace a chance
All we are saying is give peace a chance
(Let me tell you now)
Ev'rybody's talkin' 'bout
Revolution, Evolution, Masturbation, Flagellation, Regulation,
Integrations, mediations, United Nations, congratulations
All we are saying is give peace a chance
All we are saying is give peace a chance
Ev'rybody's talkin' 'bout
John and Yoko, Timmy Leary, Rosemary,
Tommy Smothers, Bobby Dylan, Tommy Cooper,
Derek Taylor, Norman Mailer, Alan Ginsberg, Hare Krishna
Hare Hare Krishna
All we are saying is give peace a chance
All we are saying is give peace a chance
(Repeat 'til the tape runs out)

Do you have any memories of the song and what it means to you?

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