By Anna Pulley
Forty-seven years ago today, May 26, 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono began their eight-day “bed-in” honeymoon protest. The pair holed up in room 1742 of The Hotel La Reine Elizabeth, in Montreal, Canada, to promote world peace. At the end of the week, they recorded “Give Peace a Chance” in the hotel room, which became one of the most enduring protest songs ever written. Lennon played his ubiquitous Gibson J-160E electro-acoustic guitar used on many Beatles sessions.
Originally the “bed-in” was going to be in New York, but Lennon’s 1968 pot conviction barred them from the US.
The idea for the song came about when reporters asked Lennon why he was doing the bed-in: “All we are saying is give peace a chance,” he said.
Andre Perry, a local producer and engineer, came to the hotel on June 1 to record the song, which involved people banging on telephone books and garbage can lids, among other less-traditional accompaniments.
Lennon and comedian Tommy Smothers played acoustic guitars while other guests (including singer Petula Clark, poet Allen Ginsberg, activist Dick Gregory, and LSD advocate Timothy Leary) sang the chorus.
“Give Peace a Chance” reached No. 14 on the US Billboard chart and No. 2 in the UK, and has been a staple at demonstrations around the country ever since. At the Vietnam Moratorium Day on October 15, 1969, half a million people joined Pete Seeger to sing the song.
“That was a very big moment for me,” Lennon said in Lennon Remembers. “In me secret heart I wanted to write something that would take over ‘We Shall Overcome.’ I don’t know why, that’s the one they always sang. I thought, ‘Why isn’t somebody writing one for the people now?’ That’s what my job is. Our job is to write for the people now.”
It’s telling how applicable Lennon’s words still are today.