John Lennon and Yoko Ono record Give Peace A Chance

8.00pm, Sunday 1 June 1969 (44 years ago)

On the penultimate day of their second bed-in for peace, John Lennon and Yoko Ono recorded the anthemic Give Peace A Chance in room 1742 of the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, Montreal.

The couple were joined by visitors including Allen Ginsberg, Phil Spector, Abbie Hoffman, rock writer Paul Williams, comedian Tommy Smothers, Timothy Leary and members of the Radha Krishna Temple.

The recording session, which had been arranged at the last minute, was attended by dozens of journalists and celebrities, including Allen Ginsberg, Abbie Hoffman, Tommy Smothers, Timothy Leary, Petula Clark, Dick Gregory, Murray the K, Derek Taylor, Rabbi Abraham Feinberg and members of the Radha Krishna Temple. Many of them were mentioned in the lyrics, either directly or allusively. Also present was cartoonist Al Capp, whom Lennon and Ono had argued with earlier in the day, although he didn’t contribute to the recording.

The song was recorded by Montreal studio owner André Perry with four microphones and a four-track tape recorder. Lennon played acoustic guitar and was joined by Tommy Smothers of the Smothers Brothers, also on acoustic guitar. A wardrobe door provided percussive sounds.

EMI requested that Perry come to the hotel for the recording. He hired a four-track Ampex machine from RCA Victor, and arrived at around 5pm.

Four microphones were used: one for Lennon and his guitar, another for Tommy Smothers, and two for the rest of the room.

Give Peace A Chance was briefly rehearsed, then the recording was quickly done. It took place at around 10pm, and afterwards Perry remained behind to record the song’s eventual b-side, Yoko Ono’s Remember Love. They finished recording at around 3am on 2 June.

As a matter of fact I don’t think we even had a playback [of Give Peace A Chance]. There was so many people in the room and it was so noisy and the way I had to record this was with earphones because, you know, I didn’t have a control room. There wasn’t a room I could set up. You have to take things into perspective, in those days, you’re talking a long time ago now. It wasn’t like today where you have all these recording tracks and all that. So basically it was quite primitive really. And so it was recorded with earphones even though I had a small pair of speakers for reference but I could not use them because I was in the room with them. I was about twelve feet from the bed. What I like about John was he must have had somewhat of a perception that I was serious and knew what I was doing because he was in full confidence, he didn’t know me but he sized me up and he gave me full confidence. I had all this liberty in the world on this thing. It was just totally amazing. ‘Cause I remember now, we didn’t get a playback. Maybe I might have played it back for him when were in the room by ourselves, I don’t remember, probably did. But nevertheless, it’s not like he said, ‘Well, let’s listen to it and let’s do it again if it’s not right.’ He just did it, he looked at me and said ‘It’s OK?’ And that was the end of it. He just sent everybody away.

Because of the condition of the room being bad, it’s as if you put big speakers in such a small enclosure. Too much noise and in a small environment, and what was going on was the tape picking this up. So it wouldn’t have been usable. Originally there were no intentions to have any over-dubs done. But when I left John, he looked at me and I said, ‘Well, I’ll go back to the studio and listen to this and see what it’s like.’ And then I decided upon myself that the background was a bit too noisy and needed a little ‘sweeping.’ By this I mean, we kept all the original stuff, we just kind of like, improved it a bit by adding if you like, some voices. So we called a bunch of people in the studio that night, I did, actually that was my decision. And that’s probably why John gave me such a credit on the single because I think he thought I took the incentive of doing that. And since it was multi-track I dubbed the original 4-track to an 8-track machine and then used the other 4-track to overdub some voices.

The next day I went back to John, made a mix of that I went back to him and they moved everybody out of the room and it was just the three of us, with Yoko, and I played it for him and he thought it was wonderful. Kept it ‘as is.’ There’s another story going around about overdubbing in London, England. Nothing was overdubbed in England. The actual 45 that existed originally is the actual recording. There was also in certain books, references to overdubbing in England, that’s not true. The only thing that was overdubbed, like I said, is some of these people, and the reason why I did it, is I wanted to give him some kind of option. You see the point of the matter, it’s not that we wanted to cheat anything, it was a question of like, not usable, the condition was absolutely terrible. What we did is by taking the original stuff that was there, and just adding a few voices in a cleaner environment, cleaner recording environment.

For me that wasn’t the greatest recording I’ve ever done because of the conditions. I wasn’t enchanted with the circus aspect of it. And the circus aspect of it came from the management. It didn’t come from John. The management was overwhelmed with what was going on. They were trying to control everything and that part of it was not my ‘cup of tea.’ When John gave me the credit that he did, we got the call from Toronto saying ‘You just won’t believe it, we got instructions for international release on the label to say ‘Recorded by André Perry, the address, telephone number, the date, where it was recorded.’ I said, ‘That’s incredible!’ And I saw some copies of that, from a convention, from South America, different releases and the label reads identical though the rest of the thing is written in Spanish! I was really, really touched by that. I mean I just did what I normally did for anybody — I would have done the same thing. I was touched that he felt that I guess, that I, what’s the word, took on some of the decisions that I did, I don’t know exactly where that came from. But he was very generous to me and I was touched by that.

André Perry
Beatlology magazine

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