Recorded on 13 September 1969 at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival festival, Live Peace In Toronto 1969 marked the public debut of the hastily-assembled Plastic Ono Band.
The album was released in the US and UK on this day. In the US it was issued as Apple CORE 2001, and in the US as Apple SW 3362. The tracklisting and artwork was the same for both editions.
John Lennon had been invited to the festival on 12 September 1969 by promoter John Brower. To Brower’s surprise Lennon accepted the offer, on the condition that he be allowed to perform at the event. Sales for the festival had proved sluggish, and Brower naturally accepted without hesitation.
We got this phone call on a Friday night that there was a rock’n’roll revival show in Toronto with a 100,000 audience, or whatever it was, and that Chuck was going to be there and Jerry Lee and all the great rockers that were still living, and Bo Diddley, and supposedly The Doors were top of the bill. They were inviting us as king and queen to preside over it, not play – but I didn’t hear that bit. I said, ‘Just give me time to get a band together,’ and we went the next morning.
The Beatles had little enthusiasm for performing live at that point, so Lennon was forced to hastily assemble a live band. His invitation to George Harrison was turned down, but Eric Clapton accepted, as did bassist Klaus Voormann and drummer Alan White.
The party left for Toronto on Air Canada flight 124 on 13 September, with Lennon, Ono and Clapton in first class while the rest flew in economy. During the flight the Plastic Ono Band eventually convened and assembled a set, although the musicians had trouble hearing their guitars above the noise of the engines.
Now we didn’t know what to play, because we’d never played together before, the band. And on the aeroplane we’re running through these oldies, so the rehearsal for the record, which turned into not a bad record, was on the plane, with electric guitars – not even acoustic, you couldn’t hear.
At Toronto’s Varsity Stadium, Lennon led the group through six songs: Blue Suede Shoes, Money (That’s What I Want), Dizzy Miss Lizzy, Yer Blues, Cold Turkey and Give Peace A Chance. He later revealed that he was addicted to heroin at the time.
We were full of junk too. I just threw up for hours till I went on. I nearly threw up in Cold Turkey – I had a review in Rolling Stone about the film of it – which I haven’t seen yet, and they’re saying, ‘I was this and that.’ And I was throwing up nearly in the number. I could hardly sing any of them, I was full of shit.
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner
If the first half of the concert was led by John Lennon, the second was Yoko Ono‘s. The crowd’s reaction to Don’t Worry Kyoko (Mummy’s Only Looking For Her Hand In The Snow) and John, John (Let’s Hope For Peace) was divided, with some people booing her performance.
Yoko did a number, which was half rock and half madness, and it really freaked them out. We finished with Yoko’s number, because you can’t go anywhere after you’ve reached that sort of pitch. You can’t go ‘Ji-jing’ like The Beatles and bow at the end of screaming and 50 watts of feedback. So, after Yoko had been on for about a quarter of an hour, we all left our amps on going like the clappers and had a smoke on the stage. Then, when they stopped, the whole crowd was chanting Give Peace A Chance. It looks like this is going to be the Plastic Ono Band in the future.
On 25 September 1969 Lennon mixed the eight-track tapes from the festival performance, producing the stereo master tape between 10am and 1.45pm. A new mix of Don’t Worry Kyoko was made on 20 October to complete the album.
Live Peace In Toronto 1969 was issued on vinyl on 12 December. The rock ‘n’ roll songs featured on side one, with Ono’s songs taking up the second half. A 1970 calendar was also included with initial pressings, with stapled, wire spiral or plastic comb bindings.
The album failed to chart in the UK, although it reached number 10 in the US and was certified gold.
We tried to put it out on Capitol, and Capitol didn’t want to put it out. They said, ‘This is garbage, we’re not going to put it out with her screaming on one side and you doing this sort of live stuff.’ And they just refused to put it out. But we finally persuaded them that, you know, people might buy this. Of course, it went gold the next day.
And then, the funny thing was – this is a side story – Klein had got a deal on that record that it was a John and Yoko Plastic Ono record, not a Beatles record, so we could get a higher royalty, because The Beatles’ royalties were so low – they’d been locked in ’63 – and Capitol said, ‘Sure you can have it,’ you know. Nobody’s going to buy that crap. They just threw it away and gave it us. And it came out, and it was fairly successful and it went gold. I don’t know what chart position, but I’ve got a gold record somewhere that says… And four years later, we go to collect the royalties, and you know what they say? ‘This is a Beatle record.’ So Capitol have it in my file under Beatle records. Isn’t it incredible?