Although often considered to be John Lennon’s first solo single, Give Peace A Chance was actually credited to the Plastic Ono Band, the conceptual group that would later become reality with a changing line-up.
I’ll show you the original picture of the Plastic Ono Band, which is actually four pieces of plastic. The Plastic Ono Band is a conceptual band. There is no Plastic Ono Band. It’s just an idea.
The first ad for the Plastic Ono Band consisted of a page out of the English telephone book – it happened to be the Joneses. I said to someone, ‘Get me a page from the book,’ and I was handed the Joneses. The ad had the page from the telephone book and said, ‘You are the Plastic Ono Band.’ So we are the Plastic Ono Band, and the audience is the Plastic Ono Band. There is no Plastic Ono Band. People write in and say, ‘Do you need a guitarist for the Plastic Ono Band?’ No, there is no Plastic Ono Band like there is a Beatles or another group. That’s why there’s never the same musicians twice.
So there was this press opening for the first Plastic Ono single, which was Cold Turkey or Give Peace A Chance. There were these tape recorders in these plastic things. We were in a car accident and in the hospital when the press opening of the song was set, so we couldn’t be there. Instead, we sent the Plastic Ono Band, which was just these machines that played records. The press took pictures and they all discussed the Plastic Ono Band. There were the usual questions: ‘What does it mean?’ and especially, ‘How dare they?’ But it was in the papers nonetheless. It got across. And that’s the Plastic Ono Band. You’re in it. Everybody’s in it.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
The press launch for the Plastic Ono Band took place on 3 July at Chelsea Town Hall, London. As Lennon and Ono were recovering from their car crash in Scotland their places were taken by Ringo Starr and his wife Maureen.
Give Peace A Chance was co-credited to Paul McCartney, although he played no part in its creation. It was partly by way of thanks for his help in recording The Ballad Of John And Yoko in April 1969. In later years, however, Lennon alone received a compositional credit.
I didn’t write it with Paul; but again, out of guilt, we always had that thing that our names would go on songs even if we didn’t write them. It was never a legal deal between Paul and me, just an agreement when we were fifteen or sixteen to put both our names on our songs. I’d put his name on Give Peace A Chance though he had nothing to do with it. It was a silly thing to do, actually. It should have been Lennon-Ono.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
In later years McCartney added the song to his live set as part of a tribute to John Lennon. It was also frequently performed by Ringo Starr after Lennon’s death.
Lennon performed Give Peace A Chance with the Plastic Ono Band at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival Festival on 13 September 1969. He introduced the song with the words “This is what we came for, really”. Lennon confessed he couldn’t remember the words, so largely ad-libbed during the verses. The version was released in December that year on the album Live Peace In Toronto 1969.
Give Peace A Chance quickly became a peace anthem. On 15 October 1969 it was sung by half a million demonstrators in Washington, DC at the Vietnam Moratorium Day, in a rendition led by folk singer Pete Seeger.
That’s what it was for. I think I heard… I don’t know, I just remember hearing them all singing. I don’t know whether it was on the radio or TV, but that was a very big moment for me. That’s what the song was about, because I’m shy and aggressive. So I have great hopes for what I do, my work. And I also have great despair that it’s all pointless and shit – how can you top Beethoven or Shakespeare or whatever. And 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. So the songs that they go and sing on their buses are not just love songs. I have the same kind of hope for Working Class Hero, but I know it’s a different concept. I think it’s a revolutionary song – it’s really just revolutionary. I just think its concept is revolutionary. I hope it’s for workers and not for tarts and fags. I hope it’s about what Give Peace A Chance was about.
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner
A concert version of Give Peace A Chance was included on Lennon’s Live In New York City album, recorded at New York’s Madison Square Garden in 1972 and released in 1986. Two concerts, matinée and evening, took place on 30 August 1972, billed as the One To One concerts with funds raised for mentally handicapped children. Give Peace A Chance was the final song performed at the second concert.
Give Peace A Chance was released in the UK on 4 July 1969 as Apple 13. It peaked at number two on the singles chart, being held off the top by The Rolling Stones’ Honky Tonk Women.
In the US the single was released on 7 July as Apple 1809. Its highest chart placing on the Billboard Hot 100 was number 14.
A snippet of the Montreal recording of Give Peace A Chance was included on the 1975 compilation Shaved Fish, along with a similarly brief live version featuring Stevie Wonder, recorded at the One To One benefit concert in 1972. It had its first full-length album release on The John Lennon Collection in 1982.