John Lennon: vocals, acoustic guitar
Yoko Ono: vocals
Tommy Smothers: guitar
Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, Petula Clark, Rosemary Woodruff, Derek Taylor, Murray the K, Dick Gregory, Abraham Feinberg, others: vocals
Canadian chapter of Radha Krishna Temple: vocals, drums, finger cymbals
John Lennon’s first non-Beatles single, the anthemic ‘Give Peace A Chance’, was recorded on the penultimate day of his and Yoko Ono’s second bed-in for peace, in room 1742 of the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, Canada.
It wasn’t like ‘You have to have peace!’ Just give it a chance. We ain’t giving any gospel here – just saying how about this version for a change? We think we have the right to have a say in the future. And we think the future is made in your mind.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
Lennon and Ono had arrived in Toronto on 25 May hoping to begin their second bed-in for peace. The next day they checked in to La Hotel Reine Elizabeth in Montreal, where they stayed for a week.
During their stay they gave a succession of interviews to the world’s media, and received visits from dozens of friends and well-wishers.
Well, after being interviewed for weeks and weeks and weeks, night and day, with Yoko and me talking about peace from our beds, I had those words coming out of my mouth or Yoko’s – wherever the hell they came from – and it became a song.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
Lennon used the phrase “All we are saying is give peace a chance” during an interview on the first day of the bed-in. Over the next few days he worked up a melody and lyrics, and recorded the song during the final day of the event.
The song was intentionally simple, with two chords and a chorus which anyone could join in on. The verses, meanwhile, were largely nonsense, although the third verse contained the word ‘masturbation’; this was changed by Lennon to ‘mastication’ in the published lyrics, as Lennon wished to avoid courting controversy.
On the day of recording Lennon instructed Apple’s press officer Derek Taylor to arrange for recording equipment to be brought to the hotel suite. Taylor contacted a local studio owner, André Perry, who brought four microphones and a four-track recorder.
During the recording Lennon and Tommy Smothers of the Smothers Brothers played acoustic guitars. A wardrobe door was repeatedly opened and closed to provide a rhythm, and the various assembled guests sang during the choruses.
The first number of Lennon’s “2, 1, 2, 3, 4” count-in was left off the released version, as it was partially obscured by feedback. The entire recording was filmed, and released as two separate promotional films in the subsequent months.
‘Give Peace A Chance’ was captured in a single take, although a rehearsal prior to the recording was also taped. The rehearsal was later released on 1998’s John Lennon Anthology box set.
The performance featured a range of guests including LSD guru Timothy Leary and his wife Rosemary, the poet Allen Ginsberg, the singer Petula Clark, and the US radio DJ Murray the K. Also present were members of the Canadian branch of Radha Krishna Temple, who sang and played percussion.
Although Lennon was delighted with the recording of ‘Give Peace A Chance’, Perry worried that it had too much distortion. In the early hours of 2 June more vocals were overdubbed to improve the sound and make it suitable for release as a single.
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.
Another song, Yoko Ono’s ‘Remember Love’, was also recorded in room 1742, after the guests had left. The tape was then sent to England for mastering, and several weeks later it was issued as a single.