John Lennon | The Making Of "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)"
Interview with Andy Peebles for BBC Radio (6 December 1980)
John Winston Ono Lennon (born John Winston Lennon; 9 October 1940 -- 8 December 1980) was an English musician, singer and songwriter who rose to worldwide fame as a founder member of the Beatles, the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed band in the history of popular music. With Paul McCartney, he formed a songwriting partnership that is one of the most celebrated of the 20th century.
Born and raised in Liverpool, as a teenager Lennon became involved in the skiffle craze; his first band, the Quarrymen, evolved into the Beatles in 1960. When the group disbanded in 1970, Lennon embarked on a solo career that produced the critically acclaimed albums "John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band" and "Imagine", and iconic songs such as "Give Peace A Chance" and "Imagine". After his marriage to Yoko Ono in 1969, he changed his name to John Ono Lennon. Lennon disengaged himself from the music business in 1975 to raise his infant son Sean, but re-emerged with Ono in 1980 with the new album "Double Fantasy". He was murdered three weeks after its release.
Lennon revealed a rebellious nature and acerbic wit in his music, writing, drawings, on film and in interviews. Controversial through his political and peace activism, he moved to New York City in 1971, where his criticism of the Vietnam War resulted in a lengthy attempt by Richard Nixon's administration to deport him, while some of his songs were adopted as anthems by the anti-war movement.
As of 2012, Lennon's solo album sales in the United States exceed 14 million units, and as writer, co-writer or performer, he is responsible for 25 number-one singles on the US Hot 100 chart. In 2002, a BBC poll on the 100 Greatest Britons voted him eighth, and in 2008, Rolling Stone ranked him the fifth-greatest singer of all time. He was posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987 and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.
"Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" is a song written by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, released in 1971 as a single by John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir. It reached No. 4 in the UK, where its release was delayed until 1972, and has periodically reemerged on the UK Singles Chart, most notably after Lennon's death in 1980, at which point it peaked at No. 2. Originally a protest song about the Vietnam War, it has since become a Christmas standard.
"Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" was the culmination of more than two years of peace activism undertaken by John Lennon and Yoko Ono that began with the bed-ins they convened in March and May 1969. The song's direct antecedent was an international multimedia campaign launched by the couple in December 1969—at the height of the counterculture movement and its protests against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War—that primarily consisted of renting billboard space in 12 major cities around the world for the display of black-and-white posters that declared "WAR IS OVER! If You Want It -- Happy Christmas from John & Yoko".
Recognising the accessibility and popular appeal that made his 1971 single "Imagine" a commercial success compared to the other songs he had released up to that point, Lennon concluded, "Now I understand what you have to do: Put your political message across with a little honey." He conceived "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" as a means of elaborating upon the themes of social unity and peaceful change enacted through personal accountability and empowerment that served as the basis of the earlier billboard campaign, trying to convey optimism while avoiding the sentimentality that he felt often characterised music of the holiday season.
In early October 1971, with not much more than bare-bones melody and half-formed lyrics, Lennon recorded an acoustic guitar demo of "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" in his rooms at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City where he and Ono were living at the time. Ono would receive co-writing credit, but the actual extent of her contribution at this initial stage is unclear since she did not participate in the demo, which was atypical of their collaborations. As with his previous two albums, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and Imagine (released in the U.S. just several weeks prior), Lennon brought on Phil Spector to help produce. The first recording session was held the evening of Thursday, 28 October, at the Record Plant studio. After the session musicians—some of whom had performed at one time or another as members of the Plastic Ono Band—laid down the basic instrumental backing and overdub tracks, Lennon and Ono added the main vocals. One of the four guitarists needed to fill in for Klaus Voormann on the bass when his flight was delayed out of Germany. The Harlem Community Choir—featuring thirty children, most of them four to twelve years of age—came to the studio on the afternoon of Sunday, 31 October, to record backing vocals for the counter-melody and sing-along chorus.