Remember When: John Lennon Recorded His Solo Debut “Give Peace a Chance” During a Bed-In Sing-Along with Yoko Ono, Featuring Tom Smothers

A week into their marriage in Gibraltar, Spain, John Lennon and Yoko Ono invited the press into their honeymoon suite at the Hilton Hotel in Amsterdam in March 1969. To drive home their opposition to the Vietnam War, Lennon and Ono vowed to stay in bed for an entire week. Their bed-in-for-peace drew attention and was replicated by the couple several months later in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

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Move to Montreal

On May 26, 1969, Lennon and Ono followed up first bed-in-for-peace with another in room 1742—and adjoining rooms 1738, 1740, and 1744—at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal. The gathering was also used as a live recording of Lennon’s debut solo single and protest song, “Give Peace a Chance.”

“Our talk is peace talk and our message is peace and we’re promoting a product called peace,” Lennon told the Montreal Gazette. “And we’ve been on a campaign for a few months and our product seems to be getting underway and we’re talking to anybody who’s interested in peace, which is most people.”

Ono added, “The Blue Meanies, the ones that are selling evil, poisonous stuff, violence … are advertising as much as possible, so if we are going to sell peace, we have to at least push it as much as they are doing. Peace talk has got to be just as loud as Marilyn Monroe, or whatever.”

[RELATED: The Story Behind How Tom Smothers Ended Up in John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Bed-In for “Give Peace a Chance”]

Inside the crowded suite, the couple’s friend Australian author and broadcaster Ritchie Yorke—who also advised them to take their next bed-in to Montreal—remembered the scene inside the the Fairmont room vividly. “John and Yoko sat peacefully holding hands,” recalled Yorke, “surrounded by white carnations, record players, film equipment, empty glasses, and busy phones.”

Guests of Honor

Along with Ono’s 5-year-old daughter Kyoko, from her previous marriage to film producer Anthony Cox, the couple entertained a roomful of guests including Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, psychologist Timothy Leary, British singer Petula Clark, cartoonist Al Capp, Quebec separatist Jacques Larue-Langlois, black civil rights activist, and comedian Dick Gregory, a rabbi, Hare Krishnas, and any other fans or onlookers who managed to slip past security and make their way up to the 17th floor.

Some of the bed-in guests and other personalities were also mentioned in Lennon’s lyrics:

Everybody’s talking about
John and Yoko, Timmy Leary, Rosemary
Tommy Smothers, Bobby Dylan, Tommy Cooper
Derek Taylor, Norman Mailer, Allen Ginsberg, Hare Krishna

Also in attendance, sitting to Lennon’s right on guitar was another friend, Tommy Smothers of the Smothers Brothers. Lennon and Smothers had become friends years earlier and shared similar social and political views. In 1968, the Beatles also premiered their music film Revolution on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

“Just play it the way I wrote it, Tommy,” Smothers recalled Lennon saying to him. “If I wanted you to play it another way I would have written it like that.”

The Smothers-Beatles Connect

Smothers, who died on December 26, 2023, at age 86, naturally connected to the anti-war sentiment of Lennon’s protest song since his father was a U.S. Army officer who died in 1945 as a prisoner of war in Japan. Tommy, along with his brother Dick, never shied from approaching socio-political issues on their variety show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, including their views on civil rights and opposition to the Vietnam War. After being repeatedly censored by CBS, their show was eventually canceled after two years on the air.

When the Smothers Brothers first started getting censored, members of the Beatles stepped in to show their support for the duo. In one episode, George Harrison made a special appearance on the show.

Remembering the Bed-In

“I just still can’t believe I was there,” said Dave Bist, the rock columnist for The Gazette at the time. “It was such a remarkable experience. I think the word I used the most is ‘surreal.’ I went through this whole thing thinking, ‘Is this really happening?’”

Released as a standalone single with B-side, the Ono-penned “Remember Love,” in the U.S., “Give Peace a Chance” peaked at No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 and went to No. 2 in the UK in July of ’69. A year later, Lennon released his solo debut album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, which reached No. 6 on the Billboard 200.

Photo: Steve Morley/Redferns

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