Happy Xmas John Lennon

In memory of Lennon’s life, in celebration of his masterful music and in hope of his vision for peace…

The Plastic Ono Band’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over) – both a classic protest song and yearly Christmas favorite – was released on December 6, 1971, just weeks after “Imagine” had peaked on the charts.  The seed for this seasonal chestnut was John and Yoko’s “War is Over” billboard campaign two years before: on December 15, 1969 the couple posted billboards reading “WAR IS OVER! IF YOU WANT IT Happy Christmas from John and Yoko” in 11 cities – New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Rome, Athens, Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris, London, Tokyo and Hong Kong. (Download multilingual posters: http://bit.ly/WARISOVER Add WAR IS OVER! pics: http://bit.ly/WIOadd View WAR IS OVER! pics: http://bit.ly/WIOshow).

Just as those signs were conceived to “advertise” peace with a fusion of protest and pop-art (or as John famously tagged his 1969 efforts, “gimmicks and salesmanship”), the song can be heard as John and Yoko’s commercial jingle for world harmony.  It’s melody is a variation of a folk standard (“Stewball”) and it’s counterpoint hook – poignantly delivered by children from the Harlem Community Choir – was purposely simple: the same three, short words that were massively printed on the billboards (“WAR IS OVER”), followed by the same eleven-letter catch (“if you want it”).  To get a “wall of sound” that was the musical equivalent of those billboards, John and Yoko enlisted Phil Spector to co-produce with them.  Phil probably had more experience producing contemporary Christmas pop than anyone at that time and of all his controversial work with The Beatles, and then ex-Beatles, his production approach perhaps never fit better than on this Christmas classic.  It’s like “We Shall Overcome” (another song that latches simple words to a borrowed tune) meets Coca-Cola’s famed “I’d Like to Buy The World A Coke” jingle, meets the children’s vocals on A Charlie Brown Christmas…                      …meets the Ronnette’s “Sleighride”…

Nicky Hopkins – who had previously played that righteous electric piano on The Beatles’ “Revolution” and various keyboard parts on John’s Imagine LP (not to mention pivotal performances with The Kinks, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Jeff Beck Group, Jefferson Airplane and many others) – layered chimes, keyboards and glockenspiel on top of four players worth of overdubbed guitar and bass parts.  Waltzing underneath that massive texture was the drumming and sleighbell jingling of Jim Keltner (John and George Harrison’s surrogate Ringo – in fact, he played on Ringo’s records too).  Add to this John’s echo-drenched lead vocals, Yoko’s unmistakable harmonies and a children’s choir (long before such a tactic had become a dreaded cliché* and the sum built from whispers to a climax that sounded as large as the “WAR IS OVER” lettering on the billboards had looked.        (*for the record, the Stone’s “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” used an adult choir).

And on that note, the Sounds of the Season Contest continues today with these two songs…

Can you name these tunes and the artists performing them?

That was the past three days contest songs – here’s today’s:

Hear John discuss the War is Over campaign and other rockers thoughts on Christmas in this video:

Everyday this December a video with two seasonal songs is being uploaded at http://www.youtube.com/user/psychexfutureheart

It’s The Future Heart

Songs of the Season


If you know the songs and performers, or care to take a guess,
submit answers in the comment section below.

Follow http://twitter.com/FutureHeartDay for hints…

    … and listen/ submit for previous day’s contests here.

Name more tunes here, herehere and here – or listen to the Psych Explorations of the Future Heart Christmas playlist: 10 hours of the coolest seasonal music, including all the contest songs and hundreds others – click here.

Don’t be surprised if you hear holiday music by The Flaming Lips, MGMT, Pink Floyd, Radiohead, The Who, The White Stripes, Miles Davis, Beck, Bjork, Jimi Hendrix, The Polyphonic Spree, The Kinks, Belle and Sebastian, Louis Armstrong, Tom Waits, Mogwai, The Sonics, Teenage Fanclub, Low, T-Rex, Dar Williams, Badly Drawn Boy, The Vandals, Skip Spence, Sufjan Stevens…

…you never know, it is Christmas!

For Christmas contest hints, songs of the day, music news, Lennon updates, Flaming Lips quotes and more…

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