Monday, December 23, 2013

John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band | Happy Xmas [War is Over]

John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band
Happy Xmas [War is Over]
Italy/USA: Apple Records, 1971
7" single, 45 rpm
Edition size unknown

Forty-four years ago, in December of 1969, John Lennon and Yoko began an extensive poster and billboard campaign in twelve major cities: New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Rome, Athens, Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris, London, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Helsinki. The white with black text posters proclaimed "War is over! If you want it. Happy Christmas from John & Yoko". In Toronto, 30 roadside billboards were set up, as well as thousands of posters and handbills, often posted by volunteers sourced from local record stores.

Two years later, the couple revisited the statement as the basis for a Christmas song. The three and a half minute track was recorded in October 1971, at the Record Plant East, in New York City, by producer Phil Spector. Spector had previously worked with Lennon on the single Instant Karma, as well as his first two solo studio albums (Plastic Ono Band, and Imagine), and had also produced the quintessential classic Christmas record, A Christmas Gift For You.

The song begins with spoken greetings from Ono and Lennon to their children: Ono whispers, "Happy Christmas, Kyoko", then Lennon, "Happy Christmas, Julian". Lyric sheets often erroneously listed this as "Happy Christmas, Yoko" and "Happy Christmas, John." The song features a solo Lennon during the verses, and he is accompanied by Ono and the Harlem Community Choir—featuring thirty kids, between the ages of four and twelve— during the chorus and verse counter-melody.

The song is backed with Ono's Listen, the Snow is Falling, which was recorded with the same crew and musicians, on the day following the sessions for Happy Xmas.

Apple records released the single in December of 1971, but a legal dispute between music publisher Northern Songs and Lennon over royalties from Ono's co-writing credit delayed the release in the UK for almost a full year. The song was not initially a hit in the US and reached No. 4 in Britain. However, the song has reentered the charts another nine times, most notably following Lennon's death in December 1980. At that point it entered the charts at number two and remained in the top thirty for nine weeks.

It is now considered a Christmas classic, appearing on countless holiday compilations. It has been covered by Sarah McLachlan, Andy Williams, Neil Diamond, Diana Ross, Jimmy Buffett, Celine Dion, The Moody Blues, Darlene Love, Jessica Simpson, Damien Rice, The Alarm, Melissa Etheridge, and Boy George & Antony Hegarty.

Listen, the Snow Is Falling was covered by Galaxie 500 in 1990.

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