Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Happy Xmas (War Is Over)

Bet you thought I forgot about my Beatles-related Christmas song series, didn't you? Well I didn't.

Today's installment is going to feature and assortment of goodies (since the holindaze got a bit busy and I am behind).

First, an obvious one "Happy Christmas (War Is Over" by John Lennon and Yoko Ono

The song was released as a single by John and Yoko and the Plastic Ono Band in 1971. It peaked at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and at #2 on the UK charts.

The lyric is based on a campaign in late 1969 by Lennon and Ono, who rented billboards and posters in eleven cities around the world that read: "WAR IS OVER! (If You Want It) Happy Christmas from John and Yoko". The cities included New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Rome, Athens, Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris, London, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Helsinki. At the time of the song's release, the US was deeply entrenched in the unpopular Vietnam War. The line "War is over, if you want it, war is over, now!", as sung by the background vocals, was taken directly from the billboards.

The childrens choir in the background consisted of kids from the Harlem Community Choir and they are credited on the single.

This song has (rightly) become a holiday standard and has been covered by everyone from Celine Dion and Sarah McLachlan to Maroon 5, 'N Sync and Andy Williams (!) We even heard it as part of one of the Christmas shows at Busch Gardens Williamsburg's Christmas Town this year. That being said, it always bothers me a bit when people cover the song and leave the "War Is Over" portion of the lyrics out and replace them either with "ahhs" or instrumentals. Especially in times (as now) when the U.S. is engaged in 2 wars overseas. Still this is probably the best of the Beatles' solo Christmas songs and I am glad that others recognize that (even if they try to de-politicize it). I stand before you an unabashed peace-nik and think the song is better with its message intact.

On a much lighter note, here are 2 audio rarities. They feature tracks by Paul McCartney that only appeared as snippets on the Beatles Fan Club Christmas Records. They were originally released as flexi discs to members of the Beatles' UK fan club. Each year from 1963 to 1969, the Beatles had recorded a short Christmas message for their fans, composed of carols, skits, jokes, and thanks to the loyal "Beatle People".

Herewith, McCartney's contribution to the 1968 edition in its entirety:

It's basically an improvisation with guitar and for all that it is pretty catchy. Certainly not deep or anything or on a level with Lennon's 1971 Happy Xmas release but fun.

And here is McCartney's contribution to the 1969 edition (also the last Beatles Christmas Record made):

This is even MORE slight and improvisatory, but Paul's melodic talents make it worthwhile, I think.

More later this week ... !

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