Give Peace A Chance, the first solo hit to be written by an individual Beatle before the band dissolved, has been described by Mark Lewisohn as: The world's most endurable peace anthem and slogan... This song held particular significance for John Lennon himself, according to Paul Du Noyer some years after writing this anthem in an interview Lennon revealed: In my secret heart I wanted to write something that would take over 'We Shall Overcome'.... He also commented that he liked the song "....for what it was..." and that he was "...always proud of it..." When his song was taken up by almost half a million anti-Vietnam protestors outside the White House in November 1969, Lennon, who'd watched the event on TV at home in England confessed that he considered it to be "..one of the biggest moments of my life..."
The recording of Give Peace A Chance represented the climax and highlight of the Montreal Bed-In for Peace. The newly married Lennnons had been keen to build on the phenomenal success of their honeymoon Bed-In at the Amsterdam Hilton two months earlier, by holding a second Bed-In event in New York city. They were however denied access to the States due to John's earlier drug conviction in 1968 so opted instead to use Montreal, Canada due to its close proximity to the US border, as a base for bringing their peace campaign to North America. The Bed-In lasted eight days and throughout that time the couple, accompanied by Kyoko, Yoko's five-year-old daughter from her previous marriage, sat up in bed in their nightclothes and opened their doors to the worlds' media speaking to as many radio and tv journalists and political figures as they could. Peter Doggett in his biography of Lennon states ...Lennon unveiled the basic chorus, with its simple message - "All we are saying is give peace a chance" - during an interview in Toronto on May 25, then, throughout the week, during breaks between interviews in his Montreal hotel suite, John jotted down ideas he had for his peace anthem and planned the recording.
On 31 May John ordered recording equipment to be delivered to his room, then sometime after midnight in the early hours of June 1, by which time the room was filled with around 50 friends and supporters sound engineers and a camera crew, the recording began. John led the chant supported by a chorus which included Timothy Leary, comedian Tommy Smothers, British singer Petula Clark, US beat poet Allen Ginsberg, British DJ Roger Scott, Beatles' press officer Derek Taylor, several members of the Canadian Radha Krishna Temple and Rabbi Geinburg. As Doggett observes: ..As a piece of instant art, it was - as Lennon's final comment had it - "beautiful".
The story behind Gail Renard's acquisition of these lyrics is fascinating. A plucky sixteen year old student living in Montreal at the time of the Bed-In, she had not dreamt that she would meet John and Yoko in person. Gail and a fellow student at University in Montreal, armed with a university press card, and a cuddly toy for Yoko's little daughter Kyoko, sneaked into the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal on 26 May, the evening of the Lennon's arrival. Climbing down the hotel's fire escape from the floor above the Lennon's suite, they waited for the brief moment when the security guards outside Suite 1742 changed shifts, then knocked on the door and asked for an interview for the university magazine. As they had managed to arrive before the rest of the press they were lucky. Yoko answered the door with her daughter Kyoko who was immediately charmed by the students' gift for her and they were invited in. They quickly made themselves useful, running errands, answering the telephone, playing with Kyoko and being generally helpful. John and Gail shared a similar sense of humour and got on very well. Lennon asked Gail if she wanted to conduct a radio interview with him. As there was a three hour delay before the broadcast, they had a long chat and got to know each other. The interview went well and John asked Gail to return the next day, this she was permitted to do once John had been grilled by her mother on the telephone and given his word that he would look after Mrs Renard's innocent daughter. Gail then became part of the Montreal Bed-In entourage, staying for the entire week in the Lennon's suite, only returning home at night. She struck up a life-long friendship with Lennon and during that time John gave Gail a few mementos including this set of lyrics, which he'd asked her to transcribe, telling her "One day they'll be worth something...".
In a final act of generosity that week, Lennon effectively launched Gail's early career as a writer, by calling the editor of The Beatles Monthly Magazine in London from his Montreal suite and informing him that he wanted them to publish a review of the Bed-In which Gail was going to send them. This they did and Gail's article Eight days in Montreal with John and Yoko was published in their September 1969 issue. Gail, who subsequently went on to become a successful comedy writer and presenter, is quick to acknowledge her debt to Lennon. She recalls that before the Bed-In her quiet life in Montreal had seemed to be monochrome, after meeting Lennon it was as though her world had been transported into bright and vibrant Technicolour. In a recent interview published in The Times Gail commented that by believing in her and in effect becoming her mentor, Lennon changed her entire outlook on life "...Thanks to John...I became braver. It made me think you can change the world, or at least your bit of it, and you should always try to.."