Saturday, 29 January 2011

Everybody's Talkin' 'Bout...

Regular WWR followers will know that I am a huge Beatles fan, and probably also know that John Lennon is my all-time musical hero. There are other bands and musicians – Andy Partridge of XTC, David Gedge of the Wedding Present, Peter Buck of REM and dozens more – that have been (and still are) massively important and influential, but truth be known if my house was burning down and I could only save one CD it would probably be more likely to be John Lennon Plastic Ono Band than Apple Venus Volume One, Seamonsters or Up.

But I’m not blind to the fact that there are some horrendous tracks in the Beatles’ sacred canon (Maxwell’s Silver Hammer being an obvious example), just as I am not so blind as I cannot see that Mind Games is a pretty shitty album: okay, so it’s got a couple of decent tracks, but seriously, Mind Games is the nadir of John’s solo output.

Anyway, this preamble is my way of introducing you to the fact that today I bring you not one, not two but three terrible cover versions of one of John Lennon’s most iconic compositions: Give Peace a Chance.

A true classic, the modern-day We Shall Overcome, Give Peace a Chance was John’s first solo single, recorded on his extended honeymoon in 1969 and reaching number 2 in Britain and number 14 in the US. None of the three versions I present for you today troubled the charts in any country (unless you know better that is).

First up we have Mitch Miller and the Gang’s recording, released as the closing track of their 1970 Atlantic album Mitch Miller and the Gang Peace Sing-Along. One of the most influential figures in American popular music during the 50s and 60s, Miller was head of A&R at Columbia Records, a best-selling recording artist and had a popular NBC television series to boot, but his sanitised version of Lennon’s counter-culture hit is as bland as they come.

Next it’s Louis Armstrong – yes, Louis Armstrong – with his perverse rendition. I really don’t know what to make of this one at all; it’s just bizarre. Released on his 1970 album of pop covers Louis Armstrong and Friends, this recording was actually released as a posthumous UK A-side (on Phillips in 1971) with a re-recording his huge hit What a Wonderful World on the flip.

What’s interesting about these two versions is that they both make the same mistake in the lyrics, replacing the phrase ‘ism, ism, ism’ at the end of the first verse with ‘isn’t it the most’ and the word ‘masturbation’ with ‘mastication’. This happened because that’s the way the lyrics appeared in the original sheet music, having – in the first instance - been transcribed incorrectly. Lennon himself admitted that he altered masturbation for the less offensive word to try and get it past the censors. The Mitch Miller version has several howlingly bad lyrical transpositions, my favourite being when Mitch sings ‘rabbits’ instead of ‘rabbis’. Lay it in there, man!

Finally, for now at least, is the Hot Chocolate Band’s take on Give Peace a Chance. Released on the Beatles’ own Apple Records in 1969 (Apple 18), it’s abominable; a cod-reggae mess with stupid lyrics and idiotic, fake-patois vocals. Who could have guessed that with a slight name change the group (as Hot Chocolate) would go on to score at least one chart single every year in the UK between 1970 and 1984 and make some of the best-loved pop singles of all time?

Anyway, have a great weekend, and I hope you all enjoy. And by the way, the records might be awful but the sentiment is still as valid today as it was in 1969.


  1. It was a pretty dreadful song, no matter who sang it. Armstrong's version is passable, the other two are indeed dreck

  2. 1/30/11 wrote:
    First off, it is certainly hillarious that the late Mitch Miller, of all people would dare to issue an album of folk-protest songs with a peace concept behind it all, since he hated this kind of music all through his career at Columbia Records. That hasn't stopped him from issuing rock/R&B-influenced recordings on the Columbia/Epic/Okeh labels all through his 1950-1963 A&R period. He knew they made money, & despite his complaints of the songs influencing behavior as he put it, of juvinille delinquincy in teenagers, he cashed in any way he could to please the under-30 crowd of Columbia Record buyers, and he did had Louis Armstrong at Columbia for a spell 1954-1958 which he supervised some of the sessions, so maybe there was a trend of some sort of two performers past the age of 55 (Miller was 59 in 1970, Armstrong was either 69 or 67, depending on what biography you read; Many agree that he was born in 1901, others, however still think he was born in 1899 or 1900)It does remain bizarre that Ahmet Ertegun at Atlantic Records chose the decision to issue this "Peace Sing Along" album, since he was a competing R&B/rock label owner of Miller's at Atlantic/Atco, which Miller supposedly detested, though he had a few pop/jazz acts (Chris Connors,Betty Johnson, Herbie Mann)himself at Atlantic Records. Maybe Ertegun & Miller had a secret mutual agreement with each other around the time of this album's release, when Miller was struggling & bouncing from label to label after his enormous Columbia Records career was over in 1963, & decided to bury the hatchet about being competing label bosses, and let Miller try to go contemporary with the younger record buyers. this idea would've worked perhaps if Miller signed with MGM Records, where he would have far more enthustiastic support from arch-conservative label boss Mike Curb, who reportedly modeled his Mike Curb Congregation after Miller's old Sing-Along Gang of the 1950's for a 1970's audience. Even if it did happen, either way ,it wouldn't work with the then-modern hippie audience, who considered both Miller & Curb as anatamenia to their ears. It wouldn't have made a difference about covering John Lennon, because the age gaps between Miller's audience & 1970'as teen audience was way to wide to be accepted as a successful idea, so the album bombed as a result, & Miller never attempted to issue anymore new material since, relying on his past success for the over-45 crowd who remember his sing-along songs in re-issued form on Columbia Records. The Hot Chocolate Band's version was a different matter, as John Lennon personaly involved himself with this project, & personaly Approved of their version of "Give Peace a Chance" enough to see an Apple Records release, but then again John always had an appreciation for bizarre/macrabe/advant-garde humor (being married to Yoko may have expanded this behavior, but then again, John was always cocky & rebellious long before he even met Yoko)enough to see a private release of weirdo one-man-band performer Brute Force AKA Stephen Friedman's 1969 issue of "King Of Fuh"(with George Harrison's co-approval, and only about 400-500 pressed in England for friends & families of Apple Records to recieve a copy of this most valuable & sought-after Apple record ever.), so there you have it...John was cocky enogh to issue anything if he saw fit to approve of it, even if it was stupid or bizarre. Maybe in the future, you'll include "King Of Fuh" in your blog.

  3. 1/30/11 wrote:
    The cheapest way to get both "Give Peace a Chance" by The Hot Chocolate Band & "King Of Fuh" by Brute Force is to seek a copy of the 2010 Capitol/Apple release "Come & Get It?The Best Of Apple Records" featuring acts issued on the Apple Label from 1968-1972 not including songs by The Beatles or any of their solo recordings, but tracks by Badfinger, Billy Preston, Mary Hopkin, etc."King Of Fuh" particular is a must for Apple fans in the US, since this single was only privately pressed in England in 1969, and absolutely nowhere else until the release of this CD.

  4. 1/31/11 wrote:
    Sorry if I badly mis-spelled the word "anathema",it was a typo caused by typing the keyboard too fast. Also, I always thought the worst John Lennon albums were his 4 cavalcades of noise pollution he did with Yoko (Two Virgins, Life With the Lions, The Wedding Album, & Sometime In New york City). "Mind Games" does indeed have some filler (really, what was the purpose of the 3-second "Nutopian National Anthemn" has to do with anyone's exsistence besides being a private April Fool's joke between John, Yoko, & the United Nations had to me to have been mildly perverse,though it's not as time wasting as "Two Minutes Silence" on the "Life With The Lions" album),though it has some standout tracks (The titls song, Tight A$, Freeda People,Intuition, You Are Here & Meat City to me makes the album worthwhile.)The other tracks can be dismissed at anyone else's opinion.

  5. Hi Rob,

    thanks for the comments. I dismissed the earlier Lennon albums you mention for the simple reason that they were not 'solo' albums in the true sense of the word. I have to admit that I quite like some of John and Yoko's avant garde nonsense: I'll even admit to liking Revolution 9 and rating it higher than, say Obladi-Oblada, Maxwell's Silver Hammer or Hello Goodbye. By the way, how in God's name did that record get to number one? The music is fine, but the lyrics are excrable.

    You're right, of course about John's involvement with the Hot Chocolate band's versiuon of Give Peace a Chance, but this only came about because, as the group wanted to adapt his song so radically, they had to go seek his permission. I wonder if he'd have given two figs if he hadn't been presented by the group and their demo on a plate.

    Come and Get It: the Best of Apple is a fine primer and it's great to have a hi-fidelity version of King of Fuh finally, but it could have been so much better, don't you think? I bought the Apple box set, but there's tons of stuff missing and there's a lot of the filler on Come and Get It (why, for example, Govinda rather than Hare Krishna Mantra - a bigger hit and more fondly remembered?; where is the Ivey's album, included in the first reissues back in '92 but now gone; where are the other Mary Hopkin tracks that appeared on 45 but not on album?)


  6. 1/31/11 wrote:
    Lots Of good questions you have there. As far as I know, anyone who was a tremendous or fanatical Beatles fan woul've bought anything with their name on it & the D-J's at the time were more than happy to give "Hello Goodbye" tons of airplay in 1967, but how do you figure this one out: In England, "Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane" only made it to #2 on their charts at the time, only to be blocked out from the #1 position by Englebert Humperdinck's "Release Me". Mind boggling, isn't it? Also, Capitol Records in America did finally issue "Obla Di, Obla-Da" as a single in 1976! It didn't chart as high as their re-issue of "Got To Get You Into My Life", but it still made the Top 70, so go figure. As far as that Badfinger/Iveys LP goes, America never recieved a US release , not even back in 1968! "Maybe Tomorrow" was a flop over here in the States, so Apple just simply never bothered with fickle US audiences, just issuing the LP in Japan, India, & Europe. of course, Apple Collectors salivate when they find a rare copy of this imported LP, so Capitol Records better get on the ball in my opinion, & re-issue that Iveys LP on CD or download sharing, because. believe me, Apple Records fans are getting impatient with EMI's reording rights policies, for they had to wait nearly eight years back in the 1980's for the original Beatles' CD's, & then had to withstand a full near 15 years for an Apple/Capitol box, much less any re-issue of Beatles' LP's in Mono for CD release.(hearing "Sgt. Pepper's", "Magical Mystery Tour", & "The White Album" alone in mono was worth the long duration, they ARE radically mixed differently from the stereo counterparts.)A Mary Hopkin collection is probaly due in 2012-2013 by Capitol/Apple IF the demand for it is proposing. Of course, Apple fans can hardly wait. There's just something peculiar about Apple/EMI-England's policies about recording royalties to Paul & Ringo & their lawyers (I always called it just pure rock star greed, nothing less.)

  7. 2/1/11 wrote:
    Some corrections I had to made about "King Of Fuh": The artist's real identity was Stephen Friedland, not Freidman. Apple Records did not issue the record commercially, but apparently they pressed up more copies than I envisioned. As Apple Single Release #8 in England only, they pressed around 2000 copies rather than the original 400-500 that I guessed. That's quite a fairly large number of copies for a then-unreleased single; Apple must have stored a lot of unsold copies in their warehouse for a few years until Apple collectors started noticing. This estimated number of copies was recently discovered by myself in a Stephen Freidman blog, who at age 71 still performs as "Brute Force" occasionally, & even for a time had his own label (Brute Force Records, which re-issued his two hard-to-locate albums "Confections Of Love"(1966) & "Extratramphonious" (1969) on compact discs

  8. Nice work, thanks.

  9. I bet Hot Chocolate didn't play "Give Peace A Chance" during live shows when they were popular in the 70's and 80's!


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