The story of how Petula Clark ended up singing on John Lennon's 'Give Peace a Chance' by mistake

5 August 2021, 10:43 | Updated: 15 January 2024, 11:10

Petula Clark and John and Yoko
Petula Clark and John and Yoko. Picture: Getty

By Mayer Nissim

John and Yoko, Timmy Leary, Rosemary, Tommy Smothers, Bobby Dylan, Tommy Cooper... Petula Clark?!?

Although it was credited to Lennon-McCartney and released while The Beatles were still going, 'Give Peace A Chance' was John Lennon's first solo single.

Released under The Plastic Ono Band banner in July 1969, the rush-recorded single got to number 14 on the US Billboard 100 and as high as number 2 in the UK singles charts.

Lennon wrote the track during his 'Bed-In' with Yoko Ono at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, with the song growing out of the phrase "just give peace a chance" he kept repeating during interviews.

GIVE PEACE A CHANCE. (Ultimate Mix, 2020) - Plastic Ono Band (official music video HD)

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On June 1, 1969, local recording studio owner André Perry rocked up with a few microphones and a tape recorder, and the rest is history.

But how did 'Dowtown' singer Petula Clark of all people end up singing backing vocals on the song?

Clark has told The Times that she was having a tough time touring in Montreal, and on hearing that John and Yoko were in town decided to drop by for a visit, getting caught in a downpour on the way.

Petula Clark in 1965
Petula Clark in 1965. Picture: Getty

QUIZ: How well do you know John Lennon's lyrics?

"John Lennon looks at me and says, 'Is that you, Petula? Come in.', she said.

"He was lovely. I told him the whole sad story and he was very funny about it."

She added that she joined in with the other hotel room guests who were singing a "simple little tune", adding: "And it was all being recorded, I didn't know."

If you can't quite make out Pet's distinctive voice on the record, don't worry, as she admits that she was "lost in the mix", which isn't too much of a surprise given the lo-fi nature of the recording.

Counterculture icon Timothy Leary also has a backing vocals credit on the song, while other famous types in attendance were Allen Ginsberg, Rosemary Woodruff, Dick Gregory, Murray the K, Rabbi Abraham Feinberg, Joseph Schwartz, Roger Scott, Derek Taylor and Tommy Smothers.

Petula Clark Downtown. original version

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So why was Petula having such a tough time in Canada? Apparently her decision to sing in both French and English managed to rile both English-speakers and Francophones.

So how did Pet know what to sing with John and Yoko, then? Well, she previously told the Montreal Gazette: "They were passing around these sheets with lyrics, and we all started singing.

"Everything was being recorded. I am on that record. I can't hear my voice, but I'm there."

And despite the likes of Leary and Ginsberg in attendance, Petula previously told The Guardian that there were absolutely "no drugs" being consumed at the Queen Elizabeth during the recording.

Give Peace A Chance (demo) - John & Yoko, Sheraton Oceanus Hotel, 1969 (5K Music Video)

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"They were both still in their nighties," she said about coming face-to-face with John and Yoko.

"I sat there, dripping water all over their bed, and told them the story. He said, 'Oh, f**k 'em'. I said, 'Thank you, John'. He was so funny and very philosophical.

"We had a chat about the situation. Did it really matter? 'This too shall pass'. That sort of stuff. Then he said, 'I'Il tell you what – you need a drink'. Which was very true."