Friday Night Music Byte
Live Peace in Toronto 1969 is a 1969 live album recorded by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, as the Plastic Ono Band, at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival festival. Featuring Eric Clapton on guitar (fresh from the breakup of Blind Faith), Klaus Voormann on bass and future Yes drummer Alan White (who a few months later would provide the drums on the percussion-driven Plastic Ono Band single, “Instant Karma!”) on drums, the line-up is filled out by Lennon on lead vocals and rhythm guitar and Ono on vocals. The album was credited to The Plastic Ono Band, a conceptual grouping that included Lennon and Ono and whoever happened to be backing them up at that particular moment. Both Lennon and Ono would use the nomenclature for several of their future solo albums.
The album is technically a soundtrack recording, being part of the audio portion of D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary movie Sweet Toronto. Lennon and Ono made a deal with Pennebaker to license their portion of the show for record, in exchange for rights to include their appearance. Unfortunately the deal fell through, with Lennon and Ono changing their minds about the inclusion (Lennon had been ill the day of the concert, and it showed on camera), and the movie was never originally released. (Showtime ultimately presented the performance during the 1980s, and the full movie appeared later on home video and DVD.)
As initially released on LP and later cassette tape, 8-track and on video cassette, side one of Live Peace in Toronto 1969 comprised John’s set, which included his two Plastic Ono Band singles for the year, “Give Peace A Chance” and a preview of the yet-to-be released at the time of the show “Cold Turkey;” “Yer Blues” from the The Beatles; and some favoured covers of 1950s rock and roll. Side two comprised Yoko’s set, including the b-side to “Cold Turkey,” “Don’t Worry Kyoko,” and featuring her trademark freeform stage act, which was not quite as well received as Lennon’s performance. The album ends with Lennon, Clapton, and Voorman leaning their guitars against the amplifiers to create a sustained roar of solid feedback, while Yoko continues screaming as the rest of the band leaves the stage.
Unlike many Lennon and Beatles albums, the individual guitars are clearly distinguishable in the stereo mix, with Lennon’s toward the left channel and Clapton’s toward the right. Also, the movie mix of the soundtrack offers stronger vocals by Ono during “Yer Blues”, and Clapton during “Give Peace A Chance”. On the contrary, Lennon’s guitar is hardly audible on the movie.
Admitting he could not remember the recorded lyrics (“I’ve forgotton all those bits in between, but I know the chorus”), Lennon improvised words to “Give Peace A Chance”:
- Everybody’s talkin’ about
- John And Yoko, Eric Clapton, Klaus Voormann,
- Penny Lane, Roosevelt, Nixon,
- Tommy Jones and Tommy Cooper and Somebody!.
Live Peace in Toronto 1969, though not making the British charts, was a US hit album, reaching #10 and going gold. The original LP came with a thirteen-month 1970 calendar. Tape versions of the album included a mail-in coupon for the calendar.
The album was released to quash any bootleg versions that Lennon was sure would leak onto the market. EMI was reluctant at first to issue the album, after two commercial failures in a row (Unfinished Music No.2: Life with the Lions and Wedding Album) from Lennon and Ono. (Their first effort, Two Virgins, was distributed by Track Records, and had also failed commercially.) The album’s success came as a pleasant surprise, changing EMI’s perceptions.
The song “Cold Turkey” was released as a single in October 1969, and was John Lennon’s second solo single (“Give Peace a Chance” being the first). According to Peter Brown in his book The Love You Make, the song was written in a “creative outburst” following Lennon and Ono going “cold turkey” from their brief heroin addictions. Brown also states that Lennon presented the song to Paul McCartney as a potential single by The Beatles, but was refused and released it as a Plastic Ono Band single with sole writing credits to him.
“Cold Turkey” was the first song John Lennon wrote for which he took sole credit; his previous compositions, including his first single release, “Give Peace a Chance”, were attributed to the Lennon/McCartney partnership. (In the 1990s “Give Peace a Chance” was officially credited to Lennon as sole composer.)
In 1969 Lennon returned his MBE to Buckingham Palace saying “I am returning this MBE in protest against Britain’s involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam, and against Cold Turkey slipping down the charts. With love, John Lennon of Bag.”
John Lennon would perform this song, along with “Don’t Worry Kyoko”, live at the Lyceum Ballroom with George Harrison, Keith Moon, Eric Clapton, and others. This would be Lennon’s last live performance with any of the other Beatles and this version would be available on his Some Time in New York City album.
The song’s first appearance on a Lennon album was the 1975 compilation Shaved Fish.
In March 2005, Q magazine placed “Cold Turkey” at number 74 in its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks.