Today marks 36 years since John Lennon was murdered in New York City. As a member of the Beatles, as a solo artist and as an activist, Lennon left an indelible mark on music and culture. His assassination stunned millions of people around the world, and his lifelong commitment to the ’60s ideals of peace and love made the violent nature of his death all the more shocking.
It’s often said that game recognizes game, and that imitation is the highest form of flattery. A man who considered his own band to be bigger than Jesus probably did alright in the flattery department, but Lennon got a bit more of it in 1970 when Louis Armstrong, a bonafide music pioneer in his own right, covered his Plastic Ono Band hit “Give Peace a Chance.”
Brett Milano wrote this about the cover for OffBeat in 2013:
Armstrong was famously the first artist to knock the Beatles out of Number One in 1964 with “Hello, Dolly!,” so it’s surprising that he waited until 1970 to record a Beatles-related song—and downright bizarre that he chose this one, originally recorded in bed by John Lennon with the Plastic Ono Band. But no, he didn’t have to navigate Lennon’s rambling, name-dropping verses: The background singers did that (more or less), leaving Louis to sing a chorus that he likely endorsed. The biggest surprise, though, is that the musical style here is pure funk—it hails from his next-to-last album, Louis Armstrong & His Friends, a clear attempt to contemporize his sound (the friends on different tracks included Ornette Coleman and Miles Davis). Really makes you wonder where he might have gone if he’d lived further into the ’70s.
In honor of John Lennon, here’s Armstrong’s rendition of “Give Peace a Chance,” a tune that is as relevant today as it was in 1969.