Happy Holidays! Since it’s the first year of my blog, and since it’s the last year for my Annual Holiday Show on my little 20-year-old 80s radio program, STUCK IN THE 80s (on WMPG community radio in Portland, Maine), I wanted to present to you THE 31 DAYS OF 80s XMAS SONGS, or, 31 of my favorite 80s holiday musical treats.
It’s December 8th, 2016 here in Central Maine, and the 36th anniversary of the tragic death of John Lennon. So, I couldn’t think of any better choice for the song for Day 14 of the 31 DAYS OF 80s XMAS SONGS than “Happy Xmas (War Is Over).”
With incredible vocal help from the Harlem Community Choir, “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” was released as a single in December 1971 here in the U.S., and for the following Xmas in the U.K. (for some reason the release was delayed). It was not just a beautiful holiday song, it was also a song protesting the Vietnam War.
In the two years before the single was released, John and Yoko launched a “WAR IS OVER” campaign worldwide, and they even rented billboard space in a dozen big cities around the globe with similar posters.
Earlier in 1971, with people reacting more to John’s amazing single, “Imagine,” than his other solo work to that point, he realized, “Now I understand what you have to do: Put your political message across with a little honey.” He put together a holiday song without being overly sentimental like more traditional songs about the season, but also with a message of hope for peace.
When it was released here in the U.S. in 1971, “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” was not the success John and Yoko hoped it would be. Since it was released late, there wasn’t much airplay for the holiday season, and it wasn’t well promoted by Apple Records. When it was released in the U.K. the following Xmas, it reached No. 4 on the U.K. singles chart. Between December 1972 and early 1973, “Happy Xmas” would also reach the Top 10 in Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France, Holland, Ireland, Norway and Singapore.
On December 8, 1980, the day John Lennon was murdered outside of his New York City apartment, “(Just Like) Starting Over,” his first single in five years, and his biggest hit in six years, was inching its way up the Top 10 of the BILLBOARD Hot 100, ranking at No. 6 that week. Three weeks later (and two days after Xmas 1980), “Starting Over” spent its first of five weeks at No. 1. It was an amazing tribute to John.
Over in the U.K., the tribute to John was felt everywhere on the singles chart. On December 20, 1980, “Starting Over” spent a week at No. 1. On January 10, 1981, “Imagine” (which had previously charted at No. 6 in a 1975 release), spent four weeks at No. 1. “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” also returned to the chart, and was positioned behind “Imagine” at No. 2, a new peak position for that song.
Following the 4-week run at No. 1 on the U.K. singles chart for “Imagine,” “Starting Over” follow-up single, “Woman,” spent two weeks at No. 1. In March 1981, Roxy Music’s cover of John’s 1971 song, “Jealous Guy,” spent two weeks at No. 1.
“Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” would re-chart on the U.K. singles chart in 1981, 1982, 1988, 2003, 2007, 2008, and 2012. The appeal of “Happy Xmas” has been everlasting, and it’s been covered dozens of times over the years, including covers by The Alarm, Sarah McLachlan, Cocteau Twins, Cranes, Andy Williams, Neil Diamond, Diana Ross, The Moody Blues, Darlene Love, Carly Simon and even English Classical Crossover artist Sarah Brightman.
John would have been 76 this year. I don’t know how he would have responded to recent political events here in the U.S., but it’s a strong bet he’d still want you to have a Happy Xmas without any fear, and to give peace a chance. Sounds like great advice to me.
Miss you, John, wherever you are…