John Lennon and Yoko Ono recorded “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” in 1971, as an extension of their anti-war billboard campaign of 1969, which declared WAR IS OVER (If you want it). John started writing the song not long after they moved to New York, and grabbed Phil Spector and went into the Record Plant to record the song in October of that year. The Harlem Community Choir came in to add the song’s now-trademark children’s chorus a few days later, and the recording was finished by the end of the month. However, because the track was released so late in the year–in the U.S., it didn’t come out until early December, because it had been recorded so far into the year–it didn’t chart or become popular until the following year, when it was released in the U.K.
“Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” is, first and foremost, a protest song; it’s an anti-war song, it’s against Vietnam specifically, and it’s a song about peace. Yes, it is also a great Christmas song, but it was John wrapping a serious message inside a more palatable wrapper, something that his activism with Yoko had taught him would be more effective in reaching more people. And it worked; Lennon created an enduring Christmas classic. He also created a song that artists still want to cover today, with varying levels of sincerity and success.
Let’s listen to some of the good versions and bad versions. The covers are evaluated using the “Makes Me Want To Throw Things Score,” where 1 = I fake the throw and 10 =”Duck!”
It’s certainly not an offensive version, but it does require that you favor Sarah McLachlan’s singing voice. If you do not, this will be painful. But objectively, it just doesn’t seem like she’s adding anything to the song.
Makes Me Want To Throw Things Score: 3