Why “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” by John Lennon and Yoko Ono is the Greatest Christmas Song Written and Recorded in the Modern Era
John Lennon once said he always wanted to write a popular Christmas song.
Hard to believe, but as accomplished and prolific as The Beatles were for nearly a decade, they never recorded a holiday tune.
So, less than a year after the legendary rock icons dissolved as a group, John and wife Yoko Ono fled London for a new start in New York City. That’s where they would remain for the duration of Lennon’s life. In fact, the controversial duo never returned to England again, not even to visit.
During their earliest months in Manhattan, Lennon wrote a number of songs that would later become one his few commercial flops as an artist, ultimately released as the “Sometime in New York City” album. This creative period largely fueled by intense political activism and protest included an unusual Christmas song that was inexplicably omitted from the 1972 album. And yet, it would ultimately become a powerful anthem for world peace as well as a timeless melody of hope for all humanity.
Like many great works of creative alchemy, the song wasn’t particularly well-received when released, either by critics or the public. The single wasn’t a hit when initially released in 1971 in the United States. A year later, the single was released in the U.K., where it enjoyed modest success, charting as high as fourth. But by the mid-1970’s the song was mostly forgotten.
The song did later appear on a relatively obscure John Lennon composition album called “Shaved Fish.” But following a stellar track record of commercial and critical successes — both with The Beatles and Plastic Ono Band — no one was quite sure what to make of the odd tune. It certainly wasn’t a mainstream Christmas song in the traditional sense. But it wasn’t quite a political song either, not in the mold of other Lennon classics like “Give Peace a Chance” or “Imagine.” Older people who fancied traditional Christmas music weren’t about to purchase new single by one of counterculture’s most outspoken leaders. And younger fans weren’t all too enthusiastic at the notion of listening to what amounted to a simple Christmas song. The title too was controversial, opting to omit “Christ” from Christ-mas.