John Lennon was a major player in the political scene of the late 1960s and early 1970s. As a prominent peace advocate, Lennon sought to bring attention to his causes through his massive celebrity, staging Bed-Ins during his honeymoon with Yoko Ono and preaching Bagism at press conferences. It was at one of these Bed-Ins that Lennon recorded one of his most enduring political songs, ‘Give Peace a Chance’.
A little less than a year later, Lennon had another song in the same vein ready to release. ‘Power to the People’ featured similar shouting and sloganeering, with Lennon on top of his soapbox to preach some of his beliefs. The origins of the track came from an interview Lennon gave with Tariq Ali and Robin Blackburn, two prominent public historians, in 1971.
“I just felt inspired by what they said, although a lot of it is gobbledygook,” Lennon would observe later. “So I wrote ‘Power to the People’ the same way I wrote ‘Give Peace a Chance,’ as something for the people to sing. I make singles like broadsheets. It was another quickie, done at Ascot.”
Whereas ‘Give Peace a Chance’ had simplicity as its greatest asset, ‘Power to the People’ wore its slightness on its sleeve. Lennon would express disappointment with ‘Power to the People’, and acknowledged that he was preaching to the choir at that point.
“We’d got a bit of a reputation from hanging out with the Cambridge Graduate School of Revolutionaries in the UK,” Lennon revealed in his book Skywriting by Word of Mouth. “They made us feel so guilty for not hating everyone who wasn’t poor that I even wrote and recorded the rather embarrassing ‘Power to the People’ ten years too late (as the now-famous Hunter ‘Fear and Loathing for a Living’ Thomas pointed out in his Vegas book). We kept the royalties, of course.”
Indeed, in Thompson’s iconic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo make the claim that Lennon’s hardline political ideology is actually out of touch with the way that most people feel at the current moment in culture. This was all the way back in 1971, and since Skywriting by Word of Mouth was only published posthumously, it’s hard to know exactly when Lennon felt his political preaching had become passé.