Pipes of Peace was the first solo number one recorded by the former Beatles’ member, Paul McCartney. Released in 1983, the lyrics describe the Christmas Day truce that occurred between Allied and German soldiers on the front line in France during World War I in 1914.
Between 1960 and 1970, McCartney had enjoyed worldwide success with his fellow Beatles – John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. After the Beatles split, McCartney formed Wings the same year and the band’s 1977 single, Mull of Kintyre, remains one of the UK’s best-selling records of all time.
Wings split up in April 1981 and McCartney, then 39, went solo. He enjoyed successful collaborations with Michael Jackson on The Girl is Mine and with Stevie Wonder on Ebony and Ivory.
Photo Credit: Pxhere / CC0 Public Domain
In 1983, McCartney wrote and released his solo album, Pipes of Peace. The title track was released as a single on 5th December and became his only UK number one as a solo artist. As well as singing, McCartney also played bass, piano and percussion on the record.
The lyrics describe the famous and well-documented true story of an unofficial truce that began on Christmas Eve 1914 in the trenches in France. The troops on both sides of No Man’s Land first began singing Christmas carols.
It was said that the Germans shouted that there should be “no shooting” on Christmas Day. Although not every battalion on the Western Front observed the impromptu truce, many did, with the soldiers from both sides venturing into No Man’s Land on Christmas Day.
They exchanged greetings, gave each other gifts and even played football together. Unfortunately, when the military leaders on both sides found out about the truce, they were unhappy because they feared it would be difficult for the troops to go back to fighting a war when they had befriended the enemy.
The truce lasted only for Christmas Day in most areas, though it went on into Boxing Day on some parts of the front. In January 1915, an order was issued from the military top brass back in Britain that fraternising with the enemy was now an offence for which they could be Court Martialled, so it never happened again.
Pipes of Peace video
The Pipes of Peace video depicted the famous truce. McCartney played two roles in the video: a German soldier and a British soldier. They meet in No Man’s Land, where they show each other photos of their loved ones back home and shake hands. By playing both roles, McCartney was trying to show that really, everyone is the same inside.
However, in the song, the two armies were eventually forced to return to their own trenches following a shell blast. McCartney had his long hair cut into a short back and sides for the poignant video, which featured around 100 extras.
McCartney has always been an advocate for peace. The lyrics of Pipes of Peace talk about the future of the world for our children, when he says, “Let us show them how to play the pipes of peace.”
He reminds listeners that we’re all the same underneath when he sings, “Help them to see that the people here are like you and me.”
McCartney attached such great importance to the anti-war song that he required between 20 and 30 takes in the studio before he was satisfied with the final version.
Today, Pipes of Peace is always associated with Christmas, as the events of Christmas Day 1914 have become legendary, more than a century after the first and only unofficial truce of the Great War.
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