Paul McCartney's 'Pipes of Peace' is one of the greatest, most moving music videos of the early 1980s. It combines a song with deceptively simple lyrics calling for peace in a way that all can understand, matching a moving video set during the horrors of one of the worst conflicts the world has ever known, without judging either side. The film's message? All it is saying is give peace a chance1.
The Pipes of Peace Album
In 1982 Paul McCartney's solo album Tug of War had been successful, and so Paul decided to capitalise on this success by releasing a related follow-up. He stated that his initial idea was to make a sequel to Tug of War and I was going to call it 'Tug of War II', but I thought the Rocky thing of 'Rocky I', 'Rocky II' and 'Rocky III' was really boring, so I've called it 'Pipes of Peace'... [I thought] 'what would be the opposite of a tug of war? Peace pipes, pipes of peace.'
With the theme of the album decided, Paul needed to write the title song. One of his key inspirations was a quote by Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore2, In love all of life's contradictions dissolve and disappear, which inspired the line in the song, In love our problems disappear. The album is particularly noted for the song 'Say Say Say' which featured a duet with Michael Jackson3. Other musicians involved included Ringo Starr, Denny Laine and Linda McCartney, with George Martin producing. The album reached number four in the UK.
The Music Video
The video for the 'Pipes of Peace' single was lavishly made to feature-film standards. Filmed at Chobham Common4 in Surrey, it features over 100 extras playing British and German soldiers in the front line trenches of the Great War on Christmas Day, 1914.
Paul described the inspiration for the video with the words:
We'd seen this famous piece of footage of the German soldiers and the English soldiers laying down their arms on Christmas Day, crossing the lines and having a football match. Once we got that, it made it sort of really easy to do the video because it was such a good idea... everything fell into place.
The film was made with the assistance of a glass shot to make the common look like a small part of a huge, desolate battlefield. Paul had his hair cut short in a military style, and described some of the research behind the video with the words:
I said, 'You be very careful what the British soldier's wearing because I know there'll be old soldiers watching telly, and they'll say, 'Hey, that's never a real uniform'.' Someone did write in and compliment us, it was carefully researched.
The video was produced by Hugh Symonds and directed by Keith McMillan, who had previously directed Paul's 'Ebony and Ivory' duet with Stevie Wonder.
The people here are like you and me
Paul plays both a British and German soldier in similar trenches on opposite sides of No Man's Land5 during the Great War on Christmas Day, 1914. For a short time on this one day both sides stop fighting, leave their trenches, meet in the middle and discover what they have in common. Many soldiers share drinks and chocolate and play football. The McCartneys meet in the middle and exchange photographs of their loved ones. The war suddenly resumes, leading everyone to run for cover, when both McCartneys realise they still have each other's photographs.
The idea behind this was, in Paul's words:
I could play the German guy, I could play the English guy, showing that we're all human... and that war isn't a terrific thing.
The title song was released on Monday 5 December, 1983, and became a number one hit6 in the UK for two weeks. It won the 'Best Video' award in the 1983 British Rock and Pop Video Awards, broadcast live in February 1984. Curiously, in America the song was delegated to the B-side to the UK's B-side, 'So Bad'7, which failed to enter the top 20.
The song is available on All the Best compilation album. The video can be seen on The McCartney Years DVD and lasts 3 minutes, 48 seconds.
Will Someone Save This Planet We're Playing On?
Sadly, the area of Chobham Common where filming took place suffered damage when the excavated sand was pushed back into the replica trenches when they were waterlogged, creating quicksand. Following this, the area was fenced off for many years. This damage, and that caused by Superman II, led to restrictions on filming in the area, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, which had previously been used as a frequent film location, including for Carry On Cowboy and Dad's Army.
McCartney's Music Videos
Long before Queen put their heads together and came up with 'Bohemian Rhapsody', Paul McCartney had been interested in the music video format with The Beatles. In 1967 he was the driving force behind Magical Mystery Tour, essentially a feature-length music video. Following Pipes of Peace, Paul's music video projects would enjoy both success, namely Rupert the Bear and the Frog Song, and failure, with Give My Regards To Broad Street.
The spontaneous Christmas Truce, in which both sides of the conflict put down their weapons to enjoy a Silent Night, has gone down in history as one of the defining moments in the Great War, and one of the few periods of respite. But how true is it?
After months of being promised that the war would be over by Christmas, the men in the front line decided that they had the right to make this prediction come true. The truce began in many areas on the night of Christmas Eve, when all through the trenches, not a machine gun was stirring, nor even a Mauser8. Many German trenches displayed lit Christmas trees, while both sides sang Christmas carols, many, including 'Silent Night', the same tune sung in different languages. On the dawn of Christmas Day, as no shots were fired, brave souls on both sides left their trenches under flags of truce and met their enemy. German and British soldiers played football together, shaking hands, exchanging gifts and also buried their dead who had been left inaccessible in the middle.
French, Belgian and Russian soldiers, too, took part in the Christmas Truce, though not to the same extent as the British and German troops. The Christmas spirit was powerful enough to overcome understandable resentment that their homelands had been invaded.
This unofficial truce was not universal, and in many areas conflict continued unabated. Indeed, it was on Christmas Day 1914 that the world's first purpose-built fighter aircraft, Britain's Vickers FB5 Gunbus, successfully made its first kill, a German Taube monoplane. It was also the day of the world's first naval aviation raid, when seven Royal Navy seaplanes attacked the Cuxhaven Zeppelin sheds. Yet in other parts of the front line it took up to three days before the shocked and horrified generals were able to get their men back into the spirit of things and shooting at the enemy again. In many places war resumed only after attempts had been made to warn the opposing sides, accompanied by heartfelt apologies. The generals also took great pains to ensure that nothing similar would happen again in the years that followed.
Relevance to 1984
The song 'Pipes of Peace' not only commemorates the events of 70 years earlier, but was also relevant to 1983/4. During this time the Cold War was at its height, a fact marked by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, who later had a similar war-themed number one hit in 1984 with 'Two Tribes'. Films released at the time include War Games, with graphic novels like When the Wind Blows being read nationwide. It was universally realised that a full blown nuclear war would, unlike the Great War, be over for us all by Christmas.
Tensions between the East and West had raised in 1983, when Ronald Reagan described the Soviet Union as an Evil empire, and, with NATO, began a series of military exercises intended to provoke and intimidate the USSR. Fortunately, following the ascension of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985, tensions between the East and West reduced.