More than 20 years ago, John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance" became the anthem of the peace movement growing out of America's involvement in Vietnam. This week, as the United States seems about to involve itself in a war with Iraq, the 1969 song has been resurrected by singer-songwriter Lenny Kravitz and a chorus of 30 major pop stars, with updated verses by 15-year-old Sean Lennon and his father's classic chorus plea: "All we are saying is give peace a chance."

Although actual copies of the all-star recording won't be in stores until next week at the earliest, it was made available yesterday to radio stations by satellite; an accompanying video was beamed to the major music video networks (MTV and VH-1 have already put it into heavy rotation -- six times a day -- and Black Entertainment Television has said it will broadcast it as well).

All this has taken place in the 10 days following Kravitz's visit to Washington.

"I originally wanted to put on a Concert for Peace, which didn't work out," Kravitz explained from Los Angeles, where he was resting after a whirlwind week of recording and filming. "But this was a better thing because it could get out to more people, rather than just a concert in one place. Also getting the support of all these other artists is more intense than just having me and two or three groups."

Kravitz admits he had thought about writing a new song, "but you really can't top 'Give Peace a Chance.' It just says it all. Of course, I was quite nervous because you don't just ask someone to redo a Lennon song, but the minute Yoko Ono heard the idea, she said, 'Let's do it, it sounds brilliant.'

"So we got our phone books out and just started dialing."

What they ended up with was a chorus of 30, including artists experienced with socially and politically focused projects -- M.C. Hammer, Peter Gabriel, Run-DMC, Bonnie Raitt, Al Jarreau, Steve Van Zandt, Cyndi Lauper and Michael McDonald, as well as Sean Lennon and Ono. Other voices heard include Jazzy B of Soul II Soul, Joe Higgs, Little Richard, Alanna Myles, Sebastian Bach of Skid Row, Iggy Pop, Adam Ant, Ofra Haza, New Voices of Freedom, Randy Newman, Tom Petty, Q Tip of A Tribe Called Quest, Duff McKegan of Guns N'Roses, Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dave Stewart, actor Kadeem Hardison, Teena Marie, Don Was, Wendy and Lisa, and the Zappas -- Ahmet, Dweezil and Moon.

Recording sessions were held in New York, Los Angeles and London, with Kravitz flying to each city with a master tape, gradually layering on vocal tracks. Each singer performed the whole song and Kravitz then chose the specific line that made the final mix. After each take, the vocalist stepped in front of a blank screen to create a corresponding image for the video, which superimposes newsy images in the background.

More than two decades ago, long before the advent of rock videos, John Lennon realized the power of words and images when he recorded and filmed "Give Peace a Chance" in the Montreal hotel room where he and Ono were conducting a week-long "bed-in." The song grew out of a phrase Lennon was using at the end of interviews given to support the growing peace movement amid a war that was already raging.

During the bed-in, he and Ono gave as many as 150 face-to-face interviews a day, as well as calling hundreds of radio stations, so the simple phrase must have struck Lennon as a superb musical hook. Gradually, it was shaped into a song, really little more than a chant with a melody, the chorus perfect for repetition. Later, Lennon would explain that he was hoping to create a corollary to the civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome," and that he wanted to use his pop star status to change the world, to challenge its youth.

"What's the point of getting fame as a Beatle and not using it? If we can get inside their minds and tell them to think in favor of nonviolence, we'll be satisfied," he said in 1971. "I felt an obligation to write a song that people would sing in the pub or on a demonstration."

Some critics felt the song was too vague, too apolitical, perhaps too "hippie-ish," like the later song "Imagine." Indeed, "Give Peace a Chance" calls on people to put aside political differences and factionalism -- mocked by Lennon in a laundry list of "isms" -- to come together over the simple demand for peace. His plan, Lennon told Newsweek in 1969, was to market "the product called peace. It's got to be sold to the man in the street. We want to make peace big business for everyone."

"Give Peace a Chance" was one of Lennon's first post-Beatles songs; ironically, it's credited jointly to Lennon and Paul McCartney, reflecting their old agreement to share credit on all songs. Recorded live on an eight-track Nagra deck in the Lennons' $1,100-a-day suite at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, it featured Lennon and Tommy Smothers on very basic guitars and, for percussion, Yoko pounding on a wardrobe. The ad hoc Plastic Ono Band, singing words that Lennon had pasted on the bedroom wall, included Timothy Leary, Petula Clark, Murray the K, Dick Gregory and the Canadian chapter of the Radha Krishna Temple, as well as a rabbi and a priest.

The event was captured by three film crews and the subsequent clip went into what might be called heavy rotation on various news programs. The single, recorded on June 1, was released on June 7 and eventually went to No. 14 on the pop charts. Within a few months, it had sold more than 1.5 million copies around the world.

It also made its way into the anti-war movement, most dramatically in November 1969 when the Vietnam Moratorium Day protest drew a half-million people to the Washington Monument. There, longtime folk activist Pete Seeger led the gathering in a song he had heard only a few days before. "I confess, when I first heard it I didn't think much of it," Seeger told author Jon Weiner in his 1981 Lennon bio, "Come Together."

"I thought, 'that's kind of a nothing song, it doesn't go anyplace,' " Seeger said. "I heard a young woman sing it at a peace rally. I never heard {Lennon's} record. I didn't know if people there had ever heard it before. But I decided to try singing it over and over again, until they did know it."

Gradually, the chorus grew. "People started swaying their bodies and banners and flags in time, several hundred thousand people, parents with their small children on their shoulders. It was a tremendously moving thing." Lennon, who watched the event on television in England, called it "one of the biggest moments in my life."

As Seeger told Weiner: "History gets made when people come to the same conclusion from many different directions. And this song did hit a common denominator. There's no doubt about that." The Newsweek of Dec. 1, 1969, agreed: "the peace movement had found an anthem."

That's what Lenny Kravitz hopes will happen again.

"I just hope that people will think about this when the record comes out, because we really have no idea what's to come," Kravitz says, "and we're all very, very scared."