Introduced by Rankin on his 1967 debut album Mind Dusters on Mercury Records, "Peaceful" was recorded by Bobbie Gentry for her 1968 album Local Gentry on Capitol Records. A 1969 single recording by Georgie Fame—produced by Mike Smith and arranged/conducted by Keith Mansfield for CBS—reached number 16 in UK that summer. Fame's version of "Peaceful" had a concurrent single release in the US by Epic Records, prompting Mercury to issue Rankin's original track as a single, but neither single charted. "Peaceful" was also recorded in 1969 by The Friends of Distinction for their Grazin' album on RCA.
Rankin re-recorded the song in 1972, in a new arrangement for his album Like a Seed, his Atlantic Records debut and first chart appearance. That same year Helen Reddy recorded "Peaceful" for her 1972 I Am Woman album. Issued as the follow-up to the number 1 hit "I Am Woman" in February 1973, Reddy's version of "Peaceful" peaked at number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 that May. "Peaceful" also became Reddy's second consecutive number 2 Easy Listening hit: the follow-up "Delta Dawn" would be Reddy's first Easy Listening #1 (the first of six consecutive and eight overall). In Canada, "Peaceful" spent two weeks at number 1 on the Adult Contemporary chart.
In September 1996 Rhino issued a retrospective Kenny Rankin album with "Peaceful" as the title cut, the full title being Peaceful: The Best of Kenny Rankin.