IMAGINE NO IMAGINE

It is difficult to imagine a world without John’s song “Imagine”. From the time it appeared on the album of the same name in September 1971—and then as a single a month later—it has become an anthem and a lullaby, a protest and a non-religious prayer, a campfire sing-along and a manifesto for dreamers. It is fair to say that the song and the album were the defining moment in the post-Beatles career of John Winston Lennon.

Imagine is Lennon’s most popular album, lauded by fans and critics alike. It was a #1 record in Australia, the UK, the USA, Japan, and several other countries. As recently as 2012, Rolling Stone magazine included it in the top tier of its 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time. And probably none of it would have happened without Yoko Ono.

Before Yoko and I met, we were half a person. You know there’s an old myth about people being half and the other half being in the sky, or in heaven or on the other side of the universe or a mirror image. But we are two halves, and together we’re a whole. 

Yoko was later credited as co-writer of the song “Imagine”. She took the two Polaroid photos superimposed to create the iconic album cover. It should be remembered that Ms Ono was a respected avant-garde artist long before she met the Beatle; his muse, certainly, but one with her own artistic vision and an impressive CV of exhibitions, publications and events.

Yoko is the direct subject of two songs (“Oh My Love” and closer “Oh Yoko!”) and the implied recipient of a third, the timeless “Jealous Guy”. But Imagine is not just about a particular relationship, no matter how all-consuming. It is also an album about searching for meaning (the ranting “Gimme Some Truth” and angsty “I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier”) and the struggle towards self-awareness (“How?”, “Crippled Inside”). It is far from unreasonable to say that Imagine is about the mystery and messiness of being human. Maybe that’s why the album has always been available, with more than 250 versions having appeared over the years. Clearly, we are not at risk of needing to imagine a world without Imagine.

One relatively recent re-issue is the splendid 2018 two-LP version that includes a generous selection of alternate takes, while for RSD 2019 yet another variant was announced: a vinyl “Raw Mix” edition comprising unadorned versions of the entire album. For those whose appetite for Imagine is still not sated, the 2018 documentary John and Yoko: Above Us Only Sky is also recommended; a fascinating take on both their relationship and the recording process. It’s fun spotting the notable visitors too: George Harrison, Nicky Hopkins, Klaus Voorman… even a young Julian Lennon playing in the grounds of John and Yoko’s Berkshire mansion (and home studio). So much to imagine.

First published at Discrepancy Records, reproduced by kind permission.

7 comments

  1. Undoubtedly, “Imagine” is John Lennon’s signature song. It’s just an incredibly powerful tune. I would also put the album among his top three, together with his 1970 solo debut. In addition, I really like “Double Fantasy”, even though only half of the songs are his.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. No argument there, Christian! I’m rather fond of ‘Walls and Bridges’ too. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Agree, that one’s pretty good as well. I guess the truth is all of Lennon’s solo albums have at least two or three great tunes.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Dave Ashworth · · Reply

    Imagine is a great album, but it has several murky corners. “How Do You Sleep” has affected Paul McCartney’s life from the moment it was released to the present day. It’s a nasty and toxic piece of work which Lennon spent the rest of his life alternately justifying or trying to walk away from. So many people would exclaim “what a fantastic solo from George!” Without reflecting that it was 2 Beatles ganging up on a third. It affected George’s relationship with Paul for the rest of HIS life, too

    And “Jealous Guy” was apparently a message to Paul, not Yoko (McCartney has disclosed that Lennon told him it was for him) but Lennon never revealed it publicly, which would have partially reduced the toxicity of “How Do You Sleep”.

    AND…the Get Back series shows us Lennon and McCartney co-writing “Gimme Some Truth”, which
    Lennon acknowledged in 1971, but never credited to McCartney. Not cool.

    However, the album has been a huge part of my life. I bought it when it came out with my pocket money, and I’ve re-purchased it every time another few crumbs have been added to the mix.

    Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing your research and reflections, Dave. It’s amazing how rivetting the stories are, all these years later.

      There is no doubt that John W L had deep wounds that made him a complex and often difficult character. And there is no doubt that no-one, not even Peter Jackson, will ever create a complete picture of either the journey nor the meteorology of the whole trip.

      As a general rule, it’s never particularly helpful to smear one’s anger across the public canvas while it *does* tend to be worthwhile to take responsibility for your cockups. John didn’t poll well on either of those. Either way, I appreciated you taking the time to hold a lens up to some less overt aspects of Imagine, and hope that sometimes you get to cruise with the musical journey that flows out of the speakers and bask in its creativity and tang.
      -Bruce

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s time for me to start catching up on VC posts!

    It is, indeed, hard to imagine no ‘Imagine’ (though there are some covers that we could all have done without…have you seen the widely panned video of Gal Gadot and other celebrities warbling and sing-speaking the tune? It hit social media very early in the pandemic).

    The quote from Lennon re: he and Yoko each being half a person is really interesting. I, personally, have never been a fan of Ono’s oeuvre, and have always wondered what it was Lennon saw and liked in it. But I guess I should be grateful for the extent to which she inspired his own work.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sometimes songs seem to gain a life of their own, don’t they? For better of for worse.

      Yoko was a genuine experimenter in all her art, but like you and many, I find it easier to respect that than actually enjoy the art itself.

      Just yesterday I was thinking that I better send off a gentle enquiry as to the whereabouts of VC’s esteemed physician. So it’s good to see your little round portrait, JDB.

      Like

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