Revisiting John Lennon’s “Imagine”

The influential Lennon solo album was released worldwide on October 8th,  1971

Revisiting John Lennon’s “Imagine”

“Imagine” it’s definitely John Lennon’s most popular solo album, it includes some of his most enduring and famous songs such as “Imagine” and “Jealous Guy”, but is it superior to it’s predecessor, the debut “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band”? To be totally honest without being diplomatic, both are great albums but very different, while “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band” it’s more organic and visceral, “Imagine” it’s an album that offers commercial potential together with a polished sound. This was a period of great creativity for Lennon, the departure from The Beatles and Yoko Ono’s introduction to other forms of music and art boosted Lennon’s songwriting to the point he did two stunning albums within a year difference, however, if the 1970 debut solo album was a complete and natural separation from his Beatles roots, “Imagine” brought back some of it, “Jealous Guy” for example was originally composed for the 1968 Beatles album “The Beatles” as “Child Of Nature”.  The song was totally rewritten and given different arrangements:  whilst as “Child Of Nature” was an acoustic guitar tune, as “Jelous Guy” got transformed into a beautiful love song on piano featuring a famous whistling solo and echoing voice. The echo effects used on Lennon’s vocals are present throughout the album, Spector made an amazing production job on “Imagine”, all the songs are performed and played the way they’re supposed to sound. While Lennon brought Ringo Starr for his first album, in this one he recruited George Harrison that plays in most of the tracks, also the amount of musicians featured in “Imagine” it’s substantially big, but that doesn’t affects the way the songs are brought together. “It’s So Hard” it’s reminiscent of another Beatles song, “Yer’Blues” also from the 1968 album “The Beatles”, a bluesy tune backed up by sax. “I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier” it’s a strong track, sounds very close to what Lennon later would do in “Sometime In New York City”, George Harrison’s slide guitar it’s one of the album’s finest moments. “Gimme Some Truth”, one of the album’s best tracks, helped by George Harrison’s distinctive guitar sound and solo, sometimes reminiscent of “Abbey Road” period, is lyrically, one of Lennon’s top compositions: I’m sick to death of seeing things from Tight-lipped condescending mama’s little chauvinists / All I want is the truth, just give me some truth /I’ve had enough of watching scenes from /Schizophrenic egocentric paranoiac primadonnas/ All I want is the truth just give me some truth”

Look back at the promo film for “Imagine” by John Lennon and The Plastic Ono Band

But the album it’s not by any means a positive nostalgic Beatles moment from Lennon, on “How Do You Sleep At Night” he ferociously attacks Paul McCartney, bluntly and unfiltered. It’s almost like an “ode” to Paul, in a negative way:  “So Sgt. Pepper took you by surprise/You better see right through that mother’s eyes/” and then a reference to the “Paul Is Dead” urban legend: “Those freaks was right when they said you was dead/ The one mistake you made was in your head”, but the worst comes when he sings “The only thing you done was yesterday/And since you’re gone you’re just another day”. With that simple verse, Lennon destroys McCartney’s songwriting reputation in The Beatles. To be put in perspective, the album was recorded during a particularly bad blood moment between the both of them, and the song, was a retaliation against McCartney’s alleged personal attacks on Lennon and Ono, on his recent “Ram” album. Musically, it has an interesting structure of mild Rock clashing with Middle Eastern influences. “Oh My Love” it’s a simple, yet beautiful love song, reminiscent of “Love” from his debut album, “Crippled Inside” it’s almost 100% American country/bluegrass;  “How?” a song that perhaps encapsulates John Lennon classic songwriting style during the 1970’s, if there’s a Lennon’s signature sound from that period it’s all on “How?”. “Oh Yoko”, it’s as the name indicates, a love song for Yoko, upbeat and funny, it became one of the album’s most popular songs. “Imagine”, it’s the obvious “Pièce de résistance” of the album, and maybe from John Lennon’s solo career. The enduring peace anthem holds a special place in the common human conscience. The song uses poignant, strongly political lyrics that contrasts with the mellow famous piano notes.”Imagine There’s No Religion/I Wonder If You Can”, it’s the plea from Lennon to the world to come together as one, often an idealist, an Utopian, Lennon honestly says “You May Say I’m A Dreamer/But I’m Not The Only One”. “Imagine” it’s the most influential song that came out of this album, maybe not necessarily the best of all, one of the best songs,  yes, definitely. Though first credited to John Lennon only, years later he acknowledged Ono’s role in the song’s creation and stated his regret that he had not credited her as a co-writer. “Imagine” was released on Apple Records on September 9th, 1971 in the United States and a month later, on October 8th, in the UK and the rest of the world. Early releases of the LP included a postcard featuring a photo of Lennon holding a pig, in mockery of McCartney’s similar pose with a sheep on the cover of “Ram”, and a giant poster of Lennon playing the piano. The cover it’s a Polaroid taken by Andy Warhol and the back cover photograph was taken by Yoko Ono.A quote from Ono’s book “Grapefruit” was also included on the back cover: “Imagine the clouds dripping. Dig a hole in your garden to put them in.” – this was the line that according to Lennon inspired him to compose the song “Imagine”. “Imagine it’s an album that should be at least played once a year to remind us how good it is, it’s not only a classic, it’s a magnificent piece of music and rock history and a step forward on John Lennon’s evolution as an artist and composer.

Side 1
1 “Imagine”
2 “Crippled Inside”
3 “Jealous Guy”
4 “It’s So Hard”
5 “I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier”

Side 2
6 “Gimme Some Truth”
7 “Oh My Love”
8 “How Do You Sleep?”
9 “How?”
10 “Oh Yoko!”

All songs written by John Lennon, except “Oh My Love” by Lennon and Yoko Ono

John Lennon: vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, piano; whistling on “Jealous Guy”; harmonica on “Oh Yoko”
George Harrison: electric and slide guitar on “I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier”, “Gimme Some Truth,” “Oh My Love,” and “How Do You Sleep?”; dobro on “Crippled Inside”
Nicky Hopkins: piano; electric piano on “Jealous Guy”, “Oh My Love” and “How Do You Sleep?”; tack piano on “Crippled Inside”
Klaus Voormann: bass; upright bass on “Crippled Inside”
Alan White: drums on “Imagine”, “Gimme Some Truth”, “Oh My Love”, “How Do You Sleep?”, “How?”, and “Oh Yoko!”; Tibetan cymbals on “Oh My Love”; vibraphone on “Jealous Guy”
Jim Keltner: drums on “Crippled Inside,” “Jealous Guy,” and “I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier”
Jim Gordon: drums on “It’s So Hard”
King Curtis: saxophone on “It’s So Hard” and “I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier”
John Barham: harmonium on “Jealous Guy”; vibraphone on “How?”
Joey Molland and Tom Evans: acoustic guitars on “Jealous Guy” (incorrectly credited as “I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier”)
John Tout: piano on “Crippled Inside” (incorrectly credited as playing “acoustic guitar”)[43] Ted Turner: acoustic guitars on “Crippled Inside”
Rod Linton: acoustic guitar on “Crippled Inside”, “Gimme Some Truth” and “Oh Yoko!”
Andy Davis: acoustic guitar on “Gimme Some Truth”, “How?” and “Oh Yoko!”
Mike Pinder: tambourine on “I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier”
Steve Brendell: upright bass on “Crippled Inside”; maracas on “I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier”
Phil Spector: harmony vocal on “Oh Yoko!”
The Flux Fiddlers (members of the New York Philharmonic): orchestral strings

Produced by: Phil Spector, John Lennon, Yoko Ono
Recorded during: 11–12 February – 23 June–5 July 1971 at Abbey Road Studios, London; Ascot Sound Studios, Berkshire; Record Plant, New York City
Released: September 9th, U.S.A – October 8th, U.K and the rest of the world
Label: Apple

“Imagine / It’s So Hard” Released: 11 October 1971

Strongest tracks:
“Imagine”, “Jealous Guy”, “Gimme Some Truth”, “Oh My Love”, “How Do You Sleep?”, “How?”, “I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier”

Watch the trailer for the 2000 documentary “Gimme Some Truth: The Making of John Lennon’s Imagine Album”

Listen to “Imagine” on Spotify

Watch more The Beatles related videos


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