John Lennon's Imagine Turns 40: Ten Facts About The Album

Categories: Nerd Alert

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Forty years ago this past week, John Lennon's second solo LP away from the Beatles, Imagine, hit number one on the UK album charts. The album was released on October 8, 1971 in England and September 9, 1971 here in the States.

The album was seen as a commercial answer to his previous outing, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, which wowed critics with its wailing and barenaked honesty ("Mother") but didn't sell very well. Remember that at this point Lennon, with his wife Yoko Ono was very much an avant-garde figure, and not at all as brazenly poppy as former writing mate Paul McCartney.

Imagine is known best for its title track, which has become a worldwide anthem for peace, rejection of borders, religion, and all the trappings of a domineering culture. To some it's a great humanistic plea, and to others its communism made simple. Even Lennon admitted it was very red in it's scope, though he didn't consider himself a communist.

Upon release of Imagine, critics and fans alike were floored by the album. Billboard had this to say about Imagine:

"Lennon has emerged as the real British Dylan, chronicling his own personal search for self-expression with that of the times which threaten to divide the self into oblivion. Down-to-earth honest introspection is steeped in insight, while magnificent string arrangements complement Lennon's latest concept of rock on "Imagine," "Give Me Some Truth," "How Do You Sleep?," "Oh Yoko" and "Crippled Inside." Move over Sgt. Pepper."

Years later rock critics would reassess Imagine and instead deem it the high water mark of a solo career that wouldn't see another smash success until 1980's Double Fantasy. Lennon would be assassinated three weeks after it's release.

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The first copies of the Imagine album contained a postcard of John holding the ears of a large pig, echoing the cover Paul McCartney's album, Ram, which featured Macca on the cover holding the horns of the titular animal. To add petty insult to injury, Macca also included a picture of two beetles screwing on the back of the Ram LP, meant to mean, you know, whatever.

Imagine was produced by Yoko Ono, Lennon, and Phil Spector over the summer of 1971, with the basic tracks being laid down at Lennon's home at Tittenhurst Park. The making of the album was documented almost completely by a film crew as well. The rest of the album was finished at the New York's Record Plant over seven days.

The song "Imagine" was inspired by Ono's Grapefruit book, released in 1964. If you own it, you are a nerd, yo, or Yoko Ono.

Few people remember that in 1971, Spector was named director of A&R for the Beatles' Apple Records imprint. He held the post for only a year, and during that time he co-produced the Lennon single "Power to the People" as well as Imagine.

After the September 11 attacks, "Imagine" was included on the 2001 Clear Channel memorandum of songs that you "do not play" which went out to their radio stations. Other songs on the memo included Louis Armstrong's hateful "What a Wonderful World" and Peter, Paul and Mary's violent version of Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind."

George Harrison plays on five tracks of Imagine, including the anti-Paul dig "How Do You Sleep?" which sorta made McCartney a little angry. Check out the video above for Lennon's own interpretation of the song.

Lennon wrote "Imagine" on a small brown Steinway upright piano. In 2000, George Michael paid over $2 million for the piano, and it now tours the country as a symbol of Lennon's message. One year it made an appearance at Dealey Plaza in Dallas on November 22, while JFK assassination buffs were on the grounds for the anniversary of the Kennedy shooting.

Oasis sampled/used the piano intro on their 1996 song "Don't Look Back In Anger," further embedding the notion that the band was a backwards Beatles tribute act.

"Oh My Love" was written by John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1968 during the "White Album" sessions but for obvious reasons was never put on the sprawling double-disc.

Lennon wrote the plaintive "Jealous Guy" while still in the Beatles. They had roginally recorded it as a demo called "Child of Nature" about their trip to India to study with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Left unused by the band, Lennon instead changed teh lyrics to reflect on his relationship with Ono, and how possessive he became of her while his band was imploding.


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34 comments
Chris
Chris

It's too bad that John had to include that "Ram" parody because it invites the comparison, and the comparison ain't pretty. Imagine has some nice songs on it, but Ram has aged far better and is an eccentric proto indie pop masterpiece. There is more invention in any one track off Ram than in the entire Imagine album, which sounds kind of tired.

Gary Packwood
Gary Packwood

I learned a great deal from this article and I was there during this period of time.

I never once considered most of the points made in the article and especially the points made in the comment section.

The cultural point of no return was May 4, 1970 when the kids were killed on the campus of Kent State University in Ohio by the soldiers.

From that point forward it was 'balls-down' determination to end the war in Southeast Asia; de-fang the PIGS (police), celebrate life (Beatles screwing) and remove anything and everything that conjured up the memory of President Richard Nixon and his established old political guard.

The Beatles were one of several spokespersons for that way of thinking but they were probably the most 'corporate' as kids would say today and most heavily promoted.

But that is just my opinion as I was listening to the Doors!

ddt
ddt

Is nobody going to comment on the absurdity of John Lennon singing "Imagine no possessions" when the man had a separate room for his fur coats?

Russellg1958
Russellg1958

Way down here in Tasmania I had the album, "Imagine" bought for me on it's release in October 1971. I was 13 years old. After years of childhood Beatle infatuation I found it hard to listen to "How Do You Sleep" and realising the dream was indeed dead.Still there is so much on that great album to enjoy and it recalls a time of change and confrontation in my early teens. Thank you John....like Brian Jones you had problems and didn't do the right thing for your offspring (all of you Julian's)...but you touched the right strings all those years ago. 

Beatles4ever
Beatles4ever

All we are saying is give peace a chance you too. Lennon/McCartney forever!

jeebs
jeebs

Oh poor, poor little paul. John you've ruined everything for him you dick! Truth be told paul was always my favorite Beatle but McCartney fans are a whiny lot and have been for so long and will probably continue to be. Paul is very well respected, admired, recognized and very, very successful- boo hoo! Mc's always been "on" when it comes to the press and marketing himself and John has always proven himself vulnerable w/ a tendency at being off the cuff, ultimately at his own expense. Which one is more genuine? Who was right and who was wrong? Who effing cares? Their relationship was what it is and it is very interesting. Takes side if you want but it's irrelevant.

ElizaBro
ElizaBro

IMO of course: Imagine, as an album, does not hold up that well. It sounds dated, and not in a good way. I think it's probably half a great album. And one of the big weaknesses -- the thing that gives lie to Lennon's reputation as a peace-loving man -- is How Do You Sleep. That song reveals more about Lennon's weaknesses as a human being than it does about Paul. The few remarks Paul made about John on Ram were minor ("you took your lucky break and broke it in two"). Paul never once stooped to the vicious level of attacking Lennon's music or songwriting. John did that -- repeatedly. And the more time passes, the more this seems like a jackass move on Lennon's part. He deliberately set out to damage McCartney's reputation, and he succeeded to a degree. At the time Imagine came out, the critics were ready to genuflect to anything Lennon did and to attack Paul for "breaking up the Beatles." 

The truth is, in hindsight, Ram is the masterpiece. And Imagine is a great song and a so-so album.

P.S. I think Jealous Guy was about Paul McCartney. Why would it be about Yoko? They were happily together at the time. He didn't hurt her until 72-73 when he was cheating on her and Yoko sent him off on his Lost Weekend. Listen to the words. It sounds like this song is about McCartney, who Lennon seemed to be obsessed with for much of the 70's. Why else would he keep attacking Paul? After all, the opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. 

P.P.S. What's really sad is that Yoko still harbors and encourages these resentments. Just yesterday on the Steve Jobs tribute she did, when the Flaming Lips did a cover of Revolution, Yoko introduced the song as a "John Lennon" song. Sorry Yoko, it's a Beatles song. She never once mentioned The Beatles in her tribute to Jobs. Even though, according to Steve Jobs' own biography, he didn't have ANY solo songs by ex-Beatles on his iPod. He only had BEATLES songs. So much for imagining peace, Yoko. Seems like after all this time, she should be able to say the band's name.

zlh67
zlh67

I guess that's why Ram is consistently so much higher on everyone's "best albums of all time" lists.  Oh wait:  it's not.  Nevermind.  What were you saying again?

zlh67
zlh67

ddt - If you listen and actually think about the context of the lyrics to "Imagine", it's essentially a run down of all the things people fight over:  borders, religion, possessions, etc.  To take the lyric so literally -- that he's saying no one should own anything -- is a bit over-simplistic, wouldn'tcha say?  The lyrics are essentially calling for peace and saying none of these things are worth needlessly fighting others over.  He clarified as much in interviews....  It's funny to me how a call to peace within such a beautiful song could be so criticized but I guess everyone's got their haters.

Mylifeisloud
Mylifeisloud

He was also well known for letting homeless into his house and feeding them at his table. 

ElizaBro
ElizaBro

You just did! And yes, it's another little reality that undercuts the "message" of this album. He and Yoko had something like 6 apartments in the Dakota and lived in one of the most expensive cities on Earth. They weren't exactly imagining no possessions for themselves. Stlll he's singing about an ideal world in that song so I cut him some slack on they little bit of hypocrisy.

Openurbox
Openurbox

Thank you. I was only a Paul fan for a short period of time as a little child until I discovered I preferred John's songs and voice more, but I still love Paul and the other two sooooo much. But SOME PEOPLE can't accept that John is loved and want to make sure they knock him down to put their precious Paul up. 

ElizaBro
ElizaBro

Whatever dude. I was stating my opinion. No one asked you to agree. But if you're going to disagree, there's no need to be a jerk about it. 

zlh67
zlh67

"The truth is, in hindsight, Ram is the masterpiece. And Imagine is a great song and a so-so album."

---Then why does no one give a rat's patootey about the 40th Anniv of "Ram"?  If you don't like "Imagine", that's cool, but because you don't like it doesn't make it a "so-so" album.Lastly, Lennon and McCartney had their differences, no doubt, and Lennon was no more perfect a man that then rest of us, but they were on good terms at the time of Lennon's death, so...  let it go.

Openurbox
Openurbox

I just listened to IMAGINE after reading your post. Listened to it all the way through, with a completely objective ear. I can't disagree more. The album, song for song, is beautiful. The title track still has such a powerful effect, whether people want to agree/disagree on the lyrical content is their prerogative, but you can't deny it's influence. Having traveled around the world, and having family in South America, I can tell you that "Imagine" is by far the most well known and iconic of any solo Beatles song. "Jealous Guy" is a masterpiece and is one of the most brilliant confessional songs ever written. "Crippled Inside," "Oh Yoko!" "How?" are simply amazing songs. And "How Do You Sleep?" has such a fantastic guitar part from George. In my opinion, "Oh My Love" is one of the most gorgeous and sublime tracks...I listened to that one again and again and I am still floored. The punch and message of "Gimme Some Truth" is something that transcends time. I can't say it enough: John was on the mark with that one. And of course IDWTBASM is one of the coolest songs...that one, along with "It's So Hard" were two that stood out the most for me. There's something very classic/punk about them.

Sorry ElizaBron. I think IMAGINE is simply a masterpiece. You sound like a bitter Paul fan, and it appears you are. Every single one of your posts is some sort of slam on John. Keep at it. Must make you feel more powerful and better about yourself to try and kick his status and accomplishments down the way you do.

IMAGINE, ALL THINGS MUST PASS, PLASTIC ONO BAND, WALLS AND BRIDGES, RAM, and CLOUD 9....all brilliant, great albums by these solo Beatles.

Ninthgirl
Ninthgirl

Clearly you don't know Yoko at all, or the Beatles for that matter. The "Lennon-McCartney" songs were hardly ever truly written by both. One would write something and then bring it to the other for filling out/completion. Whoever sang the lead was the main composer/idea-haver. If you would care to understand Yoko, you could check out her blog and/or her comments on the new George Harrison documentary. She is more of a loving and openly forgiving person than most people realize.

Openurbox
Openurbox

One of the most BEAUTIFUL moments in the IMAGINE documentary. And there were many accounts from people who lived in NYC of John just going up to people, being completely approachable, generous, lovely. He had another side to him as well. He struggled with the good and the bad but the good FAR outweighed the bad.

Anna
Anna

Sounds like you were SHOVING your "opinion" down people's throats. Prefer Paul? That's great. Go on a Paul thread and gloat. Leave John's beautiful work for those who actually love it. Your posts, each and everyone are filled with pure self-complex over anything positive written in regards to John.

Imagine, ATMP, and POB are masterpieces. I like RAM ok.

Zion22em
Zion22em

I agree. John wrote it and sang it. It's John's song. The other Beatles played and sang on it and it was released under the Beatles banner, but John conceived it and gave it life. It's his.

ElizaBro
ElizaBro

Speak for yourself, sister. It doesn't matter who wrote the lyrics. Revolution is NOT a John Lennon solo song. It's a Beatles song. And the whole band made contributions to the final recordings of that song. It was released on a Beatles record. 

My point was that Yoko's intro was supposed to honor Steve Jobs -- who was a Beatles fan and made that clear by not having ANY of their solo songs on his iPod. What he valued about the band was their collaboration and continual quest to move forward and be better. Instead Yoko's intro made it all about John's solo work. That is passive-aggressive behavior at his finest -- basically erasing the other 3 Beatles out of the picture so she can build the myth of Lennon. It's unfortunate that she feels the need to do that after all these years. 

Openurbox
Openurbox

Really? That is a very bold statement. G&P's idea to speed it up is what gives it "life?" I love the slower version even more and have done so as a child. I think you just hate the idea that it is John's song being referenced and have to put in your own interpretation.

Openurbox
Openurbox

Absolutely!!! And it's a magnificent song.

ElizaBro
ElizaBro

I would never argue that Let It Be is Paul's song because he wrote it and sang it. Let it Be is and always will be a Beatles song. As is Revolution. 

P.S. It was Paul and George's idea to speed up the song and THAT version is the one that gives it "life." It was a band effort.

Openurbox
Openurbox

She is a Maccanite who comes on every John article to bash him. It's her favorite thing to do, as I have watched her many times over and over. I think it's quite funny the extent to which she hates John. And sad. As a Lennon fan, I love Paul very much. I respect his artistry and talent and acknowledge his vast accomplishments. But ElizaBrown refuses to say anything positive about John. She can't accept that he is loved and respeted by others and feels like Paul is threatened any time someone says anything good about John.

Openurbox
Openurbox

Jobs was seriously great friends with Yoko, and was close to Sean. He was a HUGE John fan and valued John's principals. They had a lot in common. 

Openurbox
Openurbox

I totally disagree with this. Steve Jobs was a close friend of Yoko Ono's and visited the Dakota as well. He loved John as a Beatle AND as a solo performer. If you recall, his "Think Different" campaign had John and Yoko during their brillianr "Bed In" period, nothing at all to do with the Beatles. ElizaBron, you make no qualms about not caring much for John. You are constantly on any article defending Paul and making sure you knock John down. But please don't try and take away from the impact he had on a genius. That was STEVE JOBS personal feelings and his personal inspiration. Paul is no doubt your favorite, and the Beatles as a band were magnificently inspirational. But Lennon on his own was a marvelous influence on countless generations for many, many reasons. That is fact. You only make yourself look bad trying to diminish John's influence.

ElizaBro
ElizaBro

Paul wanted the credit to read McCartney-Lennon on the songs he wrote. Come now, do you really think he'd want his name first on the songs John wrote?

People always forget that on the band's first record, Please Please Me, all of the credits say "McCartney-Lennon." And then Lennon pressured Brian Epstein because John wanted his name first, and together they pressured Paul to agree to "Lennon-McCartney" because it "sounded better." So before anyone attacks Paul as "petty" for wanting his name first on his own songs, you need to realize that John was "petty" about this, too.

Finally I am not in the blame Yoko camp. I was merely criticizing her for this habit she has of always mentioned John Lennon as if he was a solo act and never in the Beatles. She makes these odd passive-aggressive remarks that always seem intended to show that he wasn't a "real" artist until he left the band -- which is nuts given that his work with the Beatles is miles better than his solo work (over all, I mean, no comparison).

P. Ramone
P. Ramone

I think some of the point is that everyone needs to  get over Yoko breaking up the Beatles and cut her some slack.  She IS John's representative - Paul certainly takes care of himself, and he has every right to.  Hey, whatever happened to his attempt to switch credits/copyrights from "Lennon-McCartney" to "McCartney-Lennon"?  Was he trying to do that with the ones that were predominantly his songs (like "Yesterday"), or the whole catalog?  EVERYONE knows which songs were Lennon's and which were Macca's.  Of course the songs became collaborations as the band filled them out, but my impression is that was usually under the guidance of the prominent songwriter (be it Lennon or McCartney).  In fact, I think George may have given the BAND much more room to stretch on his songs- moreso than Paul and/or John! 

Also, I think it's kind of ironic that if one chooses to look at it a certain way, Jobs ended up cheapening the entire culture of popular music and helping to make it a much more disposable art form. Artists now have a much more difficult road to making a living with their art, because of the changes of the past 10 years. I bet that because of the way things have changed, if they came around in this day and age, The Beatles wouldn't have had much of a chance to develop, and mature into the artists that they became - collectively or otherwise.

ElizaBro
ElizaBro

That's because in this case I am right. The equivalent of all of your responses to whatever I say is: No it's not because I say so.

Ninthgirl
Ninthgirl

I give up trying to use reason with someone who has to be right no matter what. I already said that the songs were collaborative but were primarily one or the other's. You can be the expert on everything if you want. I really don't care any more.

ElizaBro
ElizaBro

And Jobs was friends with Paul, too. So what? What she SHOULD have said is that Revolution is a Beatles song. Check the Web. EVERY story about the Flaming Lips cover identifies the song as a Beatles song. Because that's what it is. Yoko was the only one who never mentioned the band's name. And it was a tribute to JOBS, not to Lennon. She used a tribute to Jobs to promote Lennon's solo work, and it was a crass, passive-aggressive move. No amount of rationalizing by you contradicts that.

And if you knew anything about the Beatles, you'd know that half of their collaboration was in the studio. "John's" songs have Paul's fingerprints --- musically -- all over them. You really need to read a few books about the Beatles. Because your bare minimum knowledge is more than a little lacking.

Ninthgirl
Ninthgirl

By the way, Jobs was friends with Yoko. You probably didn't hear her mention that in her introduction. What she "should have" said is not for either of us to guess.I have no problem with his musical taste, whether I agree with it or not. My problem is the lack of facts in your original statement. Most of their songs were clearly John's or clearly Paul's. You may be an expert on Jobs, but you're not a Beatles expert.

ElizaBro
ElizaBro

It's exactly as I portray. Yoko never once mentions the Beatles. She just mentions John Lennon and quotes snippets of his solo songs like Power to the People and lines from Imagine. Yes, Lennon was Steve Jobs' favorite Beatle, as is reported in Jobs' biography. But Jobs also makes clear he liked Lennon AS A BEATLE. Jobs loved the Beatles' music. And Bob Dylan. And Yoko, instead of honoring the band Steve Jobs loved, used this as an opportunity to blow Lennon's horn again, when she should have been honoring Jobs' admiration and love for the Beatles.

Your own preconceived notions prevent you from hearing the truth. And seriously? You're going to take issue with a dead man's taste in music? Talk about wearing blinders.

Ninthgirl
Ninthgirl

I just watched the intro. It wasn't anything like you portray it. http://www.omusicawards.com/ (around 29 minutes.) Also, I wasn't speaking for myself, "sister," I was speaking as someone who has watched and read enough about The Beatles to know how their songs were written. I didn't say anything about lyrics.It is clear that you have your preconceived notions that you won't let be affected by the facts. One of which is that after their breakup, the individual Beatles continued to work together. It's Jobs' loss if he wouldn't keep an open mind about their "solo" work. 

Here's something that will really offend you! A friend of Jobs' comparing him to Lennon!http://www.metro.co.uk/video/1... Enjoy.

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