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Music Review: John Lennon – Imagine

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On October 9, 1940, John Winston Lennon was born in Liverpool, England. Therefore today would have marked his 68th birthday. As George Harrison said on his All Things Must Pass triple album – “It’s Johnny’s Birthday”. George and Ringo dedicated the track to John to mark his 30th birthday in 1970. The date is doubly important as on October 8th 1971 John Lennon’s album Imagine was released in the UK following its earlier appearance in the United States. The album too celebrates it's birthday, thirty-seven years old.

It would be fascinating to see what John in his late sixties would be doing if still alive today. Whether he would have continued to reside in New York City cannot be known and neither can the question of what music he would have produced. At the time of his death he had been busy recording. Certainly Double Fantasy and the posthumous Milk And Honey albums represented a welcome return to one of the most, if not the most, influential song writers ever. Where he would have gone from there we will sadly never know.

Back in 1971 he followed his first post Beatles solo release John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band with perhaps his best known album Imagine. Best known largely because of the strength of the single taken from it that has become something of a John Lennon anthem. Who can forget that film of him at his grand piano in the white room of his Tittenhurst Park mansion in Berkshire? Who can forget the message behind the lyrics of the song itself? Who can forget the emotional scenes outside the Dakota Building during which the song was played over and over again when news of his murder became public? The word Imagine fittingly became the centre of the display at the Strawberry Fields memorial in Central Park. 

Imagine saw a more mainstream approach from John after his previous album. Describing it as ‘chocolate coated for public consumption’ it did provide us with another vital addition to the Lennon legacy. Guest musicians included George Harrison, Klaus Voormann, Jim Keltner, Nicky Hopkins known for his work with The Stones, Tom Evans (fellow Apple band Badfinger), and King Curtis who himself was murdered in New York City just before the album was released.

It isn’t only the track “Imagine” that catches the attention. The apologetically introspective and touching “Jealous Guy” has been covered by dozens of artists over the years. The cutting lyrics of “Crippled Inside” partially disguised by its upbeat production and the frustrated attack on political duplicity that is “Gimme Some Truth” are both highlights. John’s anti war stance appears strongly again on “I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier”.

There are some less confrontational and touching moments too such as “Oh My Love” written with Yoko and “How?” However the album received extra publicity when the apparent lyrical attack on Paul McCartney during “How Do You Sleep?” was discussed. Certainly there are obvious references to his ex-bandmate, ‘the only thing you done was yesterday, and since you've gone you're just another day’ – references of course to one of Paul’s finer songwriting moments set in contrast to his then recent output. The inclusion of a photograph of John holding a pig in response to Paul’s Ram cover tends to underline the theory. If it was an attack on Paul it was made all the more effective by the presence of George Harrison covering slide guitar and Beatle friend dating back to Hamburg Klaus Voormann, the man who designed the Revolver cover, on bass.

Imagine was more accessible to the mainstream fans following the uncertainty in their response to the previous year’s Plastic Ono Band. He followed it with Some Time In New York City (1972), Mind Games (1973), and Walls And Bridges (1974).

John Lennon was an activist, a leader, a spokesperson for world peace, an author, actor and artist, and a brilliant song writer. A genius whose influence can never be forgotten. Imagine contains moments to remind us of all of those different aspects of the man.

One thing that is often overlooked however is his great sense of humour and on this, his birthday, it seems fitting to remember that. After all, we have December to feel his loss all over again. So imagine him still with us today and smile.

Visit the Yoko One approved John Lennon website.

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About Jeff Perkins

  • Let me go out on a limb here…….. Imagine is generally regarded by many fans, both casual and hard core, as Lennon’s greatest song. But I’d give that distinction to Jealous Guy, which appears on the same album. I suppose there’s any number of reasons; however, the difficulty lies in seeing past Imagine’s wish for a better world, which I would think is a near universal human desire and belief that one can change things for the better.

    On the other hand, Jealous Guy is about self awareness and self acceptance. This includes the possibility that one might never be able to change some aspects about oneself – that perhaps some character flaws actually define any given individual. This is a much more difficult sell, and I think Lennon’s craftsmanship and inspiration was put to better use wrestling with the reality of Jealous Guy as opposed to the more easily handled themes of Imagine.

    Jus an opinion. Happy B’day John – hope you found your Instant Karma where we’ll all shine on.