Imagine No Imagine

Author: Bruce Jenkins  Date Posted:3 April 2019 

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 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.

A postscript…

At the school children’s climate change protest in March 2019, a group of teenagers sang “Imagine”, adding an environmental intensity to the hope embodied in the song. People—young people—dreaming of a better world and seeking a voice for change. John Lennon would have approved.

Bruce Jenkins © 2019