Thursday, July 27, 2006

Stories of the Songs: Imagine

" 'Imagine' is the fruit of John's dream of realizing our ideal world."
Yoko Ono, 2006

"With "Imagine," we're saying, "Can you imagine a world without countries or religions?" It's the same message over and over. And it's positive."
John Lennon, 1980 (Playboy)

"Imagine" is one of John Lennon's best known and best loved songs. One of John's inspirations for the song was Yoko Ono's book, "Grapefruit", which contained 'instructions' such as "Imagine the clouds dripping. Dig a hole in your garden to put them in."

"Well actually that should be credited as a Lennon/Ono song, a lot of it - the lyric, the concept - came from Yoko, but those days I was a bit more selfish, a bit more macho and I sort of omitted to mention her contribution, but it was right out of 'Grapefruit', her book, there's a whole pile of pieces about imagine this and that and I have given her credit now long overdue."
John Lennon, December 1980

Yoko was with John when he made that statement in a radio interview two days before his death.

"I was thinking, 'Oh, oh, you shouldn't be saying that.' That's how I felt because I have been a figure that was not necessarily loved, and I was worried that the fact that I had anything to do with the song would have been considered as interference to its popularity."
Yoko Ono,2003, The Telegraph

Although he is widely thought to have written the song on New York Hilton notepaper during a plane trip, Yoko said that most of the song was written in their bedroom at their home, Tittenhurst Park, Ascot. "Maybe one verse, maybe not even one verse, was written on the plane," she said in 2003.

See the handwritten "Imagine" lyrics at The Beatles Bad Handwroter Archive.

The upright Steinway Model Z piano on which "Imagine" was written was bought at auction by singer George Michael for £1.45m in 2001. Michael immediately then donated it to the Beatles Story museum in Liverpool. He said, "It's not the type of thing that should be in storage somewhere or being protected - it should be seen by people".

In the "Imagine" video, however, John is playing his more famous white grand piano in an all-white room at Tittenhurst Park, while Yoko opens the curtains and lets light into the room.

John Lennon has received a lot of criticism over the lyrics to "Imagine", particularly the line "Imagine no possessions" which prompted Elvis Costello to write, "Was it a millionaire who said, 'Imagine no possessions'?" In my opinion these people are missing the whole point of the song, which is simply to imagine a dream world with no countries, religions, possessions and nothing else 'to kill or die for'. As Yoko said in a 2001 interview, "John was not being preachy - he was asking people to imagine these things, rather than 'do it'".

The lines telling us to 'imagine there's no heaven' and 'no religion too' have also caused controversy. (See Church School Ban On Lennon's Imagine).

"Imagine is a big hit almost everywhere - an anti-religious, anti-conventional,anti-capitalist song, but because it's sugar-coated it's accepted. Now I understand what you have to do.Put your message across with a little honey."
John Lennon

The song was first released on the album "Imagine" in 1971. It was also released as a single in the US in 1971 where it reached #3 and in the UK in 1975 where it reached #6 before re-entering the charts at #1 in 1980. On National Poetry Day in 1999 "Imagine" was voted Britain's favourite song lyric and was re-released soon afterwards, reaching #3.

Song Trivia

When Liverpool Airport was renamed Liverpool John Lennon Airport in 2001, Yoko Ono unveiled a plaque which read "above us only sky".

The Strawberry Fields Memorial in New York's Central Park features a mosaic with the word "Imagine" at the centre.

The song has been covered by artists such as Madonna, David Bowie, Joan Baez, Dolly Parton, Neil Young (at the benefit concert America: A Tribute to Heroes) and Peter Gabriel (at the 2006 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony)

John Lennon performed the song live several times. He included it in his Live in New York City (One to One) concert, in a concert at New York's Apollo Theatre, on the Mike Douglas Show, and at a tribute to Lew Grade.


More information on "Imagine":

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