Friday, September 9, 2011

Living Life In Peace: John Lennon's Imagine at 40

 John Lennon - Imagine
John Lennon
Rating: ****

The Beatles had broken up in April 1970. All of the fab four were able to continue with their careers now as solo artists. For John Lennon, it was a new freedom for him to make his own music. On September 9, 1971, Lennon released his second solo album Imagine. It would go on to become one of Lennon’s biggest albums. Imagine is also one of Lennon’s best albums. Now 40 years since its release, the songs and even Lennon himself have been able to live on and attract the younger generation.
John Lennon had released his first solo album in December 1970 called John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. The album did fairly well in the charts, reaching #6 in the US and #8 in the UK. Reviews were positive and many believe Plastic Ono Band is still Lennon’s best album. Lennon began 1971 with the release of a new single, “Power to the People” in March. During the sessions for the single, Lennon recorded two songs called “It’s So Hard” and “I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier”, which would later end up on Imagine. Recording for Imagine began on June 23 and ended on July 5. The album was mainly recorded in the home studio of John and Yoko, Tittenhursk Park in Ascot. The couple built the home studio, Ascot Sound Studios. Phil Spector was producer again, as well. The making of the album was heavily documented. The footage can now be seen in the documentary Gimme Some Truth: The Making of John Lennon’s Imagine and some bits are shown in the 1988 Imagine documentary. Overdubs and re-recordings of the songs were done in July 1971. By August 1971, John and Yoko were no longer living at Tittenhursk Park.
There are a handful of songs that could be considered the greatest song ever written. “Imagine” is one of those songs. It’s John’s signature song without a doubt. Sometimes, I worry if this is all John’s solo career will be remembered for. I think I’m wrong: John Lennon had a brief but amazing solo career. “Imagine” is probably remembered for its lyrics and the simplicity. The song’s lyrics are about imagining that there’s no religion or countries. “You may say I’m a dreamer” sings John. “But I’m not the only one”. John urges listeners to join him so the world can live as one. Forty years later, the song is extremely relevant. In fact, the songs probably gets more and more relevant each year. “Imagine” is one of the greatest songs John ever wrote. Next up is the rock and roll “Crippled Inside”. Lyrically, the song would’ve been perfect for Plastic Ono Band. Instead it’s on Imagine and although the sound is a bit upbeat. To me, the song sounds like a song that’s a bit country but it also sounds like an upbeat country western tune or something you’d hear in a saloon. The lyrics are a bit dark: no matter how much you try and hide yourself, “one thing you can’t hide/Is when you’re crippled inside”. “Jealous Guy” is another great song off the album, as well as one of John’s best songs ever. Believe it or not, the song actually began life as a Beatles song. John wrote it in India after hearing about the Maharrisi Yogi’s lecture on “son of the mother nature”. Paul wrote “Mother Nature’s Son” and John wrote a song called “Child of Nature”. “Child of Nature” would’ve been on The Beatles/White Album but only a few recordings exist. John took the music and rewrote the lyrics about jealousy. The new lyrics are great but it may not exactly be about jealousy. Some believe John wrote it about Paul and/or Yoko. I think it could be about John himself. John seemed to be the kind of guy who could get so uptight about something and then later on, take it easy. John may’ve also been writing about how the average jealous person feels. Whatever the case may be, “Jealous Guy” is a great song. “It’s So Hard” is a simple slow rocker that also could’ve ended up on Plastic Ono Band. John may’ve written it about his own life and the struggles he faced. The song, in a word, is about life. Side one ends with “I Don’t Want To Be a Solider”, a bit of a funk-rock kind of track. John just wanted to be John Lennon so he wrote a song about it. This song may also have to do with the activism that he and Yoko would take part in.
Side two opens with “Gimme Some Truth”, one of John’s best political songs. It’s almost like a statement. Clearly, John wasn’t happy with how the world was going. “I’m sick and tired of hearing things/From uptight, short-sighted, narrow minded hypocrites” proclaims John. “All I want is the truth/Just gimme some truth”. John is very honest is song, so honest to the point he’s screaming “All I want is the truth!” Personally, “Gimme Some Truth” is my favorite song off the album. “Oh My Love” is another tender ballad from John. The lyrics are beautiful: “I see the wind, oh, I see the trees” John sings. It’s the simplicity once again that makes this song good. The following track, however, couldn’t be described as beautiful: “How Do You Sleep?”. As all Beatles fans should know, the song was written about John’s feelings for Paul. John had a grudge against Paul since the breakup of the Beatles. John also felt that Paul’s “Too Many People” from the 1971 Ram album was about him (and Paul did admit some of the lyrics were attacking John and Yoko). It’s clearly about Paul. Just read the opening lyrics: “So Sgt. Pepper took you by surprise”. John also address the “Paul is dead” hoax (“Those freaks was right when they said/You was dead”), some other song titles (“The only thing you done was yesterday” and “Since you’re gone you’re just/Another day”), and insults (“The sound you make is muzak/To my ears”). This is indeed a rocker, with some great guitar playing…from George Harrison?! That’s right. George is playing on this song. He was later quoted to saying he wasn’t comfortable about playing on this song. Obviously, John and Paul did settle their differences in 1975 when they met each other the last time before John was murdered in 1980. In later interviews, John said in interviews that songs like “How Do You Sleep” and “Steel and Glass” (John’s feelings about Allen Klien) were actually about him. Right, John. Sure they were. The rock-infused “How Do You Sleep?” is followed by the light-hearted “How?”. Again, the song could’ve easily ended up on Plastic Ono Band. Some of John’s most overlooked lyrics are in this song: “How can I go forward when I don’t know which way I’m facing”. It seems like in this song, John had still gotten a lot out the primal therapy he underwent and put into Plastic Ono Band. John could be speaking for the people who don’t know what the future holds for them. If he is, it’s a great way to put it: in song!  Imagine ends with “Oh, Yoko!”. It’s another one of John’s simple songs but this one is very tongue-in-cheek. However, I think John wanted it to be that way. It’s an unusual way to end the album but personally, I kind of like it.
  Imagine was released to positive reviews when released in 1971. Unlike Plastic Ono Band, the album did better chart wise: it was #1 almost in various countries. With the success of Imagine, Lennon was able to continue his solo career. However, almost the rest of his life would be in New York City. He and Yoko moved in September 1971. The couple fought to stay in the United States, which John was finally allowed to around 1975 when the couple’s son Sean was born. Lennon continued his career until he was murdered on December 8, 1980. Meanwhile, John’s music continues to live on and grab the attention of the younger audiences. Imagine is still hailed today as one of the greatest albums ever made and has made appearances on list of the greatest album ever made. Rolling Stone ranked it at #67 in 2003. For me, Imagine sits at #91 in my top 250. Although I prefer Plastic Ono Band, I think Imagine is still a great album. 

1 comment:

  1. Carey Fuller is a homeless parent in Seattle. She works two jobs and lives in a van with her children. In her video, Carey shares the common challenges trying to keep her family together - challenges which you or I have no idea about.

    When I listen to Imagine, I think of Carey Fuller and John Lennon's words:

    Imagine all the people sharing all the world. You may say that I'm a dreamer. But I'm not the only one...

    More about Carey Fuller here: