The iconic work which is left behind following John Lennon’s untimely death in 1980 is vast and expansive. But there’s one song which will represent Lennon for Infinitum. We’re looking back at the beautiful vocal track for John Lennon’s open letter to humanity ‘Imagine’.
The Beatles were only a little way down the road of their six decades of influence over music when the group split in 1970. But in truth, the band had been fragmenting for some time and each member of the Fab Four was keen on exploring their own sound and expression. Lennon, on his solo travels, wrote one of his best songs ever.
‘Imagine’, the title track of his Phil Spector-produced album from 1971, remains a bastion of possibility and humanitarian hope to this day. While the lyrics were written by Lennon and Yoko Ono (in fact, following the claim that Ono provided much of the lyrics, she was given a co-writing credit on the song in 2017), it’s is Lennon’s serene and ethereal delivery which moves the song into a new realm of sonic poetry and social possibility.
The song was finished in New York, having been largely recorded in Tittlehurst, and it remains a message of not only a wide-ranging feeling of hopefulness for world peace but as a plea to those who hear it to continue to remove the man-made barriers to spiritual connection, something that feels all the more prevalent today.
It’s a sentiment which has outlived Lennon and one which will likely outlive us all. It’s widely considered one of the best songs ever written and is easily the purest of heart. It’s a sentiment so crystalline that the song lends itself well to being covered with David Bowie and Elton John being among our favourites to take on the track.
In an interview with David Sheff for Playboy Magazine, shortly before his death in December 1980, Lennon shared that Dick Gregory had given him and Ono a Christian Prayer-book which had inspired him. “The concept of positive prayer … If you can imagine a world at peace, with no denominations of religion – not without religion but without this my God-is-bigger-than-your-God thing – then it can be true.”
The Beatle continued, “the World Church called me once and asked, “Can we use the lyrics to ‘Imagine’ and just change it to ‘Imagine one religion’?” That showed [me] they didn’t understand it at all. It would defeat the whole purpose of the song, the whole idea.”
The song is a determination, set out by Ono and Lennon, to create a world which is without geo-political borders, without a divisive religion, without the threat of destruction. Lennon, especially with his vocal, offers a ubiquitous message of distinct hope and love.
Though, Lennon later stated the similarities between his ideals set out in the song and Communism. “‘Imagine’, which says: ‘Imagine that there was no more religion, no more country, no more politics,’ is virtually the Communist Manifesto, even though I’m not particularly a Communist and I do not belong to any movement.”
It is the vocal performance, however, which really moves this song on from pretentious rhetoric to a potent set of poetic moments that feel, if not necessarily achievable, the modern day commandments we should be aiming for.
While Lennon’s death will always add gravitas to a song with such a pertinent message, it is his vocal tone which allows one to dream of Lennon in his own heaven without borders.
Listen below to John Lennon’s isolated vocal on his magnum opus ‘Imagine’