While music fans attempt to find alternate sources of entertainment amid a strict social distancing lockdown, we’re stepping back into the Far Out Magazine vault to revisit a moment of Beatles and John Lennon history when, a number of years ago, a previously unheard original demo of Lennon’s enigmatic hit ‘Imagine’ surfaced online.
The recording, which featured as part of a mammoth six-disc set that honoured Lennon’s most personal and revered album Imagine, arrived as just one of the 140 tracks that later featured on the deluxe edition set. Many of the tracks included were remixed or remastered and, on top of that, a portion of original recordings from the band’s most iconic songs was featured.
However, despite Beatles fans scrambling to take in some rare material, one of the main features that caught the attention was a newly found demo of the title-track ‘imagine’ which was found, almost by accident, by sound engineer Rob Stevens who was working on the project. He said: “Early 2016, during the gestation period of this project… Ono arrives with my people going through tape boxes that have labelling that’s unclear, misleading or missing entirely.”
Adding: “There’s a 1” 8-track that says nothing more on the Ascot Sound label than John Lennon, the date and the engineer (Phil McDonald) with DEMO on the spine. [There was] no indication of what material was on the tape. One delicate transfer to digital later, the ‘Imagine’ demo, subsequently enhanced superbly by Paul Hicks, appears within this comprehensive set. It was true serendipity.”
‘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.
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.”
Revisiting the early recordings, the project was overseen at Abbey Road by the late Beatles’ wife, Yoko Ono. Ono said: “Imagine was created with immense love and concern for the children of the world,” she once said. “I hope you enjoy it.”
Don’t waste another second and listen to this beautiful, raw version of one of the greatest songs ever written.