Tony Visconti is something of a legend in the sphere of glam rock. From his work on Band On The Run, to the shimmering anthems he spearheaded with Mark Bolan, Visconti has become something of a giant in the field of rock. Although Visconti wasn’t a consistent collaborator in terms of rock and roll’s ultimate chronology, he’s certainly produced more David Bowie records than anybody else. He helped Bowie to craft some of his best works, and for that, he will never be forgotten. Visconti’s brilliant work extends far beyond that of Bowie, however, it is his work with the Brixton native that has really etched his name into history.
As a studio wizard, he’s done it all. However, to Visconti, there are some stones he’s left unturned. Appearing in the NME’s ‘Soundtrack of my Life’ segment back in February, Visconti revealed that the song he wishes he wrote was John Lennon’s timeless 1971 classic, ‘Imagine’.
Discussing the song with the publication, the veteran producer described his experiences of meeting the Beatle. “I had the honour of meeting him at David Bowie‘s hotel suite in Manhattan when we were working on ‘Young Americans’ in the ’70s,” Visconti said. “John Lennon was going out with May Pang at the time. I rang the doorbell and there was a lot of shuffling behind the door before anyone would let me in. I opened the door and I found that John and May were hiding in the bathroom because there was a copious amount of cocaine on the coffee table. John was in danger of losing his green card, he had problems with immigration.”
The producer continued the story: “If I was the police he would have been in big trouble. But everybody’s heartbeat started to come down and they let me in. David was afraid to talk to him because… well, John Lennon’s John Lennon. I looked around, he wasn’t chatting to anyone, he was just sitting on the couch idly. I said: ‘John, do you mind if I talk to you? Because I’ve got about 1000 questions to ask you’. He says ‘that’s cool, man, just shoot away!’ He was very, very open, very kind. I’ll never forget it.”
The tune ‘Imagine’ is the third anthem Lennon wrote in an effort to realise a more utopic society, following ‘All You Need Is Love’ and ‘Give Peace A Chance’. Paul McCartney was co-credited on the aforementioned two, but ‘Imagine’ was a collaboration between Lennon and his second wife Yoko Ono. She was duly credited on ‘Imagine’, and rightly so, as she served as the conceptual director of the piece. Lennon was inspired to write the anthem after reading her writings, which advocated for harmony in the world. A Japanese woman by birth, Ono’s life experiences influenced her life choices, and she in turn inspired Lennon to write work that was more honest in its sound.
Unlike Visconti’s work, ‘Imagine’ is stripped back, and features Lennon on piano, Yes drummer Alan White on percussion and Manfred Mann mainstay Klaus Voorman on bass. The power of the song didn’t lie in its production or musical design, but in the lyrical content, showcasing a sense of purpose and position in the geography, environment and fable of the work in question. Indeed, the song almost entirely pushes the words above the piano backing, and the unadorned stripped back approach to the song was one that made an impression on many, including Visconti.
Bowie performed ‘Imagine’ in concert, following Lennon’s murder. Suddenly the ode to hope had added tinges of danger, especially since it came out at such a pivotal point in the history of rock and roll. Suddenly, the movement had lost one of its key revolutionaries, and it was growing harder to be idealistic in a decade that was growing more corporate.
The world we live in is very different to the world Lennon imagined in his great opus, but as long as there are people like Visconti out there to champion it, then it is possible that one-day humanity will live as one.