Thoughts on Imagine

If you’ve been worried about me and my fragile mental state since my last post from more than a month ago (whoops), you were right to worry. Since that time, I’ve developed a new obsession because, you know, I was starting to run low on those…

(If you weren’t worried about me at all, that’s okay, it doesn’t hurt my feelings. I’ve been accused of being overly sensitive, but it’s really not true. Unless it’s the wrong time of month, of course.)

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New life motto right there.

My newest obsession is a BBC/PBS Masterpiece show called Poldark, and I may have accidentally marathoned the first three seasons on Amazon Prime in about two weeks. Oops. We’re going to have to talk about it soon, so if you haven’t watched it yet, get ready!

I’ll give you a moment to wipe the drool from your mouth….

Meanwhile, John Lennon’s Imagine was re-released last month. This version is reportedly the ultimate release, and you won’t need to buy another copy of Imagine ever again. Fans had their choice of a single CD, a double CD or vinyl with the second disc featuring “elements mixes”, outtakes, demos, and alternate takes, or the ultimate edition with four audio discs (same content of the double CD edition plus more outtakes etc.), two blu-rays, and a hardcover book. Being quite fond of my old, battered vinyl copy of Imagine, a surprise gift from my husband when we were still dating, I simply opted for the double CD, decreeing it sufficient for my needs. Trying to cut back, y’know.

In the liner notes, engineer Paul Hicks states that Yoko Ono wanted this release to achieve three goals: first, be totally faithful and respectful to the originals, second, be sonically clearer overall, and finally, increase the clarity of John’s voice because, in her words, “It’s about John.” Which, of course, is absolutely true. For a man who (amazingly, inexplicably) hated his voice, his voice–in its genuine, bare-soul beauty–bears the greatest impact on Imagine (and every other Lennon work, I’d argue).

With this remastering of Imagine, that voice is clearer than ever before, making the album that much more powerful and enjoyable. Lennon once described Imagine as “Plastic Ono with chocolate coating”, referring to his first official solo venture, Plastic Ono Band, where, fully indulged in Primal Scream Therapy, he unleashed pent-up emotions about his upbringing, class, religion, and those darn Beatles.

But you know what? I like chocolate coating. It’s the food group at the bottom of the food pyramid in my world. I’ve been thinking about which Lennon album is my favorite (when I’m not, you know, thinking about Captain Poldark) or which is the best, and I just think Imagine might be it, chocolate coating and all. And I think it not only has to do with his voice and the lyrics but also that Imagine encapsulates John as a flawed, beautiful human being so well.

The title track is iconic, rightfully so, and has to be THE John Lennon track. Painting a portrait of a beautiful Utopian world, the lyrics are fraught with irony. “Imagine no possessions,” sings the man currently residing in what can only be described as a mansion sitting on 70-some acres. But there’s also the irony inherent in Lennon’s personality, which could alternately be loving and combative. We see this duality in “Jealous Guy,” where he plaintively seeks forgiveness (“I didn’t mean to hurt you/I’m sorry that I made you cry”) and tries to explain the cruel side of his personality (“I’m just a jealous guy…watch out”). John’s gentle, vulnerable voice makes this beautiful song transcendent.

Yet, Lennon bites on this album, too. He pokes fun at religious hypocrisy in “Crippled Inside,” and he leaves no survivors in “Gimme Some Truth.” The cutting lyrics, of which it is impossible to pick a single favorite line, attack politicians and their games. “Just gimme some truth,” Lennon snarls. His voice is front and center on this track, lending less volume to the backing track and emphasizing the power and emotion of his voice. It’s such a great and relevant track. And George Harrison’s slide guitar solo is pretty sweet, too.

John also poked fun at Paul’s cover art on Imagine as well…

Perhaps the harshest and most controversial track on the album is “How Do You Sleep?”, where Lennon directs his diatribe toward his former bandmate, Paul McCartney. “The only thing you done/Was Yesterday/And since you’ve gone/You’re just another day,” he sings, knowing where to hurt McCartney the most. McCartney, who sought, coveted, and needed Lennon’s approval, would be supremely hurt by such a severe dismissal of his musical accomplishments and talents. Lennon was responding to attacks he heard on Ram. McCartney later admitted that a few lines were digs at John and Yoko (“Too many people preaching practices”, “You took your lucky break and broke it in two”). The difference between the two is telling of their individual personalities: McCartney’s lyrics are allusive; Lennon’s lyrics are direct, leaving the listener to imagine absolutely nothing. Yet, the final product we hear on the album is less offensive than some of what was rehearsed. Visiting the studio, Ringo Starr witnessed some of the more bitter lyrics and told Lennon, “That’s enough, John.” For his part, George Harrison, again playing a mean slide guitar, had no visible reaction to the song, as seen in the Imagine film:

(Klaus Voorman looks pretty miserable as well.)

Paul was right to not respond–lyrically, at least–to the track, as there was never really any competing with John’s lyrical prowess and wit. It is important to note how the two men did eventually reconcile; by the time of Lennon’s death, the two had resumed their loving, brotherly relationship.

On Imagine, we hear Lennon’s plea for a better, more peaceful world, his unabashed, borderline obnoxious love for his wife (“In the middle of a bath, I call your name…Ohhhhh Yoooooooko!”–it should be annoying, but it’s kind of endearing and lovely), his admittance of his shortcomings (“I’m just a jealous guy”), and his venom for hypocrisy in all its forms, even if that means attacking a dearly loved friend. He is loving. He is angry. He is hopeful. He is kind. He is viciously cruel. He was all of those things, and while he sings of a longing for a better world on Imagine, he ultimately worked diligently to become a better man until his life was senselessly cut short. “He was no angel,” a journalist commented to George Harrison in 1988. “He wasn’t. But he was, as well,” George replied. “Was he?” the journalist challenged. “Yeah,” was Harrison’s simple reply.

Imagine–now in its full remastered glory–is a wonderful reminder of that.

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