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In 2010, Capitol Records released remastered versions of John Lennon’s entire catalog, the best of which remains the Phil Spector-produced Imagine. The title track has become an integral part of the world’s cultural fabric–the centerpiece of a ghetto high school halftime show at a basketball game in New York or a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavor (“Imagine Whirled Peace”).
Artists ranging from Madonna to A Perfect Circle have covered it. All this is somewhat amazing, considering that the message of “Imagine” is among the most radical imaginable. John Lennon described “Imagine” as “anti-capitalistic” but his message is more than that. The song, a top five hit, not only imagines a world without war or religion, but as a communal society in which money no longer exists.
“Imagine” informs all the songs on the album, not just the likes of “Gimme Some Truth” or “I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier” but “Jealous Guy,” “It’s So Hard,” and “Crippled Inside.” Don’t like the world? Don’t like yourself? Imagine something different.
Musically, the spare piano accompaniment of “Imagine” is atypical on an album featuring spirited honky-tonk, King Curtis, strings, and intense playing by George Harrison and pianist Nicky Hopkins. The merger of all this sound with a great lyricist/singer results in an album where emotions create ideas and ideas make you emotional. Imagine that.
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one
John Lennon would have been 79 on October 9th.
This piece is excerpted from Lee Ballinger’s latest book, Love and War.
Lee Ballinger, CounterPunch’s music columnist, is co-editor of Rock and Rap Confidential author of the forthcoming book Love and War: My First Thirty Years of Writing, interviewed Honkala for CounterPunch. RRRC is now available for free by emailing Ballinger at: firstname.lastname@example.org.