Imagine (John Lennon song)

"Imagine"
John Lennon
UK picture sleeve
Single by John Lennon
from the album Imagine
B-side
Released11 October 1971 (1971-10-11) (US)
24 October 1975 (1975-10-24) (UK)[1]
Format7-inch
RecordedMay–July 1971
StudioAscot Sound Studios, Ascot
Record Plant East, New York
Genre
Length3:03
LabelApple
Songwriter(s)
  • John Lennon
  • Yoko Ono[2]
Producer(s)
John Lennon US singles chronology
"Power to the People"
(1971)
"Imagine"
(1971)
"Happy Xmas (War Is Over)"
(1971)
John Lennon UK singles chronology
"Stand by Me"
(1975)
"Imagine"
(1975)
"(Just Like) Starting Over"
(1980)
Music video
"Imagine" on YouTube

"Imagine" is a song co-written and performed by English musician John Lennon. The best-selling single of his solo career, its lyrics encourage the listener to imagine a world at peace without the barriers of borders or the divisions of religion and nationality and to consider the possibility that the whole of humanity would live unattached to material possessions. Shortly before his death, Lennon said that much of the song's "lyric and content" came from his wife Yoko Ono, and in 2017, she received a co-writing credit.[2]

Lennon and Ono co-produced the song and album of the same name with Phil Spector. Recording began at Lennon's home studio at Tittenhurst Park, England, in May 1971, with final overdubs taking place at the Record Plant, in New York City, during July. One month after the September release of the LP, Lennon released "Imagine" as a single in the United States; the song peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot 100 and the LP reached number one on the UK chart in November, later becoming the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed album of Lennon's solo career. Although not originally released as a single in the United Kingdom, it was released in 1975 to promote Shaved Fish, a compilation LP and it reached number six on the chart that year. The photograph on the cover was taken by May Pang in 1974.[3] The song has since sold more than 1.6 million copies in the UK; it reached number one following Lennon's murder in December 1980. In 1985, the Central Park Conservancy memorialised a portion of the park in honour of Lennon, called Strawberry Fields, with a mosaic that reads "Imagine".[4]

BMI named "Imagine" one of the 100 most-performed songs of the 20th century. The song ranked number 30 on the Recording Industry Association of America's list of the 365 Songs of the Century bearing the most historical significance. It earned a Grammy Hall of Fame Award and an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. A UK survey conducted by the Guinness World Records British Hit Singles Book named it the second best single of all time, while Rolling Stone ranked it number three in their list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Since 2005, event organisers have played it just before the New Year's Times Square Ball drops in New York City. Dozens of artists have performed or recorded versions of "Imagine", including Madonna, Stevie Wonder, Joan Baez, Lady Gaga, Elton John and Diana Ross. Emeli Sandé recorded a cover for the BBC to use during the end credits montage at the close of the 2012 Summer Olympics coverage in August 2012. "Imagine" subsequently re-entered the UK Top 40, reaching number 18.

Composition and writing

An image of a medium-sized brown upright piano in a glass case. The piano keys are exposed.
Lennon's Steinway piano, on which he composed "Imagine", was bought by singer George Michael in 2000 to keep it in the UK[5]

Several poems from Yoko Ono's 1964 book Grapefruit inspired Lennon to write the lyrics for "Imagine"[6] – in particular, one which Capitol Records reproduced on the back cover of the original Imagine LP titled "Cloud Piece", reads: "Imagine the clouds dripping, dig a hole in your garden to put them in."[7] Lennon later said the composition "should be credited as a Lennon/Ono song. A lot of it – the lyric and the concept – came from Yoko, but in those days I was a bit more selfish, a bit more macho, and I sort of omitted her contribution, but it was right out of Grapefruit."[8] When asked about the song's meaning during a December 1980 interview with David Sheff for Playboy magazine, Lennon told Sheff that Dick Gregory had given Ono and him a Christian prayer book, which inspired him the concept behind "Imagine".

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 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.[6]

With the combined influence of "Cloud Piece" and the prayer book given to him by Gregory, Lennon wrote what author John Blaney described as "a humanistic paean for the people".[8] Blaney wrote, "Lennon contends that global harmony is within our reach, but only if we reject the mechanisms of social control that restrict human potential."[9] Rolling Stone's David Fricke commented: "[Lennon] calls for a unity and equality built upon the complete elimination of modern social order: geopolitical borders, organised religion, [and] economic class."[10]

Lennon stated: "'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."[9] He told NME: "There is no real Communist state in the world; you must realize that. The Socialism I speak about ... [is] not the way some daft Russian might do it, or the Chinese might do it. That might suit them. Us, we should have a nice ... British Socialism."[9] Ono described the lyrical statement of "Imagine" as "just what John believed: that we are all one country, one world, one people."[11] Rolling Stone described its lyrics as "22 lines of graceful, plain-spoken faith in the power of a world, united in purpose, to repair and change itself".[11][nb 1]

Lennon composed "Imagine" one morning in early 1971, on a Steinway piano, in a bedroom at his Tittenhurst Park estate in Ascot, Berkshire, England. Ono watched as he composed the melody, chord structure and almost all the lyrics, nearly completing the song in one brief writing session.[11] Described as a piano ballad[13][14] performed in the soft rock genre,[15] the song is in the key of C major.[16] Its 4-bar piano introduction begins with a C chord then moves to Cmaj7 before changing to F; the 12-bar verses also follow this chord progression, with their last 4 bars moving from Am/E to Dm and Dm/C, finishing with G, G11 then G7, before resolving back to C.[16] The 8-bar choruses progress from F to G to C, then Cmaj7 and E before ending on E7, a C chord substituted for E7 in the final bar. The 4-bar outro begins with F, then G, before resolving on C. With a duration of 3 minutes and 3 seconds and a time signature of 4/4, the song's tempo falls around 75 beats per minute.[17]