Imagine is John Lennon’s second album as a solo artist, and it stands today as the best album of his solo career. Unlike his previous release, Plastic Ono Band, which was raw and sparsely produced, Imagine is quite commercial-sounding.
John may have intentionally set out to make a hit album rather than a personal one, perhaps because Plastic Ono Band had sold less well than Paul McCartney’s McCartney and George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass.
Co-producer Phil Spector helped Lennon achieve the commercial sound he wanted, and Imagine reached #1 in the US and the UK. The album is mostly excellent, with just a few moments that fail to reach the bar set by the rest of the album.
Some of Lennon’s best-known songs are on Imagine, including the title song, which is still the song most-often associated with Lennon. The album also contains what may be Lennon’s most infamous song, “How Do You Sleep?”
John Lennon — Imagine: Track-by-track review
“Imagine” is a beautiful song, with a very simple yet effective arrangement. Musically, the song compares favorably with any of Lennon’s work with the Beatles. One can only assume, however, that those who embrace “Imagine” for its message have not actually listened to its lyrics.
The song tells us that all of mankind’s problems stem from religion, patriotism and capitalism. If we could abandon these beliefs and live in an atheistic, communist society, all people would live in peace and brotherhood. Certainly some do hold those beliefs, but I suspect that many who consider “Imagine” a great song would be opposed to having the ideas it suggests put into actual practice.
“Anti-religious, anti-nationalistic, anti-conventional, anti-capitalistic, but because it is sugar-coated it is accepted,” John said about “Imagine”. It seems that he was right.
“Imagine” is what everyone who calls themselves a leader is still unable to do. by ant (24)
2. “Crippled Inside”
“Crippled Inside” is one of the lesser tracks on Imagine. It is an interesting combination of negative lyrics paired with bouncy up-tempo music. The lyrics are quite critical of its subject, but phrased in a way that suits the country-rock/honk-tonk arrangement.
You can shine your shoes and wear a suit
You can comb your hair and look quite cute
You can hide your face behind a smile
One thing you can’t hide
Is when you’re crippled inside
Fellow ex-Beatle George Harrison plays dobro on the track. “Crippled Inside” is not a bad song, but it isn’t a great one either. Because so much of Imagine is so good, this song suffers by comparison.
3. “Jealous Guy”
“Jealous Guy” is one of the most beautiful songs on Imagine, both musically and lyrically. The piano-based arrangement is perfect for this song, and Lennon’s vocals convey the emotion contained in the lyrics.
John was supposed to be the rocker, and Paul the writer of ballads, but clearly the dichotomy was not that simple. In reality, McCartney has written many great rockers, and Lennon was clearly capable of writing a beautiful ballad, as “Jealous Guy” illustrates.
The melody of this song is taken from a song titled “Child of Nature”, which Lennon wrote in 1968, at about the same time that McCartney wrote “Mother Nature’s Son”. Both had been inspired by a lecture given by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It is not known why McCartney’s song was chosen over Lennon’s for the White Album, but versions of “Child of Nature” are available on various bootleg recordings.
For “Jealous Guy”, Lennon kept the melody unchanged and rewrote the lyrics.
4. “It’s So Hard”
“It’s So Hard”, a guitar-based rocker, was the B-side on the “Imagine” single. The song’s title is a comment on the nature of life.
You gotta live
You gotta love
You gotta be somebody
You gotta shove
But it’s so hard, it’s really hard
Sometimes I feel like going down
The song’s subject matter and sparse, simple lyrics are reminiscent of Lennon’s previous album, Plastic Ono Band. John being John, he does play with the double-meaning of “going down”.
When I hold you in my arms baby
Sometimes I feel like going down
This is a nice little rocker, aided by the saxophone playing of King Curtis. King Curtis, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, was a well-known musician whose playing can be heard on dozens of hit records by the Coasters, Buddy Holly, Wilson Pickett, Sam Cooke and many others. Sadly, this was one of his last recording sessions. He was murdered shortly before the release of Imagine.
5. “I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier”
“I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier” is not just an anti-war song, it’s a listing of all the things John Lennon doesn’t want to be. The list includes soldier, sailor, failure, rich man, poor man, lawyer, thief and churchman.
Lennon occasionally wrote songs which seem to be saying something meaningful, but when examined more closely yield no real meaning at all. This song comes close to being such a song, with lyrics such as:
I don’t wanna be a sailor mama, I don’t wanna fly
George Harrison and King Curtis both play on this track, and Phil Spector’s hand can be heard in the heavy “wall of sound” production. The song sounds great, but both melodically and lyrically it is quite repetitive, and with a running time of over six minutes, it’s also too long.
6. “Gimme Some Truth”
“Gimme Some Truth” is another song that goes back to the Beatle years. Bootleg recordings of the Beatles from 1969 contain a partially written version of this song.
John was obviously angry at the world when he wrote this one.
I’m sick and tired of hearing things
From uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocritics
All I want is the truth
Just gimme some truth
I’ve had enough of reading things
By neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians
All I want is the truth
Just gimme some truth
No short-haired, yellow-bellied, son of Tricky Dicky
Is gonna mother hubbard soft soap me
With just a pocketful of hope
Money for dope
Money for rope
This is a good track. George Harrison plays an outstanding slide guitar solo, and both lyrics and music very convincingly convey Lennon’s anger.
7. “Oh My Love”
After three heavy, guitar-based songs, “Oh My Love” is a return to the gentle sounds of “Imagine” and “Jealous Guy”.
It sounds like the song Lennon might have written after he’d completed his primal scream therapy. He says that for the first time in his life, he can see, feel, and love. One presumes that these are the emotional benefits of the primal scream treatments.
This very pretty ballad is another song which was written during John’s Beatle years. A 1968 demo recording of the song can be found on various bootlegs. Yoko Ono is credited as co-writer on this song.
8. “How Do You Sleep?”
It’s really disappointing to see John Lennon stoop this low. How can the same man who sang about peace and brotherhood in “Imagine” spit such vitriol as is contained in this song?
“How Do You Sleep?” is a mean-spirited attack on Paul McCartney’s musical ability, his wife and family, and his life is general. The fact that George Harrison plays on the track just throws salt in the wound.
Given the nature of John’s relationship with Yoko, and the influence she clearly had over him, it is almost comical for John to aim the line “Jump when your mama tell you anything” at Paul.
In reality, this song borders on incoherence. Paul chose to marry Linda, and he writes songs which sound like Muzak to John’s ears, and because of this he should feel so guilty that he can’t sleep at night?
Musically the song is excellent, which makes it even more frustrating. With a different set of lyrics, “How Do You Sleep?” would be one of the standout tracks on Imagine.
If “Oh My Love” is the song that Lennon wrote after finishing primal-scream therapy, then “How?” may be one he wrote while still in therapy.
The song asks several introspective questions, none of which are answered. It seems as though “How?” and “Oh My Love” should be reversed in order, as the latter song lyrically answers the questions posed in the former. For example, in “How?” Lennon asks
How can I go forward when I don’t know which way I’m facing?
How can I go forward when I don’t know which way to turn?
How can I go forward into something I’m not sure of?
Almost as if in response, “Oh My Love” begins:
Oh my love for the first time in my life
My eyes are wide open
Oh my lover for the first time in my life
My eyes can see
I see the wind, oh I see the trees
Everything is clear in my heart
In “How?”, as with the earlier song “It’s So Hard”, Lennon presents us with a negative view of life in general.
You know life can be long
And you got to be so strong
And the world is so tough
Sometimes I feel I’ve had enough
“How?” is another slow piano-based song, but musically it falls short of the standard set by the album’s earlier examples. The verses have a strange meter, and they drag a bit. Lyrically, however, the song successfully conveys the confusion and frustration that all of us have felt at some point in our lives.
10. “Oh Yoko!”
“Oh Yoko!” provides a nice ending for Imagine. Yoko Ono has her detractors, but John obviously loved her very deeply, and this song is a declaration of that love. Rather than attempt to be poetic or profound, John uses simple, straightforward language to express his feelings.
In the middle of the night I call your name
This song has a very catchy tune and a nice beat, and you may find it stuck in your head for a while after the album finishes.
Imagine by John Lennon
“It’s So Hard”
“I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier”
“Gimme Some Truth”
“Oh My Love”
“How Do You Sleep?”