Imagine – John Lennon

Imagine

John Lennon

1971

Apple / EMI

Today is the anniversary of John Lennon’s tragic death, and so, like I’ve been doing, it’s time to visit one of his albums.  It is the second of his solo studio albums that I will be reviewing, the pleasant Imagine.  Having been out of The Beatles for only a year (as they officially broke up in early 1970), this album delves deep into Lennon’s personal life – ranging from the bitter to the almost pensive. 

Released before Lennon moved from London to New York, some of the Imagine seems almost absurd with the views it takes, considering the events that would ultimately follow.  For example, “Gimme Some Truth” attacks Nixon a year before the president tried to deport the musician.  Other songs hint at Lennon’s past, his relationships, and often his own feelings of inadequacy.  However, the best tracks find the medium between his insecurities and the hopefulness that is so prevalent through most of his work.

The lead track is “Imagine,” of course.  The song has become so ingrained and deep-rooted in society’s collected consciousness that it’s pretty easy to ignore now.  And that’s sad in its own way.  “Imagine” is a beautiful piano-driven song, on par with the single-word-titles of McCartney’s “Yesterday” and Harrison’s “Something.”  It has become so much a part of culture today because of its hopeful optimism.  Lennon sings of reaching a kind of Utopia, “Imagine there’s no countries,” “No hell below us, above us only sky,” “Imagine all the people living life in peace.”  Going against social norms of religion, nationalities, possessions, John brings us, the listeners (which should include all of us, seeing how damn popular the song is) closer together.  He realizes that we consist of “a brotherhood of man” more important than those other things.  And he’s not saying he’s better than anyone, asking others to “join us.”  If you actually really listen to the song, you’ll get a feeling of awe and admiration.  All things considered, Lennon could have only put out this song during his solo career and would still be labeled as one of the most important musicians.

Next is “Crippled Inside.”  After a noodling guitar intro, the track turns into a countryish twang.  Lennon was always infatuated with rock music, and here (as well as other places on this album) he returns to his beginnings.  It’s a bouncy, fun song which contrasts the actual lyrics.  John sings of wearing masks and acting like someone you’re not, but the “one thing you can’t hide is being crippled inside.”  His vocal lines are still bordering on the countryish rockablilly style, complete with the certain hiccuping tic that is so prevalent.  It’s a song that hints at his inner turmoil from the past, allowing himself the pleasure of mocking them.

The refined “Jealous Guy” deals more with his insecurities, wonderfully admitting to himself and his lover how he is, in fact, jealous when he shouldn’t be.  It’s another popular song of Lennon’s, and conversely dealing with “Imagine,” “Jealous Guy” delivers more of a personal touch.  It is, again driven heavily by piano, and his vocals are sung in his higher-registered nasally voice – a touch that I always found made this song (and others sung in that style) very sincere.  The strings in the background are almost unnoticeable, which unfortunately is not true with most of the songs on Imagine.  Lastly, a whistling interlude is heard in lieu of actual lyrics, (Warning: Modern Indie Reference coming up) which I believe would make a great cover song for Andrew Bird.

Next is “It’s So Hard” another straight-ahead early rocker.  It’s a weaker track on the album, if only for it’s annoying saxophone licks.  With this sound, the song sounds antiquated.  I’m not sure why John would ever include this on any of his songs, but he would bring it back numerous times later on.  At least his vocals sound fervent, but that’s really it.

Next is the strange “I Don’t Wanna Be A Soldier, Mama.”  Clocking in at over six minutes, the track is the longest on the album.  Due to the involvement of Phil Spector (known for his “Wall of Sound”), every instrument – including John’s voice – is drenched, just utterly drenched, in reverb.  And “Soldier” doesn’t particularly sound like a fully thought-out song that would warrant six minutes; instead with its excessive repetition, it sounds more like a sketch that would serve as a great one-to-two-minute segue into the next song.  The melody is catchy, even if the only lyrics are “Oh, I don’t want to be a [x], mama, I don’t want to [y]” where “x” stands for some profession or human existence, and “y” stands for any negative sounding word that rhymes with “I.”  But there is a really good idea with the song that builds off of the wall of sound.  As the song goes on, more instruments enter making the sound really massive, almost chaotic.  It could’ve been better pulled off, maybe with another song, but it’s still decent.

The sixth track, and probably third most famous from Imagine, is “Gimme Some Truth.”  Politically charged, the song is relatively cynical – to a certain point.  Spitting out phrases like “uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocrites,” “neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians,” and my personal favorite “short-haired, yellow-bellied, son of Tricky Dicky,” Lennon’s voice is just downright acerbic.  One must wonder if Lennon had known that Nixon would try to deport him and that the FBI would have 281 pages in a file on him, would he still have released this song?  I’d strongly support a “yes” to that question.  However, “Gimme Some Truth” isn’t completely devoid of Lennon’s positiveness.  In actual fact, the song’s theme is just to be told the truth, relatively innocent and optimistic in its scope.

Following the bitterness of “Gimme Some Truth” is the extremely beautiful, radiant “Oh My Love.”  The acoustic guitar and piano melodies interweave together so perfectly that they nearly sound like one instrument.  John’s voice is expressive and profound, even though he’s barely singing above a whisper.

This positive tone unfortunately gives way to “How Do You Sleep?”  It’s not that “How Do You Sleep?” is a bad song, far from it actually, it’s just that lyrically it’s completely bitter and vexatious.  The song is little more than a rant attacking former band mate Paul McCartney (their feud would only go for a few years due to ego’s from the end of The Beatles, and they seemingly somewhat reunited later on).  The lyrics are pretty clever at some points: “Those freaks were right when they said you was dead” (alluding to the Paul is Dead Rumor of 1969) and “The only thing you done was Yesterday” (a really good pun on Paul’s song).  Musically,the strings are way too overreaching, and sometimes just plain old annoying.  But this is offset by a brilliant slide guitar solo by none other than George Harrison.  And his presence on this song even adds a layer of callousness.

The penultimate track is “How?”  The song is an introspective look at, allegedly, Lennon’s time with Primal Therapy (which I’m too lazy to explain, so you can just Wikipedia it, if you don’t already know what it is.)  The drum is a pounding beating-heart-like rhythm which makes the song really interesting.

Lastly is Lennon’s ode to Yoko Ono, “Oh Yoko!”  It’s a fun, giddy song and Lennon sounds so effervescent singing it.  It’s highly repetitive, only broken up with a Dylanesque harmonica solo.  But the audience is completely with Lennon the entire time because he does sound like he’s having so much fun. 

So, in the end Imagine is a really good album by one of the most brilliant, influential songwriters of modern music.  Some tracks are extremely popular (“Jealous Guy” and “Gimme Some Truth”).  Some are beautifully introspective (“How?” and “Oh My Love”).  And the title track has become so widely renown, so important, that it is completely apart of society and culture now.  So, today, in celebration of John’s life, artistic contributions to music, and philosophies, go listen to him.  Really listen.  Be nicer to our “brotherhood of man.” Imagine a world devoid of war and violence.  But mainly just be enthralled by his music and the legacy he has.

Buy This Album

Official Site

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One Response to “Imagine – John Lennon”

  1. sorry for the loss of John’s life in accident, so sad that the innocent dies early…
    Peace and love with you and your friends!

    Uplift yourself and move on with renewed energy, you will do GREAT!

    http://www.jingleyanqiu.wordpress.com

    feel free to visit and comment.

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