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‘Imagine’: Why John Lennon’s Most Enduring Song Is Actually His Worst
WBUR ^ | 12/6/12 | Jim Borghesani

Posted on 12/06/2012 10:18:56 AM PST by raccoonradio

As we approach the 32nd anniversary of John Lennon’s death, I think it’s time to take a hard look at the song that — sadly and improperly — personifies Lennon’s legacy for far too many people.

That song is “Imagine.”

Why this weak entry in Lennon’s dazzling oeuvre receives such adoration mystifies me. The song features a syrupy melody, a cloying piano line, none of the startling chord or time changes that distinguished Lennon’s great Beatles songs, and no memorable hook.

Lyrically it’s even worse. There are lines in this song that a young John Lennon would have savaged.

“No need for greed or hunger, a brotherhood of man.”

Oh, spare me. This is Jonathan Livingston Seagull territory; mawkish sentiment shoehorned into Lennon’s ironically un-Imaginative melodic framework.

Clearly, the song has attained its beloved status because it addresses world peace, or some Yoko-inspired concept of what world peace should look like: The “world will be as one,” stuff, clumsy phrasing depicting inaccessible ideals.

World peace is a wonderful value. I appreciate Lennon’s pursuit of it, as nutty as that pursuit was (Literally nutty: John and Yoko sent acorns to world leaders).

The problem is, every time I hear “Imagine” I feel the need to listen to “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” or some other brilliant Lennon song to remind me of his true genius. Some artists can turn big societal observations into memorable pieces. Others lose their art to their cause. Lennon’s musical creativity seemed to decline in proportion to the importance of his subject matter.

When I hear “Imagine” I picture Lennon setting about to write an Important Song about Important Things: peace, love, understanding, Heaven, whatever. This approach — big thought, music and lyrics to follow –doomed the piece from the outset. It is precisely opposite from the approach that made Lennon a songwriting immortal. His great pieces featured flashpoint creativity, whether sparked by a poster (“Mr. Kite”), a cereal jingle (“Good Morning, Good Morning”), a drawing by his son (“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”), or the death of a friend (“A Day in the Life”).

Lennon mined his boyhood to great effect, both in his memories of place (“Strawberry Fields Forever”) and literature (“I Am the Walrus”). He produced many of his gems under deadline pressure, with recording schedules beckoning and Paul McCartney ready to go. Lennon lacked the time to reflect, thus, he created.

“Imagine” is all reflection, and that’s what makes it so mundane.

Some artists can turn big societal observations into memorable pieces. Others lose their art to their cause. Lennon’s musical creativity seemed to decline in proportion to the importance of his subject matter. “Imagine” has its roots in “Give Peace a Chance,” another Lennon world-improvement effort featuring inspired concepts and featureless musicality. Message trumped music. Whether this was a byproduct of ego, or laziness, or misguidance, or simple evaporation of talent, I’m not sure.

Plus, there’s an undercurrent of condescension to the piece, with Lennon laying out his insipid version of world peace (“no hell below us, above us only sky”) and then asking whether we can imagine it along with him, before belittling our capacity to do so (“I wonder if you can”). Yes, we can. Imagining world peace is the easy part.

Jim Borghesani: “Imagine” is all reflection, and that’s what makes it so mundane. (Album cover)

McCartney certainly released his share of saccharine tunes over the years, but at least he had the good graces to call them what they were — silly love songs. And Paul never fell into the pretentious trap of thinking that his music could stop bullets from flying.

I don’t disparage “Imagine” and other post-Beatle Lennon compositions (“Our life, together, is so precious, together, we have grown, we have grown” Oh, the pain!) because I dislike Lennon’s music. Quite the contrary. I disparage them because I love Lennon’s music. His memory should live on in the sparkling songs he created as an acerbic, witty Beatle — not in the mushy musical observations of his later years.

So, on Dec. 8, I’ll be thinking about John Lennon. I’ll be thinking about how utterly cool he looked on the back of “Revolver.” I’ll be thinking about his ghostly vocal on “A Day in the Life.” I’ll remember seeing the Beatles perform Lennon’s “Rain” on The Ed Sullivan Show, and realizing their music had, impossibly, become even more brilliant.

And, in honor of Lennon, when “Imagine” comes on the radio, I’ll change the station.


TOPICS: Miscellaneous
KEYWORDS: imagine; johnlennon; mendacious; worst
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1 posted on 12/06/2012 10:19:10 AM PST by raccoonradio
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To: raccoonradio

The piano riff is agonizingly juvenile.

“Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” and “Good Morning” suck, by the way.


2 posted on 12/06/2012 10:21:22 AM PST by Tublecane
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To: raccoonradio

My alternate lyrics to another of his tunes:
War is over
CAUSE we WON IT
WE have WON it, now...

FROM NATIONAL LAMPOON's FICTIONAL LETTERS FROM THE EDITORS:
Dear Sirs:
Imagine no possessions. What a terrible, terrible thought."
--Yoko Ono, New York City

3 posted on 12/06/2012 10:22:18 AM PST by raccoonradio
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To: raccoonradio

“Imagine” is his biggest hit because girls like sappy, simple, loving, caring ballads. This song is bullsh&%, but it makes girls cry. That works in the record biz.

“Color My World” by Chicago is one of thier biggest hits. Simple chords and lyrics that make girls cry while they slow dance.


4 posted on 12/06/2012 10:23:20 AM PST by albie
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To: raccoonradio
Imagine no possessions.

5 posted on 12/06/2012 10:24:17 AM PST by raccoonradio
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To: raccoonradio

6 posted on 12/06/2012 10:25:12 AM PST by Joe 6-pack (Que me amat, amet et canem meum)
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To: Tublecane

My grandfather, upon arriving home after work and being informed of Lennon’s death by my grandmother:

“Hmm...One down, three to go”.

RLTW


7 posted on 12/06/2012 10:25:26 AM PST by military cop (I carry a .45....cause they don't make a .46....)
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To: raccoonradio
I despise that song. Hippie pie in the sky.
8 posted on 12/06/2012 10:27:22 AM PST by Ruy Dias de Bivar (The parasites now outnumber the producers.)
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To: raccoonradio

9 posted on 12/06/2012 10:27:46 AM PST by Responsibility2nd (NO LIBS. This Means Liberals and (L)libertarians! Same Thing. NO LIBS!!)
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To: raccoonradio

The Beetles were and are outlandishly over rated. But who can understand popular tastes?


10 posted on 12/06/2012 10:29:03 AM PST by count-your-change (You don't have to be brilliant, not being stupid is enough.)
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To: raccoonradio

11 posted on 12/06/2012 10:29:10 AM PST by Obama_Is_Sabotaging_America (IMPEACH OBAMA)
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To: raccoonradio

Imagine no Imagine!


12 posted on 12/06/2012 10:29:24 AM PST by Revolting cat! (Bad things are wrong! Ice cream is delicious!)
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To: military cop

LOL!


13 posted on 12/06/2012 10:29:39 AM PST by carriage_hill (Don't whiz on the electric fence. Awwwww-yeah!)
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To: albie
“Color My World” by Chicago is one of thier biggest hits.

Oh puke.

“Color My World” was the theme of my Senior prom. An event which my steady girlfriend of two years decided to use to break up with me. Such a fun evening.

14 posted on 12/06/2012 10:30:34 AM PST by Bloody Sam Roberts (Political correctness does not legislate tolerance; it only organizes hatred.)
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To: raccoonradio
Every time I hear that song, I curse Forrest Gump.

Damn that boy!

15 posted on 12/06/2012 10:31:06 AM PST by Responsibility2nd (NO LIBS. This Means Liberals and (L)libertarians! Same Thing. NO LIBS!!)
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To: military cop

Ah...I remember growing up in the 70s and an elderly next door neighbor said the Beatles were Commies. This song (imagine no possessions) by one member makes a good point.

The morning of 12/9/80 I was in my first year of college and my dad woke me up with “C’mon get up, one of the Beatles got shot dead last night”. Huh? I had gone to bed early and I guess my Dad got the news from Howard Cosell as the Patriots and the Dolphins had been on Monday Night Football. Beatles
and Lenin, er, Lennon music all over the radio. For some reason I took the White Album poster from my vinyl copy and put it up on a door at the college radio station.

And the other Beatle we lost once wrote a song about how much $$ the band was losing to the...taxman! Hence why
some Brits moved to the US to escape him.


16 posted on 12/06/2012 10:31:17 AM PST by raccoonradio
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To: raccoonradio

We can thank Lennon and The Beatles for much of the drug-addled culture of today.


17 posted on 12/06/2012 10:33:26 AM PST by A_Former_Democrat (Elections do have consequences, young people of America)
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To: raccoonradio
“Imagine” is all reflection, and that’s what makes it so mundane.

IOW, given the time to think about his lyrics, the guy (who claimed his musical ensemble was more popular than the One's who's birth we celebrate this month) writes total crap? Sounds pretty reasonable to me.

18 posted on 12/06/2012 10:35:15 AM PST by Cyber Liberty (Obama considers the Third World morally superior to the United States.)
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To: Revolting cat!
Indeed

19 posted on 12/06/2012 10:36:05 AM PST by raccoonradio
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To: raccoonradio

I think “Woman’ is worse. Bleh!


20 posted on 12/06/2012 10:36:23 AM PST by married21
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