Skip to comments.‘Imagine’: Why John Lennon’s Most Enduring Song Is Actually His Worst
Posted on 12/06/2012 10:18:56 AM PST by raccoonradio
As we approach the 32nd anniversary of John Lennons death, I think its time to take a hard look at the song that sadly and improperly personifies Lennons legacy for far too many people.
That song is Imagine.
Why this weak entry in Lennons 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 Lennons great Beatles songs, and no memorable hook.
Lyrically its 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 Lennons 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 Lennons 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. Lennons 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 thats what makes it so mundane.
Some artists can turn big societal observations into memorable pieces. Others lose their art to their cause. Lennons 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, Im not sure.
Plus, theres 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 thats 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 dont 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 Lennons music. Quite the contrary. I disparage them because I love Lennons 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, Ill be thinking about John Lennon. Ill be thinking about how utterly cool he looked on the back of Revolver. Ill be thinking about his ghostly vocal on A Day in the Life. Ill remember seeing the Beatles perform Lennons 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, Ill change the station.
The piano riff is agonizingly juvenile.
“Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” and “Good Morning” suck, by the way.
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:
Imagine no possessions. What a terrible, terrible thought."
--Yoko Ono, New York City
“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.
My grandfather, upon arriving home after work and being informed of Lennon’s death by my grandmother:
“Hmm...One down, three to go”.
The Beetles were and are outlandishly over rated. But who can understand popular tastes?
Imagine no Imagine!
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.
Damn that boy!
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.
We can thank Lennon and The Beatles for much of the drug-addled culture of today.
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.
I think “Woman’ is worse. Bleh!