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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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To: raccoonradio

Love Beatles music. Love John Lennon’s music.

Always HATED that song!


21 posted on 12/06/2012 10:39:07 AM PST by Do Not Make Fun Of His Ears (Hey Rush, you forgot to tell us when to panic.)
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To: raccoonradio

Is that Ringo on the far left? Ringo was my mother’s favorite.


22 posted on 12/06/2012 10:39:14 AM PST by rarestia (It's time to water the Tree of Liberty.)
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To: raccoonradio

In one paragraph, the author lists gour “great” songs, and they are all off of the same album! The guy was a pop artist, the tune is catchy and singable (try singing any of the ones listed in the shower). The early 70s had a different sound than the late 60s. Some power pop, more soft ballads and novelty records. Throw in Yoko Ono, and this is what you get. Lennon and the Beatles were a talented pop band. Trying to say that Mr Kite is high art, however, reminds me of the Led Zeppelin and Doors fans of the 70s who attacked acts that didn’t write their own ditties and kept the tunes under 4 minutes. These same folks mostly can’t even LISTEN to Bach. I’ll take Fats Domino and Del Shannon. They didn’t take their work that seriously, they just made great popular music.


23 posted on 12/06/2012 10:41:04 AM PST by Dr. Sivana (There is no salvation in politics.)
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To: Responsibility2nd
Every time I hear that song, I curse Forrest Gump.

Actually, if you take that appearance on Dick Cavett's show as consistent with one of the sub-themes of the film...that Gump was responsible for a number of historical and cultural happenings throughout the 60's and 70's (Watergate, the running craze, the happy face t-shirt) then that reference to 'Imagine' makes no sense.

The reason?
'Imagine' was released in 1971. Gump's appearance on Cavett's show was in 1972.

Watch the film again. You'll see.

24 posted on 12/06/2012 10:42:18 AM PST by Bloody Sam Roberts (Political correctness does not legislate tolerance; it only organizes hatred.)
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To: rarestia
Yes...and he was the first "Mr Conductor" on "Shining Time Station". The role was later played by Alec Baldwin (remember the voicemail message he left to his daughter?) and acerbic lib comedian George Carlin (Hey kids, wanna know the seven words you can't say on TV? Let's find out!)


25 posted on 12/06/2012 10:42:37 AM PST by raccoonradio
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To: raccoonradio

I’ve got several Beatle’s music books for guitar that are well used. There’s no other pop group who created as many songs that are adaptable for guitar and other instruments as the Beatles. But I never play “Imagine.” It’s just not a very good song. The melody is pedestrian, and the lyrics are too sappy.


26 posted on 12/06/2012 10:45:50 AM PST by driftless2
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To: raccoonradio

One of the bad parts of THE KILLING FIELDS is the use of IMAGINE. After all, the lyrics described much of what the Khymer Rouge professed to believe. The other sorry bit in the film was poor ole Sidney wondering if the costly bombing campaign caused the Khymer Rouge to go into such madness.

If Lennon had lived longer he would have turned against IMAGINE as he had already turned against “Benefit Concerts” as rip offs. Lennon had already become pro-police and donated to the NYPD for bullet-proof vests.


27 posted on 12/06/2012 10:46:20 AM PST by Monterrosa-24 (...even more American than a French bikini and a Russian AK-47.)
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To: raccoonradio

It just caught my eye in that picture that he was the only Beatle dressed all in black. My mom loved him because he was perceived as the “bad boy” of the band.


28 posted on 12/06/2012 10:47:46 AM PST by rarestia (It's time to water the Tree of Liberty.)
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To: raccoonradio
One could argue that the only reason Imagine is enduring is because people keep dredging it up to either praise it or condemn it.

I would argue that it is not his most enduring song.

29 posted on 12/06/2012 10:48:50 AM PST by GSWarrior (Click HERE to read entire tagline.)
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To: Do Not Make Fun Of His Ears

Agreed. I like Lennon’s music, but “Imagine” is so bad that it makes me cringe when I hear that insipid piano playing on it. Same seven notes repeated over and over for three minutes, really? Never mind the lousy lyrics, too. I much prefer “Jealous Guy” or “Just Like Starting Over”.


30 posted on 12/06/2012 10:49:13 AM PST by richmwill
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To: Dr. Sivana

I like a lot of Beatle’s music, but I think Lennon took himself just a little too seriously. There’s a hilarious parody of Lennon done by Tony Hendra that was played on Imus’s show one time. Side-splitting. “Don’t you know I’m a genius!!!!”


31 posted on 12/06/2012 10:52:57 AM PST by driftless2
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To: raccoonradio


32 posted on 12/06/2012 10:53:30 AM PST by rochester_veteran ( http://RochesterConservative.com/forums)
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To: Do Not Make Fun Of His Ears

I also liked the Beatles, and agree that “Imagine” sucked ass. I thought McCartney was the better songwriter.

Too many people here bash the Beatles as being some kind of cause of the downfall of the United States. Come on, folks; it’s music. They were musicians. Musicians are good at making music and bad at making public policy. The problem isn’t with the Beatles, it’s with a population of stupid perpetual children who couldn’t figure out what job they were suited for.


33 posted on 12/06/2012 10:53:59 AM PST by henkster ("The people who count the votes decide everything." -Joseph Stalin)
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To: count-your-change

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

<><><><><

I’m always interested in the musical tastes of those who say what you have said.

Your second question - who can understand popular tastes - clearly Taylor Swift’s production team does. To our great detriment (ok, that was just my own personal opinion - kind of like your opinion on the over rating of the Beatles).


34 posted on 12/06/2012 10:58:04 AM PST by dmz
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To: Bloody Sam Roberts

Now Sam!

Next thing I know, you’ll be trying to tell me that Lt. Dan COULD NOT have invested Gump’s money in some fruit company.

“Lieutenant Dan got me invested in some kind of fruit company. So then I got a call from him, saying we don’t have to worry about money no more. And I said, that’s good!”


35 posted on 12/06/2012 10:58:47 AM PST by Responsibility2nd (NO LIBS. This Means Liberals and (L)libertarians! Same Thing. NO LIBS!!)
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To: raccoonradio

The very first time I heard “Imagine”—from a radio broadcast in Germany in 1972—it instantly struck me as being about the utopia dreamed of by Karl Marx. I thought the singer was some Communist Party hack before I found out who it actually was several months later.


36 posted on 12/06/2012 11:00:23 AM PST by Fiji Hill (Io Triumphe!)
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To: raccoonradio

Imagine there’s no Beatles

Its easy if you try

John and George below us

Above us God’s blue sky...


37 posted on 12/06/2012 11:03:24 AM PST by editor-surveyor (Freepers: Not as smart as I'd hoped they'd be)
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To: Fiji Hill

>> “ I thought the singer was some Communist Party hack” <<

.
You pretty much nailed him to the wall.


38 posted on 12/06/2012 11:05:04 AM PST by editor-surveyor (Freepers: Not as smart as I'd hoped they'd be)
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To: raccoonradio
My absolute favorite song by the Beatles is The Girl I Love.
39 posted on 12/06/2012 11:05:46 AM PST by Fiji Hill (Io Triumphe!)
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To: raccoonradio

I wonder if he still thinks “Happiness is a Warm Gun”.


40 posted on 12/06/2012 11:10:48 AM PST by crosshairs (Hurricane Barry is 1000 times more destructive than Hurricane Sandy.)
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To: Tublecane
"“Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” and “Good Morning” suck, by the way."

Those two songs are not normal 4/4 beat rock and roll but they DO demonstrate the incredible musical songwriting abilities Lennon/McCartney had.

Together they had a synergy that exceeded either of their abilities on their own.

41 posted on 12/06/2012 11:13:02 AM PST by Mr. K (some days even my lucky rocketship underpants don't help...)
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To: crosshairs

He’s probably thinkin’ “Happiness would be a lot cooler place than this...”


42 posted on 12/06/2012 11:14:28 AM PST by editor-surveyor (Freepers: Not as smart as I'd hoped they'd be)
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To: Dr. Sivana

Zep rocks. 8 minute songs just means 6 more minutes of rock.


43 posted on 12/06/2012 11:16:51 AM PST by Tublecane
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To: Monterrosa-24

I do like, though, when the photographer gives him what-for in the bathroom between the maudlin Puccini bombing sequence and the saccharine Imagine reunion ending.


44 posted on 12/06/2012 11:19:05 AM PST by Tublecane
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To: raccoonradio
To me Imagine means a song with this lyric line:

Imagine there's no possessions

from a guy who left an estate of around $200 million, which has since grown to around $1 billion. Haven't heard of anyone involved taking imagination to reality and giving up their 'possessions'.

Shameless hypocrisy fed to the ignorant masses. And the rest of the song is equally ridiculous.

45 posted on 12/06/2012 11:20:41 AM PST by Will88
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To: All

Most overrated band ever.

I would want to poke my eardrums out with Icepicks when “Hey Jude” came on the radio.


46 posted on 12/06/2012 11:27:24 AM PST by Rodney Dangerfield ("Hate standing in line at the Post Office? - wait until ObamaCare is implemented.")
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To: Mr. K

I think they probably stuck by their official song sharing for this very purpose: to get double credit. McCartney and Lennon are weaker than Lennon/McCartney. Do we even know how much they collaborated after a certain point? By Sgt. Pepper at least they might’ve had less to do with the other guy’s final product than did George Martin.


47 posted on 12/06/2012 11:34:00 AM PST by Tublecane
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To: raccoonradio

Imagine no heaven, no hell below us, no religion, no possessions....

That’s been tried. Things didn’t work out too well for the Khmer Rouge or the country it nearly destroyed.


48 posted on 12/06/2012 11:57:29 AM PST by ScottinVA (I've never been more disgusted with American voters.)
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To: Rodney Dangerfield
I would want to poke my eardrums out with Icepicks when “Hey Jude” came on the radio.

Yeah, me too... 17 times... once for each repeat of that mindless, meaningless refrain.

49 posted on 12/06/2012 11:59:14 AM PST by ScottinVA (I've never been more disgusted with American voters.)
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To: raccoonradio

I liked the Beatles’ early stuff, but hated the products of their drug/zen/free love era. People rail on about how “great” the “white album” was; IMO, it didn’t hold a candle to the music they put out in the early 1960s.


50 posted on 12/06/2012 12:02:26 PM PST by ScottinVA (I've never been more disgusted with American voters.)
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