celebrating the 50th anniversary of
On June 14, 2017, The National Music Publishers Association awarded Song of the Century to John Lennon’s 1971 song ‘Imagine.’
“I feel, in the big picture –
the fact that John and I met was to do this song.”
– Yoko, Above Us Only Sky documentary, 2018
During the award ceremony, Yoko was given official co-writer’s credit on the song. We heard an audio interview of John saying that ‘Imagine’ should have been credited as a Lennon/Ono song…
“If it had been anyone other than my wife, I would’ve given them credit. Of course, the lyrics and concept of ‘Imagine’
was inspired by a piece in Yoko’s book Grapefruit.”
Imagine the clouds dripping.
Dig a hole in your garden to put them in.
The award was presented to Yoko with Sean by her side. Their dear friend Patti Smith was in attendance with her daughter Jesse.
Films of the recording sessions clearly show that Yoko also co- produced the Imagine album, along with John and Phil Spector.
The song ‘Imagine’ is in the key of C major. The instruments are allegedly tuned to the frequency of 528Hz – creating a softer, brighter sound believed to have healing properties. The longer wavelength of sound supposedly induces calm, healing and feelings of warmth. Whether or not this is true, there is certainly a peaceful aura about this song.
Aside from the influence of Yoko upon the lyrics, John was admittedly inspired by haiku poetry (especially the poems of Basho and Ryokan) during their visits to Japan. He felt that the simplicity of haiku allows the mind to be free from illusion, and you are left with great precision. This is evident in the simplicity and directness of his lyrics to ‘Imagine.’
“I think haiku is the most beautiful poetry I’ve ever read. I’d like to simplify my lyrics (to be) as beautiful as haiku. On the album, I’ve made the lyrics very simple and the music is very simple, and I feel as though it has a Zen spirit to it. This album is “shibui” (simple and unobtrusively beautiful).”
– John Lennon, interview disc promoting the album John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band
The lyric “above us only sky” stems from a story written by a Zen monk, stating that heaven and hell exist only in the mind. This line in the song, and the lyrics asking us to imagine “no religion too” upset some church groups decades later.
John: “I wish ‘Imagine’ would come true… I’ve been listening to it myself, because I get an objective view after, and I was imagining. I began to think: I don’t want that big house we built for ourselves in England. I don’t want the bother of owning all these big houses and big cars… Everything I own will be dissolved. I’ll cash in my chips, and anything that’s left I’ll make the best use of. Yoko is a three-tatami woman, and she’s been working on me to get rid of this ‘possessions complex’, which is something that happens to people who were poor like myself—not starving but poor.”
Yoko: “One tatami is the length and width of a person lying down. A friend of mine in Tokyo says that in today’s society, with its overpopulation, the natural space that a person can acquire without fighting or making unnatural efforts is three tatami – one for himself to lie down in, a second for his companion, and a third for them both to breathe in. There is a kind of poverty where you have an excess of things, and all your energy is directed toward getting and keeping them. John was poor, and it was natural for him to strive for wealth, but I come from a background of excessiveness. It was very natural for me to live in New York in a bohemian way, because I was trying to get away from that.”
John: “It’s clogging my mind just to think about what amount of gear I have in England. All my books and possessions… I’m going to tick off the things I really want, really need. The rest goes to libraries or prisons – the whole damn lot. I might keep my rock-and-roll collection, but even that I’m thinking about.”
Yoko: “If we lost everything in here, we might be annoyed, but not to the point where it would affect our health. I like the idea of everything being transient, so that all that is with me is somebody I love, and myself.”
– To Hendrik Hertzberg, The New Yorker, January 8, 1972
Sean Ono Lennon re: ‘Imagine’
“The thing that’s remarkable to me about Imagine is, it’s really hard for me to take when rock stars try to lecture me about politics or how I should think about things philosophically. I’m not against it, but it’s just really hard to take. It’s really hard to not just feel like, “Come on. Shut up.” And somehow my dad pulls it off with “Imagine,” this almost impossible feat, which is to sincerely talk about world philosophy and not sound like an arrogant person. I think there’s something about his personality. I don’t think anyone else could have pulled it off, and I think it has to do with how obviously cynical he is as a person. He clearly is coming to those ideas with a great effort to overcome his own kind of extreme cynicism and sarcasm about everything. It’s very interesting to me, because usually it’s not my favorite song.
John presented Yoko with a white Steinway “O” Grand piano on her 38th birthday affixed with a silver plaque inscribed…
A White Piano
From John with Love 18.2.1971”
This is an excerpt from my upcoming book:
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