Imagine is John Lennon’s finest work though many will disagree because of its smooth accessibility. After the raw vulnerability of Plastic Ono Band John decided that it was time to compete. The truth is that the entire Beatles and post Beatles’ music of John and Paul needs to be analysed as to how they were in competition, secretly jealous and envious of one another, openly speaking of their fractured friendship while missing each other desperately. Anyway, Imagine might even have been more in competition with the wee baby brother, mostly ignored, George Harrison becoming the biggest selling artist of 1970 and 1971. Imagine was strategically born to sell too.
The title track itself was a response to Lennon’s songwriting envy. He had lived in the shadow of Paul’s Yesterday since 1965 even admitting to its goodness on his barbed attack on Paul on How Do You Sleep on this very album. He had also been aghast that, the third best writer in the band, George’s Something became as popular a Beatles’ song as anything maybe apart from that aforementioned Yesterday. To have a song that would be as huge as those two was really important to the insecurities of Lennon. Jealous Guy here is not only a confession about his misdemeanours in love for Yoko but also an admission of the character failing that drove Lennon to write Imagine.
Imagine is a beautiful piece; simple, anthemic and revolutionary. It is Lennon at his most naively idealistic BUT it does inspire a hope of a fairer world. Though Lennon’s intention might have been a Marxian swipe at religion the truth is that the general vision is one that Jesus would have assented to though the Nazerene’s approach was not to imagine no heaven but to imagine a heaven and bring it to earth. Lennon’s approach is easy but leaves us bereft of a vision to apply, Jesus’ is harder but gives substance to the dreaming.
Elsewhere on Imagine we find every hue of Lennon. How and Oh My Love are those tender pieces like Love and Look At Me on Plastic Ono Band; I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier is an anti war song though maybe not his best; Gimme Some Truth is the seeker of meaning and purpose and he has rarely done it better; Oh Yoko declares his love for Mrs. L; and It’s So Hard gives that Yer Blues angst and a crunchier guitar work out.
Everything here though is calculated to a commercial impact and it worked. Old side kick Harrison, a special guest as the world’s most successful artist at the time, plays some great slide. Spector works the strings to sugar the topping. The tracklisting is as carefully crafted as the songs and production and as Lennon himself said to the NME it was “the best effin thing I’ve ever done.” His most ardent fans might react to the accessibility but they’d be betraying the heart of their hero. Lennon set out to achieve exactly what he achieved; a hit record. It sits as exactly that beside George’s All Things Must Pass and Paul’s Band On the Run as the best Beatle’s solo projects.