Sunday, 1 February 2009

1981 John Lennon: Imagine

Let's be honest, any review of 'Imagine' in 1981 is a review of  sentiment rather than the song. As a single, 'Imagine' only managed a number six position on first release in 1975 and it was only the tide of grief after Lennon's murder that put this back in the charts at number one - to the record company's credit, it wasn't re-issued as a cash in but was bought in sufficient quantities to put it there by itself. Saying that, it was re-issued in 1999 where it managed to get to number three - this may have been a cash in, but it's a pretty impressive history for one song.

'Imagine', like Dylan's equally iconic 'Blowing In The Wind' before it, is a simple, stripped down tune on which is hung a narrative of imagery vivid enough to both disguise the underlying naivety of the content and also to stick in the mind on first listen. '
Imagine there's no heaven, it's easy if you try ' - a simple enough statement of intent, but in the hymnal context of the song it generates enough gravitas of cod philosophy to make you think you're listening to something profound, yet similar again to the Dylan song, the first impressions tend to be the deepest and neither gain in depth with repeated plays.

And what of the much mocked '
Imagine no possessions' - how can a multi millionaire sing that and still keep a straight face? Yet remarkably it was Bono who (in 'God Part 2') seemed tuned in to Lennon's predicament when he sang: "I don't believe in excess, success is to give. I don't believe in riches but you should see where I live". Then again, just as where Proudhon's 'All property is theft' statement has been misunderstood from the almost the second it was written, Lennon himself defended the line in his 1980 Playboy interview by saying "The Buddhist says 'get rid of the possessions of the mind'. Walking away from all the money would not accomplish that. It's like the Beatles. I couldn't walk away from the Beatles. That's one possession that's still tagging along, right? If I walk away from one house or 400 houses, I'm not gonna escape it."

But it's pointless to debate lines in splendid isolation here; 'Imagine' is bigger than that and can defend itself* When all the dust has settled though,
it matters not a jot what I or anyone else says about it now, it has transcended all that and no amount of bad press or hissy criticism is ever going to make it go away - 'Imagine' has now become a Gothic Victorian marble headstone replete with (depending on your stance) ornately carved angels or gargoyles, a single point of reference to mark the fact to later generations that a man called Lennon had once been alive. If I have to wrap this up with some kind of conclusion, then let it be that It's a solid song and nothing more, occupying a mid-table spot in Lennon's output; he produced far better and far worse songs than this in his lifetime, and since his death the track has deserved neither the extreme plaudits or scorn it has garnered.

* A far bigger stick to beat Lennon with would be the accompanying video that saw him all in white, a Christ-like figure at a white piano in a white draped room with Yoko moping around five paces behind him like a concubine. A scene just crying out for Jarvis Cocker to burst through a window and start shaking his arse.

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