" is a song by John Lennon
, which appears on his 1971
The song was produced by Phil Spector
. It was released as a single in the same year, and reached number three in the U.S. Billboard
charts, and number six in the United Kingdom
In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine voted "Imagine" the third greatest song of all time. Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter said, "In many countries around the world — my wife and I have visited about 125 countries — you hear John Lennon's song 'Imagine' used almost equally with national anthems.
In the book Lennon in America, written by Geoffrey Giuliano, Lennon commented that the song was "an anti-religious, anti-nationalistic, anti-conventional, anti-capitalistic song, but because it's sugar-coated, it's accepted.
Lennon also described it as "virtually the Communist Manifesto".
The lyrics were thought to be inspired by Lennon's hopes for a more peaceful world, though their origins are not known for certain. In 1963 Lennon penned the lyrics to "I'll Get You" with an opening verse of, "Imagine I'm in love with you, it's easy cause I know." The first verse of "Imagine" would seem to be a reworking of this. But the song's refrain may have been partly inspired by Yoko Ono's poetry, in reaction to her childhood in Japan during World War II. According to The Guardian, primordial versions of the song's refrain can be found in her 1965 book Grapefruit, where she penned lines such as, "imagine a raindrop" and "imagine the clouds dripping.
Composition and lyrical intent
The following is a quote by John Lennon on the message of "Imagine", interviewed by David Sheff for Playboy magazine in 1980:
- Sheff: On a new album, you close with "Hard Times Are Over (For a While)". Why?
Lennon: It's not a new message: "Give Peace a Chance" — we're not being unreasonable, just saying, "Give it a chance." With "Imagine," we're saying, "Can you imagine a world without countries or religions?" It's the same message over and over. And it's positive.
Yoko Ono said that the lyrical content of "Imagine" was "just what John believed — that we are all one country, one world, one people. He wanted to get that idea out.
Nutopia The Country of Peace
Nutopia is a conceptual
country created by John Lennon and Yoko Ono on April 1st
1973. This nation was supposed to live up to the standards set by the song "Imagine".
In the official declaration of Nutopia, it is stated that it
- "has no land, no boundaries, no passports, only people. Nutopia has no laws other than cosmic. All people of Nutopia are ambassadors of the country. Citizenship of the country can be obtained by declaration of your awareness of Nutopia."
of Nutopia has only one color: white
. Some criticized this association with surrender, but Lennon & Ono defended that association, saying that only through surrender and compromise can peace be achieved. U2
later adopted the Nutopian flag as a part of their live performance of the political songs from their third album, War
an example of this can be seen on the video version of U2's live album Under a Blood Red Sky
, during the famous performance of their song "Sunday Bloody Sunday
", which, interestingly, shares the same title as a song from Lennon's album Some Time in New York City
The seal of Nutopia is a picture of the marine animal of the same name, a seal. The "Nutopian International Anthem" was included on John Lennon's album Mind Games, and consisted of a few seconds of silence.
A plaque engraved with the words "NUTOPIAN EMBASSY" was duly installed at their home at the Dakota. It is believed that the whole affair was a jibe at Lennon's ongoing immigration troubles, as he and Ono tried to move to the United States. (Ono already had a Resident Alien "green card" through her previous husband, Tony Cox. Lennon had been denied permanent residence status.)
In 2006 a Nutopia website was created by Lions Gate Entertainment, the producers of the documentary The U.S. Versus John Lennon.
Despite its popularity, "Imagine" has received critiques over the years, some of which have perceived the lyrics in a negative light, typically in response to how ironic or even hypocritical it is that such a rich man as Lennon would write "Imagine."
Journalist and broadcaster Robert Elms said "Imagine" was written by a "multi-millionaire with one temperature-controlled room in his Manhattan mansion just to store his fur coats. Elvis Costello also commented satirically on the song in "The Other Side of Summer", wherein he asks the question, "Was it a millionaire who said 'Imagine no possessions'?"
Lennon, during an interview with Playboy magazine, was criticized on a similar note for his wealth, and defended himself by pointing out how difficult it is to leave a materialist world behind once you are caught up in it, comparing this to leaving the Beatles:
- PLAYBOY: "Why does anyone need $150,000,000? Couldn't you be perfectly content with $100,000,000? Or $1,000,000?"
- LENNON: "What would you suggest I do? Give everything away and walk the streets? 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.
Some have been critical of the song's anti-religion stance, and some artists have even changed the line "and no religion too" into "and one religion too" or "and all religions too" in their cover versions (the change itself has faced criticism from people who agree with the anti-religious message or who think Lennon's vision should be respected).
- British rock band Oasis used the piano riff from 'Imagine' in the intro to their song "Don't Look Back In Anger".
- The song is referenced in George Harrison's song "All Those Years Ago". One of the lines is "You were the one who imagined it all, all those years ago."
- The song was used in the last sequence of the 1984 film The Killing Fields.
- The song was performed during a show commemorating the 30th anniversary of Star Trek.
- In 1990, the song was featured in the Quantum Leap episode "The Leap Home" and is also on the soundtrack of the series. This version, however is performed by the show's star, Scott Bakula.
- The lyrics to the song were featured in the "Clean Up Radio Everywhere" episode of WKRP in Cincinnati, which dealt with censorship.
- When the Liverpool airport was named after Lennon, a phrase from the song, "above us only sky", was painted on the ceiling of the terminal. When commenting on this, the panel of Have I Got News for You joked that the baggage handlers' motto was taken from the same song: "Imagine no possessions".
- A mosaic was constructed as a part of the Strawberry Fields memorial in Central Park, New York City, near Lennon's final home, in memory of the singer. In the centre of the mosaic is the word "Imagine".
- "Imagine" is the official song of the human rights organization Amnesty International.
- A humorous telling of this song's origin appears in Forrest Gump. The main character, Forrest, is a guest on The Dick Cavett Show alongside John Lennon. Forrest recounts his experiences playing ping pong in China; he claims that the Chinese do not have much stuff ("no possessions") and, unlike him, do not go to church every Sunday (which Lennon interprets as "no religion too"), to which Dick Cavett responds, "It's hard to imagine", and Lennon says, "Well it's easy if you try".
- "Imagine" and other songs by John Lennon were used in the 1995 movie Mr. Holland's Opus.
- On January 30, 2003, the song was played to wake up the astronauts on the Space Shuttle Columbia during its ill-fated mission.
- In 2005, post-hardcore band Thrice released a b-side from their album Vheissu called "Lullaby". The song is a response to "Imagine". Though Thrice lyricist Dustin Kensrue is an admitted fan of Lennon, he has stated that he disagrees with the message of the song because it doesn't offer any realistic solutions to world problems.
- The song was WABC-AM 's final song before switching to its current NewsTalkRadio format.
- The song was included in the list of songs deemed inappropriate by Clear Channel following the September 11, 2001 attacks.
- In 2003, Bill Clinton joined Liel and 40 Jewish and 40 Arab children at the 80th birthday of Shimon Peres in Tel Aviv to sing "Imagine".
- In the Iranian left movement, the song usually relates to Mansoor Hekmat and his party, the Worker-Communist Party of Iran. The WPI plays the song in all of its meetings and demonstrations, and in its TV channel. Within Iran, the song is sometimes sung in protests and symbolizes the left movement, especially the WPI.
- George Galloway quoted the line I'm Not the Only One for the title of his autobiography.
- On November 18, 2006, UFC fighter and known anarchist Jeff Monson used "Imagine" as his walk in/entrance song for his heavyweight title fight against Tim Sylvia at UFC 65: Bad Intentions in Sacramento, California.
- On New Years Eve at the start of 2006, 2007 and 2008, "Imagine" was played in Times Square, New York City in the minutes before the clock struck midnight.
- The song is a popular choice for students learning the piano.
- Ozzy Osbourne's song "Dreamer" may reference this and other songs by Lennon, most notably the title, which seems to echo the line, "You may say I'm a dreamer".
- Aviv Geffen's song "Shir Tikva" ("Hope Song"), also known as "Bo'u Nitz'ad LaHalom" ("Let's Walk Towards the Dream") is considered "The Israeli Imagine".
- Sometimes Bill Hicks used to say at the end of certain skits, "I'm a dreamer, man, a fookin' dreamer, but I'm not the only one," obviously interpreting a British dialect.
- Ben & Jerry's offers a brand of ice cream called "Imagine Whirled Peace," which contains chocolate peace symbols.
- In the PC game Super Columbine Massacre RPG! the main characters run into John Lennon in Hell. He sings Imagine to them, to which Eric Harris replies: "You're full of shit. If you weren't already dead, VoDkA and I would blow your fucking brains out."
- The song is played repeatedly thoughout every episode of the Freedom from Religion Foundation's, Freethought Radio.
- The song is featured in the Miami Vice Season 3 Premiere Episode "When Irish Eyes are Crying".
- Pitbull, Nas & John Legend add vocals to the song.
- Khaled and Noa released an Arabic and Hebrew duo cover of "Imagine" and released it in Khaled's album Kenza.
- Bassist Jeff Berlin covered the song on his 1997 album "Taking Notes".
- Joan Baez has recorded and performed the song numerous times throughout her career. She first included it on her 1972 album Come from the Shadows, and often includes it in her concert set lists.
- Dana covered Imagine on her 1980 album Everything is Beautiful.
- Diana Ross covered the song on her 1973 album Touch Me in the Morning.
- Tommy Emmanuel did an instrumental cover version of Imagine on his album Determination.
- American R&B/soul singer, Tracie Spencer, remade the song for her 1988 self-titled debut album. The song did moderately well in the USA, hitting #31 on the R&B/Hip-Hop charts. She was only 11 years old when the album was released.
- Tutu-Tutu covered the song in the Teleton 2004
- In 1995, the band Oasis used a piano section from "Imagine" at the start of "Don't Look Back in Anger", from their second album (What's the Story) Morning Glory?
- Late singer Eva Cassidy has a version of the song on her 2002 album Imagine. Although not released as a single, it appeared on Now That's What I Call Music! 53 the same year. The album was released in November, the month Cassidy died six years earlier.
- In 2004, alternative rock band A Perfect Circle covered the song on their third album, eMOTIVe. The song is performed in a minor key to add a darker tone to the song, more in keeping with the rest of the album.
- Scottish harpist and singer Katie Targett Adams recorded "Imagine" on her 2004 album K:T:A.
- Canadian rock musician Allison Crowe, who performs the song in concert, recorded "Imagine" for release on her 2005 double-album, Live at Wood Hall.
- Dolly Parton recently released a cover of the song on her 2005 album Those Were the Days, in a duet with David Foster. The video for Parton's cover of the song featured vintage footage of Lennon and Yoko Ono.
- Brazilian musician Gilberto Gil covered the song on his 2004 live album, "Eletracústico"
- The Venezuelan band Cachicamo con Caspa has a Latin-feel cover on their A Pulir la Hebilla album.
- A 2005 song by artist RX featured George W. Bush "singing" a mixture of Lennon's "Imagine" and Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side".
- Avril Lavigne, Jack Johnson, Willie Nelson & Me'Shell NdegéOcello each recorded versions of the song for the 2007 John Lennon tribute album, "Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur."
- Vagrants on Parade, a Port Coquitlam ska band, did a cover entitled; Imagine: John Lennonism.
- Blues Traveler did a version for the 1995 Lennon tribute album Working Class Hero.
- Mari Nallos covered the song on her 2006 album "The Crystal Voice of Asia.
- Declan Galbraith, British singer, covered the song for his 2002 album "Declan.
- Ray Charles, First release: On audio album Definitive 2001.
- Jefferson Starship covered the song in their 2008 album Jefferson's Tree of Liberty. The song is featured in a mash-up with Redemption Song by Bob Marley.
Notable live cover interpretations
Over the years a lot of artists performed the song at their live shows, although much of these were not released on albums. Below are listed some of the more notable.
- The band Queen performed this song a few times in 1980 right after Lennon's death. On July 15, 2005, Queen + Paul Rodgers performed the song live in Hyde Park as a tribute to the victims of the London terrorist attacks.
- In 1983, David Bowie covered the song live during a concert in Hong Kong on the Anniversary of Lennon's Death as a tribute to him.
- Elton John covered this song during his 1980 tour (including his performance at the Central Park), shortly before Lennon's death.
- Randy Crawford covered this song in a live version, available on some of her samplers like "The ultimate collection" or "best of album"
- Stevie Wonder performed "Imagine" on August 4, 1996 at the 1996 Summer Olympics closing ceremony. Almost ten years later on February 10, 2006 Peter Gabriel performed the song at the Opening Ceremonies of the 2006 Winter Olympics.
- Alternative rock band Live covered the song many times during their 1999 tour for their album The Distance to Here. Their version was notably heavier at parts in typical Live. style.
- Neil Young covered the song at the America: A Tribute to Heroes concert on September 21, 2001. The words he sang were "Imagine no possessions / I wonder if I can".
- On 15 January 2005, Madonna performed a live cover-version of John Lennon's "Imagine" (which was also part of her "The Re-Invention Tour" in 2004) at the NBC Benefit Telethon "Tsunami Aid: A Concert of Hope".
- American hard rock band Guns N' Roses performed an instrumental cover live in concert, with guitarist Slash performing the piano arrangement on guitar.
- Eva Cassidy recorded the song before her death at age 33; the album was entitled, "Imagine".
- Blake Lewis, the runner-up on the sixth season of American Idol, performed the song during the show's special Idol Gives Back episode on April 24, 2007. Its studio version was later released on the American Idol official website and in the American Idol Season 6: The Collector's Edition, the compilation of the studio versions of song performed by the finalists of Idol.
- David Archuleta performed Eva Cassidy's cover of this song for the top 20 of American Idol (season 7) on February 26, 2008, though it was not credited on the show. He again performed the song on the season 7 finale on May 20, 2008. In both performances, he notably sings only the third verse of the song beginning with 'imagine no possessions..' and repeats the chorus several times.
- Giorgia performed the song live on MTV at the start of the new year in Rome, Italy on January 1st, 2008.
- On Sunday 24 August 2008, James Morrison performed a live cover of this song for the London 2012 Party
- Bob Dylan performed this song in Times Square, New York City on the eve of John Lennon's assasination.
Lawsuit for unauthorised use
The controversial satirical documentary film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
, which promotes intelligent design creationism
and depicts evolutionary science as atheistic
, uses part of the song with a claim that Lennon was promoting atheism while showing film clips of Joseph Stalin
and Chinese communist party
troops as the lyrics "and no religion too"
are superimposed against the images. The producers of the film, Premise Media, failed to seek a license for use of the music or the permission of the copyright holder, John Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono
, who filed a lawsuit. The producers of the film responded by saying that they had only used 25 seconds of Imagine
and this constituted fair use
under American copyright law.