Imagine (song)

"Imagine" is a song by John Lennon, which appears on his 1971 album, Imagine. 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."
The flag 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).



Cultural legacy

  • 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".

Cover interpretations

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.

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.


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