Classic Rock Review

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John Lennon Imagine (1971)


The second equally important Lennon album is usually considered inferior to Plastic Ono Band, and I’ll have to guess why. So, my first guess is as follows: while the latter is still spoken of as an ‘underproduced’ wonder (‘how can such a great effect be achieved with such minimum arrangements?’), the former is unquestionably much more complex in the musical sense. So what? Damn the arrangements, the songs on here are totally and unashamedly great! Well, with one annoying exception: the closing ‘Oh Yoko’ is the first in a series of darned Yokosongs.

I just can’t stand all these lyrics, like ‘in the middle of the night I call your name… in the middle of a cloud I call your name… in the middle of a shave I call your name…’ Me, I wouldn’t call Yoko’s name even if I were in the middle of a scaffold, but that’s just me. I’ve always said it that if George Harrison sings about God as if He were a female, then John sings about his… err… ‘female’ as if she were God. Throw this song in a dumpster! Or, better still, think of another set of lyrics for it, cuz the melody sure sounds great. It’s upbeat, punchy, minimalistic, whatever, and almost invites you to sing along, but I can’t – I blush up to my ears if I ever try to sing along with ‘Oh Yoko, my love will turn you on’.

Apart from that, you get your average classic in the title track. I’ve been thinking of some cunning ways to find a fault in this song so that I wouldn’t have to mention it as the best song on the album and would look very smart, but all I could think about was saying that it’s saccharine and openly commercial. And if I’d say so, I’d end up looking like a complete dork instead of looking smart. So I can’t help it. Sorry, folks. This is the best song on the album, no matter what else you’re gonna say about it. Anyway, if ‘Love’ was a great song, why not ‘Imagine’? This is where Lennon finally manages to come up with his own ‘Yesterday’: funny it took him six years to outsmart McCartney for the most “overall-respectable” song of his career.

One thing’s for sure, though: there’s much more to this album than just ‘Imagine’. There’s a couple more gentle sincere sad ballads in ‘Jealous Guy’ (if it’s John excusing himself before Yoko, then it’s the first in a series of ‘apologetics’ songs culminating in ‘Aisumasen’; however, this one’s a much better song, if only because of the wonderful whistling) and the sentimental ‘Oh My Love’ whose piano melody isn’t any less genial than the one used on ‘Imagine’. It just so happened that it’s a love song and not a universalist anthem. So what? Does it matter for a true music fan? Nope.

The sentimental side also strikes through on ‘How’, an unusually gentle philosophical song along the lines of ‘Look At Me’, that is, once again John is trying to ‘take a decision’ on which way to turn and is left wondering without an answer. Yet there is no pain – ‘Look At Me’ was clearly a song reflecting a tormented and depressed mind, while ‘How’ reflects a far more gentle and loving conscience that’s almost ready to make peace with any situation, however grim or uncertain it might turn out to be. An interesting change of mood for John at the time.

A couple of retro numbers (the great guitar/piano shuffle of ‘Crippled Inside’, the hard rockin’ guitar/mighty brass swing of ‘It’s So Hard’) cook nicely, too. Some of ’em people like to despise ‘It’s So Hard’, for reasons unknown. C’mon people! What can be cuter than the lyrics ‘You gotta live, you gotta love, you gotta do something, you gotta shove. But it’s so hard, it’s really hard, sometimes I feel like going down.’ I like that stuff! Moreover, I even like the overlong, Phil Spector-trumped ‘I Don’t Wanna Be A Soldier’. This is the only track which features a ‘wall-of-sound’ on the whole album (I’m beginning to think that it was really easy not to have Phil messing around with your music.

You only had to come up to him and say: ‘Phil! Just don’t you mess around with my music’. And he wouldn’t), but it’s OK: John clearly wanted to have a really menacing song to himself, and it works: the echoey boomy drums, the threatening guitars that go in and out again, the waves of brass in the solo breaks, and John’s scary lyrics also rushing like waves, all of this produces a really unique effect. I don’t mind the repetitive lyrics, I don’t mind the simplistic melody: I mind the atmosphere, the paranoid drums, the intense, strained punch of John’s voice, the climactic brass breaks, it all thrills me to the extreme, and I fully identify with the song, much as everybody else hates it.

Angry foaming-at-the-mouth classics also include: ‘Give Me Some Truth’ with some of John’s most politicized lyrics up-to-date and a frantic George Harrison lead break; and ‘How Do You Sleep’ with some of John’s most anti-McCartneycized lyrics up-to-date… and a frantic George Harrison lead break. The lyrics hit Paul straight in the eye, so that he even had to hasten up with releasing his witty answer ‘Dear Friend’ on Wild Life. I don’t know how exactly Paul slept before hearing that song, but it sure could disturb his sleep after its release! Good ol’ John! That kind of treatment towards an old friend! Aaaarggh. The melody, though, is extremely hooky. Just listen to that riff that he plays during the refrain, you’ll get my drift.

Overall, Imagine showed that Lennon was on a terribly high roll at the time, one by one spewing forth terrific melodies of prime Beatle quality (yes, you heard – that’s prime Beatle quality on here, even if few of the songs would have been deemed suitable for a true Beatles album), and only something extremely exclusive and unnatural could get him off his feet. That “unnatural” factor, unfortunately, happened to be John’s full-fledged involvement in politics and reinterpreting music as a social tool rather than an artistic element on his next album.

April 12, 2013 Posted by | John Lennon Imagine | | Leave a comment