Imagine (John Lennon album)

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Studio album by
Released9 September 1971
Recorded11–12 February, 24 May–5 July 1971
StudioAscot Sound Studios, Berkshire;
Record Plant, New York City;
Abbey Road Studios, London
John Lennon chronology
John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band
Some Time in New York City
Singles from Imagine
  1. "Imagine / It's So Hard"
    Released: 11 October 1971

Imagine is the second studio album by John Lennon after his departure from the Beatles. Recorded and released in 1971, the album's musical arrangements are more elaborate compared to the basic, small-group arrangements of his first album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band.[1]

Imagine is the most popular of Lennon's solo albums and the title track is considered by many to be one of Lennon's finest songs. In 2012, the album was voted 80th on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time".[2]


While in New York, former Beatles John Lennon and George Harrison had a short jam session,[3] during which Lennon asked Harrison to perform on Lennon's next album. Recording was scheduled to begin in a week's time at Lennon's Ascot Sound Studios, at his Tittenhurst Park residence.[3] Harrison agreed, and called his friend the bassist Klaus Voormann, to ask him to join in.[3]

Recording and structure[edit]

The first songs, "It's So Hard" and "I Don't Want to Be a Soldier", were recorded in February 1971 at Abbey Road Studios, during sessions for Lennon's single "Power to the People". (Other sources give the location as Ascot, however.[4][5]) A cover of The Olympics' 1958 song "Well (Baby Please Don't Go)", later released on John Lennon Anthology, was recorded on 16 February.[6] Lennon would choose to remake "I Don't Want to Be a Soldier" on 24 May 1971,[6] the opening day of the main album sessions.

Lennon enlisted help from Nicky Hopkins, members of the Apple band Badfinger, Alan White and Jim Keltner. George Harrison would also drop by to contribute lead guitar parts on various songs.[7] Recording for the album started on 24 May at Ascot Sound Studios.[6] Lennon showed the musicians a song that he had recently written, the album's title track "Imagine".[3] Besides recording the tracks that would end up on the album, also recorded during the sessions was the unreleased song "San Francisco Bay Blues", a demo for a track that would later turn up in complete form on Lennon's Mind Games album, as "Aisumasen (I'm Sorry)", and a demo of "I'm the Greatest".[3]

Lennon and Ono flew to New York on 3 July to continue sessions for the album the next day, at Record Plant.[3] Although the basic tracks for Imagine were initially recorded at Ascot Sound Studios, many of the instruments were re-recorded at the Record Plant in New York City, where strings and saxophone by King Curtis were also added.[3] The tracks that were finished at Record Plant are: "It's So Hard", "I Don't Want to Be a Soldier" and "How Do You Sleep?"[3] As on his last album, Phil Spector joined Lennon and Yoko Ono as co-producer on Imagine. Extensive footage of the sessions, showing the evolution of some of the songs, was originally filmed and titled Working Class Hero before being shelved.[3] Footage of "Gimme Some Truth" aired as part of the BBC TV show The Old Grey Whistle Test on 12 December 1972.[3] Bits of footage were subsequently released as part of the documentary film Imagine: John Lennon.[3]

Music and lyrics[edit]

1971 Billboard ad for the album.

Imagine was written and recorded during a period of particularly bad feeling between Lennon and former bandmate Paul McCartney,[8] following the Beatles' break-up the year before and McCartney winning his case in the High Court to have their legal partnership dissolved.[3] Harrison guested on half of Imagine's ten tracks, including "How Do You Sleep?" – a song written in retaliation against McCartney's alleged personal attacks on Lennon and Ono, on his recent Ram album.[9][10] Lennon said in 1980: "I used my resentment against Paul ... to create a song ... not a terrible vicious horrible vendetta ... I used my resentment and withdrawing from Paul and The Beatles, and the relationship with Paul, to write 'How Do You Sleep?'. I don't really go 'round with those thoughts in my head all the time ..."[11]

The track "Imagine" became Lennon's signature song and was written as a plea for world peace. Years later he acknowledged Ono's role in the song's creation and stated his regret that he had not credited her as a co-writer. "Jealous Guy" has also had enduring popularity; it was originally composed as "Child of Nature" during the songwriting sessions in India in 1968 that led to The Beatles' double album The Beatles.[12] "Oh My Love" and the song "How?" were influenced by his experience with primal therapy.[13]

Lennon also indulged his love of rock and roll with "Crippled Inside" and "It's So Hard". "Gimme Some Truth", originally heard during the Let It Be sessions in early 1969, appears on the album with a new bridge. The politically themed "I Don't Want to Be a Soldier" closes the first half of Imagine in a cacophonous manner. The last song on the album was "Oh Yoko!"; EMI pushed for this track to be the single, but Lennon thought it was too "pop".[14]


The photographs on the front and back covers were taken by Yoko Ono, using a Polaroid camera.[15] It was previously believed that the front cover photo was taken by Andy Warhol. [16] The back cover includes a quote ("Imagine the clouds dripping. Dig a hole in your garden to put them in.") from Ono's book Grapefruit, whose UK re-release the Lennons were promoting at the time.[17]


Apple Records issued Imagine on 9 September 1971 in the United States and a month later, on 8 October, in the UK. Early editions of the LP included a postcard featuring a photo of Lennon holding a pig, in mockery of McCartney's similar pose with a sheep on the cover of Ram.[18][19] Even though John along with producer Phil Spector championed "Back To Mono" the album was released in the new 4-channel quadraphonic format.[20] In the US, this 4-channel mix was only available on a Quad 8-track tape with some versions using the phrase Quadrosonic. In the UK and Australia the Quad mix was issued on vinyl using Sony's SQ matrix system along with an Q8-track version in the UK. In Japan the Quad mix was also issued on vinyl but using Sansui's QS matrix system also known as R M (regular matrix) plus they released a discrete 4-channel reel to reel tape of the album. "Imagine", backed with "It's So Hard", was released as a single, in the US on 11 October 1971.[3] The album went to number 1 worldwide and became an enduring seller, with the title track reaching number 3 in the United States. "Imagine" was not issued as a single in Britain until four years later, to coincide with the release of Lennon's Shaved Fish singles collection.[21]


Retrospective professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic5/5 stars[22]
Christgau's Record GuideA[23]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music4/5 stars[24]
The Great Rock Discography9/10[24]
Mojo4/5 stars[25]
MusicHound Rock4/5[26]
Paste5/5 stars[27]
Q4/5 stars[28]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide4/5 stars[29]
Uncut4/5 stars[30]

Reviewing the album in 1971, Rolling Stone magazine's Ben Gerson said it "contains a substantial portion of good music" but considered Lennon's previous album to be superior. He also warned of the possibility that Lennon's "posturings will soon seem not merely dull but irrelevant".[31]

Imagine was voted the fifth best record of the year in The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop, an annual poll of American critics nationwide.[32] Robert Christgau, the poll's supervisor, also ranked it fifth on his year-end list,[33] and later appraised it as "primal goes pop--personal and useful", in Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981).[23] In 2012, Imagine was voted 80th on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time".[2]

Promotional film[edit]

In 1972, Lennon and Ono released an 81-minute film to accompany the Imagine album which featured footage of them at their Berkshire property at Tittenhurst Park and in New York City. It included many of the tracks from the album and some additional material from Ono's 1971 album Fly.[3] Several celebrities appeared in the film, including Andy Warhol, Fred Astaire, Jack Palance, Dick Cavett and George Harrison. Derided by critics as "the most expensive home movie of all time", it premiered to an American audience,[34] on TV on 23 December 1972.[3]


Lennon later expressed his displeasure with the more commercial sound of the album, saying that the title track was "an anti-religious, anti-nationalistic, anti-conventional, anti-capitalistic song, but because it's sugar-coated, it's accepted".[35] In a November 1971 interview for Melody Maker, McCartney spoke positively of Imagine, considering it to be less political than Lennon's previous solo albums. In a subsequent edition of the same publication, Lennon rebuked his former bandmate, saying, "So you think 'Imagine' ain't political? It's 'Working Class Hero' with sugar on it for conservatives like yourself!!" and likened McCartney's politics to those of the staunchly traditional Mary Whitehouse.[36] Imagine was voted as Radio Luxembourg's "Album of the Year" on 24 December 1971.[3]

After Lennon's death, Imagine, along with seven other Lennon albums, was reissued by EMI as part of a box set, which was released in the UK on 15 June 1981.[nb 1][37] Like its title track, Lennon's Imagine became a posthumous hit worldwide after his death in December 1980. The album re-entered the charts during 1981, peaking at number 3 in Norway,[38] 5 in the United Kingdom,[39] 34 in Sweden,[40] and 63 in the United States.[41] In 2000, Yoko Ono supervised the remixing of Imagine for its remastered reissue. In February 2000, the remastered and remixed edition reached number 11 on the Japanese chart.[42] It was reissued in 2003 by Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab on gold CD and on 180 gram half-speed mastered vinyl. The Record Plant piano on which Lennon re-recorded some of the album's keyboard parts was sold at auction in 2007.[43]

In October 2010, another remastered version of the album was released, and the album re-entered the Billboard Top 200 at number 88. On 23 November 2010, Imagine became available on the Rock Band 3 video game, exploiting the music game's use of a keyboard. On Record Store Day 2011, in honour of the album's 40th anniversary, it was re-released on 180-gram vinyl with an additional 12" white vinyl record entitled Imagine Sessions, featuring tracks taken from the John Lennon Anthology. In January 2014, the album was released by Universal Music on the High Fidelity Pure Audio Blu-ray format, featuring PCM, DTS HD and Dolby Tru HD audio tracks, based on the 2010 remaster.[nb 2] In 2018, the album was remixed yet again and titled Imagine: The Ultimate Collection.[44] A six-disc box set, spread over four CDs and two Blu-ray discs, features previously unheard demos, rare studio outtakes, and isolated track elements along with a 5.1 surround mix and the original 4-channel Quadrosonic mix.

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by John Lennon; "Imagine" and "Oh My Love" co-written by Yoko Ono.

Side one

  1. "Imagine" – 3:01
  2. "Crippled Inside" – 3:47
  3. "Jealous Guy" – 4:14
  4. "It's So Hard" – 2:25
  5. "I Don't Want to Be a Soldier" – 6:05 [nb 3]

Side two

  1. "Gimme Some Truth" – 3:16
  2. "Oh My Love" – 2:50
  3. "How Do You Sleep?" – 5:36
  4. "How?" – 3:43
  5. "Oh Yoko!" – 4:20

Bonus EP on the 40th Anniversary LP edition[edit]

All songs credited to John Lennon; "Oh My Love" co-written by Yoko Ono; "Baby Please Don't Go" written by Walter Ward.

The Ultimate Collection (2018)[edit]


Personnel per John Blaney.[45] Track numbering refers to CD and digital releases of the album.



Region Certification
United Kingdom (BPI)[60] Gold
United States (RIAA)[61] 2× Platinum



  1. ^ UK EMI JLB8[37]
  2. ^ Side one: "Baby Please Don't Go" (Walter Ward), "Imagine", "How Do You Sleep?" Side two: "Jealous Guy", "Oh My Love" (Lennon–Ono), "I Don't Wanna Be a Soldier".
  3. ^ The title also appears variously as "I Don't Wanna Be a Soldier Mama I Don't Wanna Die" or "I Don't Wanna Be a Soldier Mama."


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  2. ^ a b "500 Greatest Albums of All Time: John Lennon, 'Imagine'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2012-06-12.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Miles, Barry; Badman, Keith, eds. (2001). The Beatles Diary After the Break-Up: 1970–2001 (reprint ed.). London: Music Sales Group. ISBN 978-0-7119-8307-6.
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