Classic Music Review: Imagine by John Lennon

Putrid . . . putrid . . . yes, let’s go with putrid.

I always try to vary my vocabulary to make things more interesting for my readers (and for me as well). I performed a word search of over 200 posts and found, much to my delight, that I had never used the word “putrid” in a review, not even for David Bowie’s The Next Day or the Grammy-winning joke Some Nights by Fun. That’s good, because “putrid” perfectly captures how I feel about Imagine, one of the most mean-spirited, narcissistic and egomaniacal displays I’ve ever heard. The combination of John Lennon, Yoko Ono and Phil Spector, all of whom are charter members of the Hall of Fame for the Self-Important, was bound to yield two complementary results: phenomenal sales and artistic disaster. Imagine proves that P. T. Barnum was right, and there are no suckers on earth as gullible as Beatles fans who refused to let go of their heroes even when their heroes failed to produce anything worthy of the epithet.

The album opens with what Yoko called, “John’s vision for the world,” the song “Imagine.” I realize that the song is revered the world over and has been elevated to sacred status since his assassination. This is remarkable because there’s nothing in this song that is the least bit original; it’s essentially a rehash of Marxist socialism: religion is the opium of the masses, the vision of a worldwide socialist order without territorial boundaries, and an economy based on need rather than greed. As a committed socialist living in a socialist country, I’m in tune with most of the message, though I think the “no possessions” verse, which mingles Buddhist tenets of ridding ourselves of entanglements with Marxian economics, is both naïve and impractical. I’m not giving up my leather lingerie, whips or sex toys and it would be both unsafe and unsanitary to share them with the leather community!

The real problem is with the author, who displays a brazen hypocrisy that takes one’s breath away. “Imagine no possessions,” he sings while comfortably recording the proceedings in his fully-equipped recording studio on his 72-acre estate, Tittenhurst Park. Here’s John Lennon’s socialism in action:

Lennon purchased the property after the sale of Kenwood in Surrey, his earlier home with first wife Cynthia Lennon, because of its resemblance to Calderstones Park in Liverpool, where he had spent time as a child. Lennon bought the house for £145,000 from Peter Cadbury. The estate included spectacular gardens, a Tudor cottage and servants’ cottages. He and Ono spent twice the purchase price on renovations, transforming the interior of the house to their liking, commissioning a set of hand-woven Oriental rugs, and installing a man-made lake without planning permission which they could see from their bedroom window.

(Source: Wikipedia)

You can catch the self-appointed royalty of the avant-garde taking in the royal grounds in the Imagine DVD.

He and Yoko would leave the place to relocate in hardly proletarian Manhattan, eventually buying not one, not two, but five apartments in the exclusive Dakota building. Imagine no possessions, my ass. “Do I as I say, not as I do, because you’ll buy my fucking records anyway,” says the self-proclaimed anti-establishment leader. He sounded much more believable when he screamed out the words to “Money,” especially the lines, “Money don’t get everything, it’s true/What it don’t get, I can’t use.”

The song itself is a musical bore made worse by Phil Spector’s terrible penchant for angelic string arrangements, as he demonstrated in his wanton destruction of Let It Be. The strings he overdubbed to “Long and Winding Road” were so sappy that they offended even the sap-friendly ears of Paul McCartney. Instead of giving the piece the intended spiritual aura, the strings make “Imagine” sound like the pompous piece of pap that it is . . . how deliciously ironic!

Lennon the Hypocrite becomes Lennon the Almighty Judge of Human Value in “Crippled Inside” where he makes fun of the “straights” and attacks them for their hypocrisy seconds after revealing his. I would argue that his us-against-them attitude here not only calls into question his belief in his vision that “the world will live as one,” but clearly reveals his identity as a card-carrying elitist. Once again, the music is predictable and trite.

The only song on Imagine worth the 99 cents for the download is the relatively honest and melodically interesting, “Jealous Guy,” which is strong enough to overcome Phil Spector’s usual heavy-handedness. The lyrics aren’t a complete transformation from the possessive adolescent who wrote “Run for Your Life,” but at least it’s an admission that he has a problem. The whistling was a very good idea .  .  . whatever happened to whistling, anyway? People used to do it all the time in those movies from the 30’s and 40’s. Let’s bring back whistling!

Sorry for the detour, but the next song is the unpleasant “It’s So Hard,” and I was trying to avoid it. Lennon tries to regain rock cred through distorted voice and raunchy guitar and fails miserably. Oh, and it’s such a hassle to keep your woman satisfied, is it? Fuck you. King Curtis is by far the best thing on this track, as well as the next, the unlistenable “I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier,” where Lennon put exactly zero effort into the lyrics . . . a feature that characterizes nearly every song on Imagine.

“Gimme Some Truth” shows John trying to exploit the politically-aware crowd by engaging in childish name-calling and accusing politicians of being hypocrites. Takes one to know one! He repeats his pointless, unoriginal venom over and over again, making sure that the American market gets the point that he’s really anti-Nixon and therefore seriously aware of the American political scene, you dig? Harrison slips in with the same fucking guitar style he used on nearly every song on All Things Must Pass, reflecting the complete lack of effort involved in recording this mess.

“Oh My Love” is one of his boring Yoko-worship songs, with a tune a fifth-grader could have written if she’d allowed her fingers to slip and hit the black keys every now and then. The lyrics fawn over Yoko, provider of enlightenment, who has caused the scales to fall from John’s eyes to enable him to see the . . . trees. Shit, how could he miss all those fucking trees on his 72-acre estate? He needed Yoko for that?

We now come to the meanest, most pathetic song I think I’ve ever heard, “How Do You Sleep?” Man, I thought the Gallagher brothers had the inside track on public displays of assholity, but they’re pikers compared to this. Overreacting to a couplet in McCartney’s “Too Many People” (“Too many people going underground/Too many reaching for a piece of cake”), Lennon let his ex-mate have it with both barrels. In both words (“You live with straights who tell you, you was king”) and pictures (the postcard insert showing Lennon holding a pig by the ears to mock the cover of Ram), John slips in another plug for his role as anti-establishment guru while classifying McCartney as a pro-establishment pig. In former times, that would have qualified as an insult worthy of a duel; to call someone a pig was the ultimate hippie put-down. In the next line, he accuses Paul of being pussy-whipped (“Jump when your mama tell you anything”), as if Yoko’s lapdog had the right to call anyone pussy-whipped. Lennon wraps up his fit of vitriol by insulting Paul’s muzak and his cherubic face for good measure.

What was the fucking point of this song? I asked my dad and he said he couldn’t figure it out either, and lost a great deal of respect for John Lennon as a result. My mother summed it up in two words: “No class.” Having lived through the drama of the Gallagher brothers, one thing I noticed is whenever they heaped insults at each other or left the other holding the bag in the middle of a concert, the music press would make a big deal about it; they were always in the news for their antics. My theory is that this was a cheap and tawdry publicity stunt, likely encouraged by Yoko (who apparently helped with the lyrics). Harrison added slide guitar, so I consider him an accomplice and a jerk as well.

Meanwhile, John goes on as if nothing has happened, and gives us another ode to self-absorption and self-pity, the song “How.” The lines “And the world is so tough/Sometimes I feel I’ve had enough” send me through the fucking roof. Poor baby with all his first-world problems piling up all around him in his big spacious estate!

To end the album with the lyrically and musically lazy “Oh, Yoko” is the ultimate coup de grâce. It’s quite obvious that what mattered to John Lennon was the insular world he and Yoko created; why he felt the need to share a reality that no one else in the world could possibly identify with only reinforces the overriding sense of narcissism that dominates Imagine. Echoes of “I just believe in me, Yoko and me, and that’s reality” fill the empty spaces in this empty album.

All I want to say when this turkey finally ends is, “Well, fuck you, John. And fuck you, too, Yoko.” I won’t say it though, because my mother would look at me sternly and say, “No class.”

And she would be right. Instead, I’ll take the high road and say that Imagine is not my cuppa tea . . . and that’s reality.

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Altrockchick

Independent music reviewer appearing on altrockchick.com and 50thirdand3rd.com. Originally from San Francisco, I am now a French/EU citizen living in Nice. And I look great in leather.

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