When John Lennon imagined a better world

When John Lennon imagined a better world

John Lennon's cult-classic song 'Imagine' released in 1971.

As an anthem of peace, the song has been sung time and again by different people at various events since its release in 1971.

Pop stars from Elton John and Stevie Wonder to Liza Minnelli and Madonna have sung their own versions of the song.

When people gathered on the streets of Paris after the 2015 terrorist attack, a man played the song on a piano decorated with a symbol of peace.

Bored after self-isolation during Covid-19, 'Wonder Woman' Star Gal Gadot got together a star-studded cast for a sing-along of the masterpiece, while students of Melbourne wrote their own version of this song during the pandemic.

A pre-recorded version of the song was performed at the Tokyo Olympics.

One can’t imagine the greatness of this song written 50 years ago that still resonates with so many and is relevant to today’s times.

John Lennon wrote 'Imagine' in September 1971 and it was released the following month.

A gentle protest song, slightly over three minutes, Lennon imagines and dreams of a real change in the world.  He asks us to imagine a place where the things that divide us — religion, countries and possessions — did not exist. Wouldn’t that be a much better place? If you want peace, you have to first imagine it, Lennon sang.

A piano driven melody, it starts off with a mournful piano part; yet there’s something very relaxing about the song that has a calming effect until the end.

“When you hear 'Imagine' for the first time you know it’s a killer,” said Paul McCartney, someone inclined to be less generous about Lennon especially after the Beatles split the previous year.

Lennon wrote 'Imagine' a year after the Beatles broke up, inspired largely by his wife Yoko Ono, who used the word in many of her 1960s conceptual art works. He composed the song in one session, sitting at his white grand piano in his Tittenhurst Park estate in England.

What is so distinctive about 'Imagine'? How did it become the most successful single of Lennon’s solo career?

The lyrics are nice and righteous on the surface but many will agree they are utopian and idealistic and somewhat unrealistic.

“Imagine there’s no countries, nothing to kill or die for, no religion, imagine all the people living life in peace.”

Lennon wrote this song, perhaps, hoping for peace and a better human existence on earth when the world witnessed the Vietnam War and the suffering of people.

Lennon was candid enough to admit that 'Imagine' was “anti-religious, anti-nationalistic, anti-conventional, anti-capitalistic….. but because it is sugar-coated, it is accepted.”

Despite the beauty of the song, Lennon came in for much flak. It seemed sacrilegious to create lyrics that said no heaven, no religion, no possessions, something that people held so dearly. Not surprisingly, the World Church reached out to Lennon seeking a change of the lyrics from 'no religion' to 'one religion'. Lennon flatly refused, reasoning that it would defeat the entire purpose of the song.

For all the beauty and the message of peace the song carried, Lennon died a tragic death similar to other apostles of peace like Mahatma Gandhi and Jesus Christ.

After Lennon’s tragic death in 1980, Ono was approached several times by various groups seeking a change of lyrics but she too refused.

Lennon was also criticized as being hypocritical for preaching “imagine no possessions” when he led a life of luxury in a sprawling estate, even owning a Rolls-Royce.

Despite that, the song’s popularity and influence continued to soar, gaining acceptance worldwide as a song of peace, positivity and unity, featuring during major events including the Olympics. As former US 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.”

The song’s title 'Imagine' is the only text that appears on the Strawberry Fields memorial to Lennon in New York’s Central Park. Also, Liverpool’s John Lennon International Airport’s motto “Above us, only sky” is a line from Imagine.

All said and done, Imagine is undoubtedly a great song that is truly uplifting. Let’s take it for what it is without reading too much into the lyrics and imagining the unimaginable. 

As the song goes, let’s “hope someday you’ll join us and the world will live as one.”

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