This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #3: Imagine by John Lennon.
I have to be honest and let you all in on a little secret. From Day #1 of this countdown project, I had a fair idea of how it was going to end. In fact, for the first 300 songs worth of this project, the countdown was going to end with “Imagine” by John Lennon at #1. I thought this because I wanted the countdown to end with a song that, while popular with you and the wider masses of people in the world, would also serve as an accurate reflection of who I am as a person, as well as, the beliefs that I hold dear. I, also, felt that a #1 song on a list like this should make a statement…..and, “Imagine” sure does that in spades. Finally, I felt that a #1 song should possess an element of beauty and poetry; something that “Imagine” has thanks to its’ inspiration from a poem called, “Grapefruit” that was written by Yoko Ono. However, as you can tell from the number at the top of this post, we are only at Song #3. I can’t really explain yet why “Imagine” is #3 and not #1 but, rest assured, the way I have chosen to end this countdown sits well with me and I hope it will sit well with you when the time comes in a couple of days. For now, I want to celebrate a song that means a lot to me and, for my money, is easily one of the best songs of all-time. Here is the story of “Imagine” by John Lennon.
While John Lennon has never come out and actually confirmed this, there is plenty of conjecture that suggests that “Imagine” was part of a trilogy of songs by Lennon that were all intended to carve out a place for him in the Post-Beatle world in which he found himself as the 1970s began. Part of John’s Post-Beatle life actually began while he was still with The Beatles. For starters, he met an artist named Yoko Ono. Many people claim that Yoko Ono was responsible for breaking up The Beatles. Whether any of that is true or not doesn’t really matter. What matters is that John fell in love with her and found life with her to be preferable to life with the band. Beyond that, Yoko Ono possessed an artistic and poetic set of sensibilities that John found interesting and more in line with how he felt about Life and about the world in which he lived. So, Song #1 in this trilogy of statement songs was “Give Peace a Chance” *(which you can read all about here). The “bed-ins for peace” campaign was aimed at protesting the Vietnam War (and War, in general) in a way that made a political statement without the requisite violence that was the hallmark of so many anti-war protests at the time. The second song in Lennon’s political trilogy of songs was “Imagine”….which I shall discuss in greater detail in a moment. The final song in the trilogy was “Power to the People”. In all three songs, Lennon was advocating for people to change the way they were going about their lives and, by doing so, harnessing the power they possessed as a peaceful, soulful citizens to exact change on their terms and throw off the shackles of conformity that only seemed to be serving the establishment.
The song, “Imagine” was directly inspired from a Yoko Ono poem entitled, “Grapefruit”, along with a book of Prayer he had been given by comedian, Dick Gregory. The song, itself, is based upon the idea of living in a world where people are free to follow their peaceful instincts and live in harmony. That world would have no war nor any over-arching religion nor national boundaries. People would share instead of hoard. Greed would give way to empathy and compassion. All in all, Lennon’s vision for a better world struck a chord with many listeners because his song has been adopted by countries all over the world and has often been played at international gatherings such as at Olympic Games, for example. Needless to say, anyone who pushes against the status quo can expect the establishment to push back…..and it did. Lennon received criticisms on multiple fronts: that “Imagine” was invoking a war on religion, that a millionaire shouldn’t be telling others to forgo material possessions when he had so many himself and, finally, there were many that compared “Imagine” to Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto and therefore, by extension, called Lennon a Communist, too. The funny thing about that for me is that, while in university, I had a Professor of Literature accuse me of being a Communist because of an essay I handed in about Anton Chekov’s play, “The Cherry Orchard” that we had been studying. Well, I am no more a Communist that I am a stinking Imperialistic Capitalist. I imagine that John Lennon was much the same as me in that regard. Like Lennon, I think our world would be better for everyone if we worked together to protect our environment, end economic disparity between the classes, learn to share our resources, as nations, and end all wars that only serve to perpetuate misery and destruction. I can easily imagine a better world where we can all live in safety and in harmony with our fellow citizens. As the song says, it is easy if you try.
John Lennon wrote this song and recorded in under the watchful eye of producer, Phil Spector, who John greatly admired. A few years ago, there was a push to give Yoko Ono a songwriting credit on “Imagine” because of the influence of her poem, “Grapefruit” on the song’s construction. John, himself, had publicly stated that the idea for the song came from Yoko Ono so, I would expect this change to be forthcoming. “Imagine” is a lovely, light and airy song and became John Lennon’s biggest selling solo record. It is as well known as any of his work while in The Beatles. John Lennon has said that “Imagine” was his favourite song of them all. I agree. It is one of my favourite songs, too. I am not alone in that sentiment. The song, “Imagine” is liked all around the world. In Central Park, in NYC, there is even a beautiful mosaic tile installation that simply says, “Imagine” in the middle of it. Fans pose for photos there every day. Some simply sit there in the shade of the trees and think about Lennon’s message of living a better life and of having a better world as a result. It is a message that brings them much peace. What a gift is Peace.
The link to the video for the song, “Imagine” by John Lennon, can be found here.
The link to the official website for John Lennon and Yoko Ono, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.