Top 100 Album Review: #76 – Imagine, John Lennon (1971)

Extremely Eclectic.

Lennon throws everything at the wall and finds things that sticks. 

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Rolling Stone’s Ranking: #76/100
My Rating: cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550

We are now entering the uncharted realm of post-Beetles work. I have discovered so many hidden finds in Sgt. Pepper, Revolver, The White Album, Abbey Road, and Let It Be that I’ve only written one review on those works so far; I’m just not ready to put those experiences into words. There is so much material. I need more time to let it sink in.

I was wondering how everything would work when they split up. It’s evident as a group that they covered each other’s blind spots. Lennon was iconoclastic and not afraid to tread into weird domains, but McCartney kept him honest and found ways to use lyrics and traditional pop to keep him grounded. Lennon’s second solo album is a solid go, but you can’t help but Imagine what some of the songs could have been With a Little Help From His Friends*.

*I hate myself for making this joke. 

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John Lennon with Chuck Berry.

[OVERVIEW] 

While Lennon’s first solo album, Plastic Ono Band, was an expression from his primal therapy (whatever the hell that is), Imagine is a more commercially sounding album, and doesn’t take as many risks. He recruited the help from the usually cast of characters, including George Harrison for guitar work, Yoko Ono for subject matter, and Phil Spector for producing. His relationship with Paul McCartney continued to deteriorate, and that bad blood was used as motivation to continue to produce music, including one track explicitly directed towards his old band partner.

[TRACK LISTING]

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
6. Gimme Some Truth – 3:16
7. Oh My Love – 2:50*
8. How Do You Sleep? – 5:36
9. How? – 3:43
10. Oh Yoko! – 4:20

*All songs written by John Lennon with Yoko Ono for the assist on “Imagine” and “Oh My Love.”

[BEST TRACK: Imagine]

The song can be easy to hate. It’s a little syrupy and the message tilts towards a preachy communist manifesto, but I simply love it. The meandering piano with string backing is hypnotic, and when Lennon reaches the lyrics “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one,” I swell up inside. 

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man

[BEST HONKEY-TONK COUNTRY IMITATION: Crippled Inside ]

This album gets started with a roll: the power house single Imagine followed by this country-infused ragtime roll. When John Lennon says “take it cousin” and we are treated to an Old Western Saloon piano jam, this song cemented itself as one of my favorites.

You can go to church and sing a hymn
Judge me by the color of my skin
You can live a lie until you die
One thing you can’t hide
Is when you’re crippled inside

[BEST DISS TRACK: How do you Sleep?]

When Ringo Starr saw this song performed in studio, he reportedly said “That’s enough John.” The entire song is one big middle-finger to Paul McCartney. While the composition is rather boring, the amount of snide things Lennon fits into this to diss his previous song-writing partner is simply astounding, especially his play on words where Lennon says “The only thing you done was yesterday,” a reference to McCartney’s hit song “Yesterday.”

[BEST START OF A NEW GENRE: Oh Yoko!]

A great mystery of Lennon is his obsession with Yoko Ono. A greater mystery is why he thinks any of us care about it.

Subject matter not withstanding, the musical composition here is probably the earliest  version I’ve heard of a certain type of folk music. I’m no musicologist, but this kind of free floating, light-hearted arrangement which is prevalent within some sects of Indie music seems to get its roots here.

Fun fact: this is the only recording of John Lennon playing harmonica.

In the middle of the night
In the middle of the night I call your name
Oh Yoko
Oh Yoko
My love will turn you on

[CONCLUSION]

There is a lot to like here. The titular track Imagine would make the album worthwhile on its own, but in addition you get a variety of sounds and compositions that are memorable. There are some tracks that are stuck on average and you can’t help but wonder what could have been with the old Beatle’s line up. After listening to How Do You Sleep?, though, you realize that those years were never coming back.

Other People’s Takes:

  • Brutally Honest Rock Album Reviews: “John Lennon’s Imagine album isn’t a masterpiece. It’s isn’t even a great album. It’s barely even half a good album.”
  • All Things Music+“Lennon also indulged his love of rock and roll with “Crippled Inside” and “It’s So Hard”. “Gimme Some Truth”, originally heard in the Let It Be sessions, appears on the album with a new bridge.”

 

Author: Casual But Smart

I review the top 100 books, movies, albums, and games of all time.

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