John Lennon’s Imagine was more than the sum of its inspirational title track

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In the decades since the arrival of John Lennon’s Imagine on September 9, 1971, most of its legacy has telescoped around the title track. But, as members of those sessions reminded us in this Something Else! Sitdown, thete is more to this album than “Imagine.”

“Jealous Guy,” for instance, has become one of the most covered of John Lennon’s solo tracks — with more than 100 reinterpretations, and counting. (Roxy Music had a memorable hit with it just after Lennon passed.) And yet, “Jealous Guy” still belongs completely to its author, as Lennon sings with an unmatched fragility over an atmospheric track that included Klaus Voormann, Jim Keltner, Joey Molland, Tom Evans and John Barham.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?,” says Molland, who had recently worked with his late Badfinger bandmate Evans on George Harrison’s post-Beatles solo debut, as well. “They just called up and invited us down there. John wanted to try out some things with acoustic guitars, and George had just come off All Things Must Pass. Phil Spector was also producing John’s record, so they asked us to play a bit. We went down and it was a great evening — one of the highlights of my life.”

Lennon kicked up his heels on the jaunty “Crippled Inside,” in a move that belied its dark lyrics, and on a paean to domestic bliss called “Oh Yoko!” He asked probing questions on “How?” and “Gimme Some Truth.” He offered grinding rock on “It’s So Hard,” and delicate admissions on “Oh My Love.”

There were Beatles connections, even beyond the participation of George Harrison on half of the tracks, Voorman (who did the cover artwork for 1966’s Revolver), Spector (producer of 1970’s Let It Be) and Badfinger, who the Fabs had signed to Apple. “Jealous Guy” grew out of songwriting sessions for the Beatles’ White Album, having originally been titled “Child of Nature.” Lennon had begun working on “Gimme Some Truth” during the run up to Let It Be.

Then there was “How Do You Sleep,” Lennon’s sharp jab at Paul McCartney. It couldn’t have been more different in tone or texture from sensitive moments like the album’s title track — which had been completed, drummer Alan White tells us, in just three takes. Elsewhere, White had to ramp up into a heavy-metal political vibe on “Gimme Some Truth” too, making this album one of his most complete efforts as a drummer.

Still, there were some uncomfortable moments as White scanned the content for “How Do You Sleep,” which included a number of biting insults directed by John Lennon’s former writing partner, including: “The only thing you done was ‘Yesterday.’”

“That was one of the songs that John gave me all of the lyrics beforehand,” says Alan White, who later joined Yes after performing on a number of key early Lennon solo moments. “He said: ‘This is what we are about today. This is my message. Tell me if you want to play on it.’ I read it, and thought: ‘Oh God, I know who this is about!’ But it wasn’t my place to tell him not to say it. Besides, it was a great number.”

George Harrison provides the scalding slide guitar on “How Do You Sleep,” but Ringo Starr — who was in the studio as an observer at the time of its recording — reportedly blanched at the swipes being made at their former bandmate. Lennon and McCartney later reconciled before his devastating murder.

Joey Molland and Tom Evans also contributed to John Lennon’s anti-Vietnam screed, “I Don’t Want To Be a Soldier.” “We just played the guitar like we normally did, really simply,” Molland tells us. “We didn’t try to put in too many accents, or all the rubbish that you can do. It worked out. I think that’s why they used us: They knew we’d learn the songs quickly, and we’d understand the song and be empathetic. It turned out to be a good experience for everybody.”

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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  • EdSullivan

    If you don’t have an editor, you should at least try to fix the typos before posting this.

  • Hifi Bob

    ‘more than the sum of its inspirational title track’ makes no sense.
    Try ‘more than just its inspirational title track’.

    ‘devastating murder’ — see tautology.

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