"The Alternate Imagine"
1971 Studio Outtakes, Rehearsals, Demos
01 I´M The Greatest (1:53) Take 2 Early version, incomplete lyrics - At end, "Well, it wasn't good enough""
02 San Francisco Bay Blues (1:14) Outtake, acoustic version
03 How?/Child Of Nature/Oh Yoko! (4:26) Piano Demo Medley, late 1970 - early 1971
04 Oh My Love (1:21) Acoustic home demo with preliminary lyrics referring to Yoko's miscarriage, late 1968
05 Oh Yoko! (4:37) Acoustic guitar demo, mid 1969
Choosing to collaborate more fully with Phil Spector than he had on John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, John Lennon began recording the Imagine album during the Power To The People sessions at EMI Studios, Abbey Road, London, between 11 and 16 February 1971.
Lennon retained Klaus Voormann from the Plastic Ono Band sessions, but Ringo Starr was unavailable. In his place Lennon recruited Jim Gordon, formerly of Derek And The Dominos, and also added saxophonist Bobby Keyes to play on Power To The People. The group recorded six other songs: It's So Hard, I Don't Want To Be A Soldier, a cover of The Olympics' Well (Baby Please Don't Go, an early version of I'm The Greatest, and two by Yoko Ono - Open Your Box and O Wind (Body Is The Scar Of Your Mind).
Of the six songs, It's So Hard and I Don't Want To Be A Soldier appeared on Imagine, although the latter was later re-recorded. Their lyrics matched the emotional intensity that ran through John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, suggesting Lennon was considering repeating the formula for its follow-up. However, work stalled on the project, and Lennon committed himself to other projects for three months.
Work on Imagine began in earnest between 24 and 28 May 1971, at Ascot Sound Studios, Lennon's recording facility at the Tittenhurst Park mansion he shared with Yoko Ono. In those five days a total of eight songs for Imagine were recorded: the title track, Crippled Inside, Jealous Guy, Gimme Some Truth, Oh My Love, How Do You Sleep?, How?, and Oh Yoko!.
The sessions normally began around 11am and finished in the early evening. Lennon typically assembled the musicians around him, taught them the chords and explained the arrangement he had in mind, and recording ended when Lennon, Ono or Phil Spector pronounced themselves to be happy with the results. Lennon always sang guide vocals with each take, which he later replaced by overdubbing a final version.
The cast list for Imagine was more extensive than for John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. George Harrison appeared on several tracks, as did pianist Nicky Hopkins, Badfinger guitarists Joey Molland and Tom Evans, and respected session drummer Jim Keltner.
During the May sessions the musicians also recorded an unreleased cover version of San Francisco Bay Blues, plus four songs by Yoko Ono: Mind Holes, Mind Train, Midsummer New York, and Mrs Lennon. The songs were included on her 1971 album Fly, released as a counterpart to Imagine but, unlike her Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band release before it, with a quite separate identity to Lennon's album.
Lennon and Ono had been documenting their private and public appearances as audio or filmic records since 1968. The Imagine sessions at Ascot were no different. The sessions were filmed by a camera crew which captured around 60 hours of footage.
A full-length documentary film was planned, to be called Your Show then Working Class Hero, but the project was shelved as Lennon and Ono worked on the Imagine promotional film in July and September 1971. The footage was, however, used as the basis for the 1998 biopic Imagine: John Lennon, and a documentary released in 2000, Gimme Some Truth: The Making Of John Lennon's Imagine Album.
Recording for Imagine was completed in early July 1971, with the addition of saxophone and string overdubs in New York City's Record Plant East studio. The saxophonist was King Curtis, who recorded his contributions for It's So Hard and I Don't Want To Be A Soldier in less than an hour. Sadly, King Curtis was murdered on 13 August 1971, shortly before Imagine was released.
The strings were performed by members of the New York Philharmonic orchestra, whom Lennon dubbed The Flux Fiddlers. Arrangements for Imagine, Jealous Guy, It's So Hard, How Do You Sleep? and How? were scored by Torrie Zito. With recording complete, the album was mixed quickly and prepared for release.
Imagine was issued on 9 September 1971 in the United States, and on 7 October in the United Kingdom. It topped the charts in both countries.
It was also the first Apple album release in quadrophonic, a four-channel system which was an early form of surround sound. The format was issued on LP and eight-track cartridge.
John Lennon's second solo album was his greatest commercial success. On it he tempered some of the more abrasive and confrontational elements of its predecessor, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, offering instead a more conventional pop collection that contains some of his best-loved songs.
Imagine begins with the title track, John Lennon's most famous song. One of his most idealistic moments, Imagine suggested a world without religion, nation or possessions, asking instead that people see themselves as agents for change without traditional dogma or ideology.
If Imagine was an attempt to reach beyond the political norms, Crippled Inside, Jealous Guy, It's So Hard and How? returned to the personal introspection of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. Lennon's demons clearly hadn't been vanquished, but he had learnt to temper them and couch them in more palatable form.
Gimme Some Truth saw a return for Citizen Lennon, marking the next step in a transition towards political polemics that would reach a peak on 1972's Some Time In New York City. It was a journey he had begun with 1968's Revolution, but began to focus on properly from Power To The People, released six months prior to Imagine. Gimme Some Truth remains one of Lennon's most powerful musical statements, launching a full-blooded attach on the hypocrisy of authority figures, and still able to pack a considerable punch decades after its release.
Oh My Love and Oh Yoko! were love songs for Lennon's wife, the first of which was written at the beginning of their relationship in 1968 and was co-credited to Ono.
And then there was How Do You Sleep?, the most notorious of Imagine's songs. An undisguised attack on Paul McCartney, it was as far from living life in peace that it was possible to Imagine Lennon.
The song was written in response to various coded messages Lennon claimed were on Paul and Linda McCartney's 1971 album Ram, particularly in the songs Too Many People, Dear Boy, Three Legs and The Back Seat Of My Car.
Although McCartney later claimed the messages had been confined to Too Many People, the damage had been done. Lennon launched a full-scale broadside at his former songwriting partner, accusing him of being surrounded by sycophantic 'straights', having achieved nothing more than writing Yesterday, and trashing his recent works as "muzak to my ears". As a final blow, he suggested those believers of the 'Paul is dead' myth were actually right.
Early pressings of Imagine included a postcard showing Lennon holding the ears of a pig, a clear parody of McCartney's pose on the cover of Ram. The pair eventually settled their differences, although their friendship never recovered the closeness it once had.
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