Lennon was asking us to imagine a place where things that divide people (religion, possessions, etc.) did not exist. He felt that would be a much better place.
This song is a strong political message that is sugarcoated in a beautiful melody. Lennon realized that the softer approach would bring the song to a wider audience, who hopefully would listen to his message.
Lennon later felt that this song should have been a Lennon/Ono collaboration. He got the initial idea from Yoko's book Grapefruit
, which is a book of instructions, with things like "Imagine the sky crying..." or "Imagine you're a cloud."
Some people have wondered if Lennon included a message in the video for this song as well. In the video, Lennon is dressed as a cowboy and Yoko Ono is dressed as an Indian squaw. This could be a kind of message about all cultures getting along.
Lennon wrote this on a brown Steinway upright piano. In 2000, George Michael paid over $2 million for the piano that Lennon wrote this on, and then returned it to the Beatles museum in Liverpool. John's piano has since been "on tour" to various world locations promoting peace.
Churlish listeners had a problem with the "no possessions" line, finding Lennon hypocritical since he was so well-off. Yoko Ono addressed this in a 1998 interview with Uncut, where she stated regarding her husband's intentions: "He sincerely wished that there would be a time when all of us could feel happy without getting too obsessive about material goods."
A sidewalk mosaic spells out the word "Imagine" in a section of Central Park dedicated to Lennon. The area is called "Strawberry Fields," and is located across from Lennon's apartment where he was shot.
This was not released as a single in the UK until 1975, when it hit #6. Shortly after Lennon's death in 1980, it was re-released in the UK and hit #1. It was replaced at #1 by Lennon's "Woman," marking the first time an artist replaced himself on top of the UK charts since The Beatles followed "She Loves You
" with "I Want To Hold Your Hand
This is credited to The Plastic Ono Band, the name Lennon used for some of his recordings after leaving The Beatles. Ringo Starr played drums on this and Klaus Voorman played bass.
On September 21, 2001, Neil Young performed this on a benefit telethon for the victims of the terrorist attacks on America. Almost 60 million people watched the special in the US.
At a 2001 tribute special to Lennon, Yolanda Adams sang this with Billy Preston on organ. Preston played keyboards on some Beatles songs, including "Get Back."
In 2002, this came in #2 in a poll by Guinness World Records as Britain's favorite single of all time. It lost to "Bohemian Rhapsody
" by Queen.
This has been covered by many bands, including Our Lady Peace, and a vastly toned down version by A Perfect Circle. Jack Johnson recorded it for the 2007 compilation Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur
This song plays a role in the movie Forrest Gump. Gump (played by Tom Hanks) appears on a talk show with Lennon, talking about a place where there are "no possessions" and "no religion." It's implied that Gump gave Lennon the idea for this song.
Some speculate that this song contains backwards messages. With a keen ear and large imagination, you can barely make out the words "people war beside me" when reversing the line "Imagine all the people."
On September 13, 1980 Elton John did a free concert in New York's Central Park, ending it with this song. This performance was three months before Lennon's untimely death; before playing the song Elton said, "This is for a dear friend of mine who doesn't live too far from here, so let's sing it loud enough for him to hear it" (Lennon lived only a few blocks from that part of Central Park). The flamboyant Elton performed the song wearing a Donald Duck outfit.
Lennon said this song is "virtually the Communist Manifesto." That's usually the last we see of the quote, but Lennon added: "even though I am not particularly a communist and I do not belong to any movement."
This song returned to the Hot 100 three times in the late 2000s, thanks to cover versions by Jack Johnson (#90, 2007), David Archuleta (#36, 2008) and The Glee Cast (#67, 2009).
The jazz musician Herbie Hancock recorded this as the centerpiece to his Imagine Project
. His version features Jeff Beck, P!nk, Seal, India.Arie, Konono N°1 and Oumou Sangaré.
According to Yoko Ono, who controls the rights to John Lennon's music, the most frequent request she gets comes from musicians who want to record this song but change the "No religion, too" lyrics - a request she has always denied.
So, does this mean you can record any song, but you need special permission to alter the lyrics? Essentially, yes. Alex Holz at the music licensing and royalty service provider Limelight
explained to us: "Artists can be afforded 'some' leeway in adapting a track to your band's style (so long as you don't alter the fundamental character of the work), though lyric changes/alterations typically require direct permission from the publisher as a derivative work. Every songwriter/publisher/song is unique and requirements vary."
This was the last song played on WABC before they switched from a Top 40 format to talk radio. Based in New York City, WABC was for decades the top AM radio station in the country. They debated long and hard to decide which song should be their farewell.
A moving rendition of this song took place in Paris on November 14, 2015 at the Bataclan theater, where 89 people were killed by gunmen in terrorist attacks the previous night. The German pianist Davide Martello brought his grand piano to the theater, and played the song while crowds mourned outside the venue.
Over the next few days, Martello brought the piano to every location in Paris where the attacks took place, performing the song in tribute.
When Nike used the Beatles song "Revolution
" in 1987 TV commercials, Yoko Ono joined the surviving band members in suing the company. In the court proceedings, it was revealed that Yoko appeared in a Japanese TV commercial for a telephone company where "Imagine" plays. According to court documents, she authorized use of the song and was paid about $400,000. The "Revolution" case unified the Beatles in their opposition to having songs used in commercials, especially since they didn't control the rights - Capitol Records and Michael Jackson did.