Imagine never reached the top of the charts that matter (UK and US, to be clear), a fate that often happened to many songs ignored at the beginning, and glorified only later. It’s exactly what happened for John Lennon’s most known song, that soon became a hymn loved by everybody. It was inspired by Grapefruit, Yoko Ono’s poems book, so much that afterwards they worked in order to include her among the authors, and it gave the title to John Lennon’s second solo album, released in 1971.
With Plastic Ono Band it looked clear that Lennon wanted to show a new face, different from the image engaged in recent years, focusing on intimism and introspection as a new phase of his career: indeed God, one of the most intense songs of Lennon’s entire production, he said openly that “the dream is over”, and so was his status as point of reference, as well as the Beatles themselves.
But John Lennon was a man full of contradictions, often in conflict with himself: not even a year after his first solo album, the English artist started to dream again about doing comething for the mankind. In Imagine he tries to explain what has to happen to to make the world a better place, a place without any reason for contrast and division such as nations, possession, money and religions: he can accept that people will consider him just a dreamer, but he hopes that many others are with him in his utopia.
Imagine, as the same author will say with his usual dose of sarcasm, “is anti-religious, anti-nationalistic, anti-conventional, anti-capitalistic, but because it is sugarcoated it is accepted.” In fact the song contains many of the topics present in God, but without the drama and the disillusionment present in the song with Plastic Ono Band, Imagine has been able to become the most famous song of Lennon’s solo career. And that despite of its subversive content and its direct attack to Western social values.
After Lennon was killed in 1980, Imagine acquired a further universal significance, reaching every part of the world with his message and poetry. Over the years, the lyrics of the song had been attacked by accusations of hypocrisy and complacency, especially because it was written by a millionaire who dreamed a world without private property. Those critics, who never got lost inside that piano, that rarefied arrangement and those words full of hope in a peaceful and better world, have never been able to accept the gift that John Lennon gave to the world. Maybe they just didn’t know how to imagine.