Imagine (album)

In the studio

Imagine (Remastered) - John Lennon

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 1988 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.

The 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.

Cover artwork

The front and rear photographs on the cover of Imagine were taken by Yoko Ono. The original concept for the front had been a picture of Lennon with his eyes replaced by clouds, but the idea was abandoned.

The back cover also featured a quotation from Yoko Ono's 1964 book Grapefruit. Cloud Piece was an instructional poem dated Spring 1963 which inspired the album's title track.

Imagine poster - John Lennon

Imagine the clouds dripping.
Dig a hole in your garden to
put them in.
Yoko Ono

George Maciunas, an artist affiliated with the Fluxus movement, designed the cover lettering and the inner sleeve layout. Early copies of the album also included the pig parody postcard, and a 33"x22" poster of Lennon seated at his white grand piano. The photograph used for the poster was taken at Tittenhurst by Peter Fordham.

10 responses on “Imagine (album)

    1. Joe Post author

      Perhaps it says more about your dirty mind than John and Yoko’s! Page 269 of Anthology has various different versions of the Apple label design, presumably most of which weren’t used. I suspect this is one of the set originally created by Gene Mahon and Paul Castell.

      1. mr. Sun king coming together

        Oh My Von! It’s nothing at all, let alone disgusting. I think it’s you seeing what you want to see. It’s nothing, although if it was a coded reference to “anything” someone would have noticed.

  1. Vonbontee

    Hm, maybe my mind is dirty, maybe I’ve looked at too many Georgia O’Keefe flowers. Either way, it’s clearly not the uaual apple design – it’s less symmetrical, for one thing – so I’m sure they used it for SOME reason. Maybe the intent was to induce (us) dirty-minded folks to “imagine” they’re seeing something that’s not there? If so, that’s a pretty clever stunt!

  2. Peter Dolce

    I’m trying to track down definite imagine sessions dates, I’ve seen recordings in June which I take as truth, you state 5 days in May, is this new information? did he then wait 6 weeks before overdubbing horns in New York?

  3. Graham Paterson

    Imagine is one of the great albums. Whilst its predecessor John Lennon and The Plastic Ono Band is his best album,this is the next best and a classic in its own right.Obviously the title track is a timeless beautiful song. Jealous Guy is a heartfelt gem and I also love Bryan Ferrys brilliant interpretation of it that came out in1981 after Lennons death. This is an album of contrasting moods in true John Lennon style. Going from the regret of Jealous Guy to the equally brilliant How Do You Sleep? with Lennon attacking his former partner Paul McCartney; but as history tells us they both got through this stage. George Harrisons guitar work on this adds to the assault. Gimme Some Truth, How?,Crippled Inside and Its So Hard are other favorites.

  4. Graham Paterson

    I got my first copy of the ” Imagine” album for Christmas 1981.It is of course a classic. Last week I obtained a 2011 digitally remastered copy of this, as part of a beautifully packaged box set.This great album sounds even better. The first vinyl is the original album and the second is the ” Imagine Sessions “, taken from the ” John Lennon Anthology” series, that I have on CD. John Lennon’s great vocals backed up by a stellar grouping, including George Harrison, Jim Keltner, Klaus Voorman,Alan White, Nicky Hopkins and others. It is as if they are playing in your’e living room!! The second album is coloured white and includes great alternative versions. On this ” Jealous Guy ” is a particular favourite and ” Baby, Please Don’t Go ” is a great rock/ blues number. Included in this package is a poster and the two original postcards. To all John Lennon fans I recommend this set.

    1. Graham Paterson

      The interesting thing about ” Baby, Please Don’t Go” that I forgot to mention last month. Is that on the live second album in the ” Sometime In New York City ” set, John Lennon mentions before playing this that The Beatles used to play this at the Cavern Club. In fact that live version, ( just mentioned ), is brilliant.

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