Widely regarded as John Lennon’s signature song, ‘Imagine’ was the title track of his second album, and perhaps his best-known solo work.

[‘Imagine’] is anti-religious, anti-nationalistic, anti-conventional, anti-capitalistic… but because it is sugar-coated, it is accepted.
John Lennon

‘Imagine’ conveyed Lennon’s wish for world peace and harmony in simple terms, both musically and lyrically. It was inspired by ‘Cloud Piece’, an instructional poem dated Spring 1963 that appeared in Yoko Ono’s book Grapefruit.

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

Lennon reproduced the words on the back cover of the Imagine album. Although the lyrics of ‘Imagine’ bear only a passing resemblance to ‘Cloud Piece’, such was Ono’s influence that Lennon later admitted she should have been given a co-credit on the song.

The song was originally inspired by Yoko’s book Grapefruit. In it are a lot of pieces saying, Imagine this, imagine that. Yoko actually helped a lot with the lyrics, but I wasn’t man enough to let her have credit for it. I was still selfish enough and unaware enough to sort of take her contribution without acknowledging it. I was still full of wanting my own space after being in a room with the guys all the time, having to share everything.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

Other lyrics were written by Lennon on various pieces of paper, including a Majorcan hotel bill and stationery from the New York Hilton, suggesting its gestation took some time.

Dick Gregory gave Yoko and me a little hind of prayer book. It is in the Christian idiom, but you can apply it anywhere. It is the concept of positive prayer. If you want to get a car, get the car keys. Get it? ‘Imagine’ is saying that. If you can imagine a world at peace, with no denominations of religion – not without religion but without this my-God-is-bigger-than-your-God thing – then it can be true.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

While the message of ‘Imagine’ resonated widely, and was given added poignancy after Lennon’s assassination in 1980, its message has since been derided by many who point out the contradiction of a multimillionaire asking the rest of the world to imagine no possessions. Mindful of this, during performances in later years Lennon substituted the words “I wonder if you can” with “I wonder if we can” – the change can be heard on the Live In New York City album.

The World Church called me once and asked, ‘Can we use the lyrics to ‘Imagine’ and just change it to “Imagine one religion”?’ That showed they didn’t understand it at all. It would defeat the whole purpose of the song, the whole idea.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

The song is the antithesis of Lennon’s previous single, ‘Power To The People’, and his later political sloganeering of the Some Time In New York City album. ‘Imagine’ suggested that, instead of starting revolution right away, Lennon wanted “nothing to kill or die for” and a life of peace. As such, it harked back to the spirit of summer 1967 more than any of his other 1970s work.

In many countries around the world – my wife and I have visited about 125 countries – you hear John Lennon’s song ‘Imagine’ used almost equally with national anthems.
Jimmy Carter
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