Released: 8 October 1971 (UK), 9 September 1971 (US)
Based around a basic 12-bar blues structure, It’s So Hard continued the stripped-back approach to music making that Lennon had deployed on John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and his early solo singles. It was one of the first songs recorded for the Imagine album.
The song was recorded in February 1971 at EMI Studios, Abbey Road, London. Lennon had booked sessions to record his next set of songs, just two months after the release of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. The sessions yielded seven songs: ‘Power To The People’, an early version of ‘I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier’, Well (Baby Please Don’t Go), I’m The Greatest, Open Your Box, O Wind (Body Is The Scar Of Your Mind) and It’s So Hard.
Of the other songs, Power To The People became Lennon’s next single, with Yoko Ono’s Open Your Box on the b-side. Well (Baby Please Don’t Go) and I’m The Greatest remained outtakes, although the latter was given to Ringo Starr. O Wind (Body Is The Scar Of Your Mind) was issued on Ono’s 1971 album Fly, and I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier was re-recorded for Imagine.
The arrangement of It’s So Hard mirrored the pared-down production of Imagine’s predecessor, with Lennon performing a suitably raw succession of guitar licks and singing at his rock ‘n’ roll best. The lyrics, too, are among Lennon’s most basic, and speak of the comfort he found in Ono’s company.
The string arrangement was scored by Torrie Zito, and was overdubbed at Record Plant East, New York City, in early July 1971. The musicians, whom Lennon dubbed The Flux Fiddlers, were members of the New York Philharmonic orchestra.
During these sessions King Curtis also added a saxophone solo. Along with his contribution to I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier, it was one of Curtis’ final performances: he was murdered on 13 August 1971, shortly before Imagine was released.
King Curtis had appeared on the same bill as The Beatles during their 1965 US tour. Lennon was thrilled to have him involved in the Imagine session, and suggested he play a solo similar to The Bill Doggett Combo’s 1956 hit Honky Tonk. Lennon ran through It’s So Hard several times for Curtis, and the master saxophonist recorded his solo in a few takes.
It’s So Hard was the b-side of the Imagine single in the United States. Released on 11 October 1971, one month after the Imagine album, the single reached number three on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Lennon performed It’s So Hard during his final concert appearances, at the One To One shows at New York’s Madison Square Gardens on 30 August 1972. It was the second song played during both the afternoon and evening shows – the first of these was included on the 1986 album Live In New York City.