Based around a basic 12-bar blues structure, ‘It’s So Hard’ continued the stripped-back approach to music making that John 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 arrangement of ‘It’s So Hard’ mirrored the pared-down production of Imagine’s’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.
In the studio
‘It’s So Hard’ was recorded at Ascot Sound Studios on 11 February 1971, with overdubs following in July.
Thirteen takes of the backing track were recorded, with take 11 being selected as the master.
Tracks 2 and 3 had Jim Gordon’s drums, which allowed them to be mixed in stereo.
Track 7 was an echo track, and also contained a tambourine overdub by Gordon.
Tracks 1 and 8 both contained overdubs by Lennon, of piano and electric guitar respectively.
The string arrangement was scored by Torrie Zito, and was overdubbed at Record Plant East, New York City, on 4 July 1971. The musicians, whom Lennon dubbed The Flux Fiddlers, were members of the New York Philharmonic orchestra.
On the following day, 5 July, King Curtis 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.