Imagine album artwork – John LennonWritten by: Lennon
Recorded: 27, 29 May 1971
Producers: John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Phil Spector

Released: 8 October 1971 (UK), 9 September 1971 (US)

Available on:
Imagine

Personnel

John Lennon: vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonica
Phil Spector: vocals
Nicky Hopkins: piano
Rod Linton: acoustic guitar
Andy Davis: acoustic guitar
Klaus Voormann: bass guitar
Alan White: drums
The Flux Fiddlers: strings

The final song on Imagine, ‘Oh Yoko!’ was a jubilant love song written for John Lennon’s second wife Yoko Ono.

In 1970, Lennon explained how his lyrics for The Beatles’ ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ were intentionally simplistic:

A reviewer wrote of ‘She’s So Heavy’: ‘He seems to have lost his talent for lyrics, it’s so simple and boring.’ ‘She’s So Heavy’ was about Yoko. When it gets down to it, like she said, when you’re drowning you don’t say ‘I would be incredibly pleased if someone would have the foresight to notice me drowning and come and help me,’ you just scream. And in ‘She’s So Heavy’ I just sang ‘I want you, I want you so bad, she’s so heavy, I want you,’ like that.
John Lennon, 1970
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner

‘Oh Yoko!’ was cut from similar cloth, with simple variations within each of the five verses underlining Lennon’s message of love. The message was basic: in the middle of each aspect of his life he wanted, needed and called for her.

EMI wanted to release ‘Oh Yoko!’ as a single, but Lennon refused. In the United States only the title track was taken from the Imagine album, and in the United Kingdom no singles were issued from it.

It’s a very popular track, but I was sort of shy and embarrassed and it didn’t sort of represent my image of myself as the tough, hard-biting rock ‘n’ roller with the acid tongue. Everybody wanted it to be a single – I mean, the record company, the public – everybody. But I just stopped it from being a single ’cause of that. Which probably kept it in number two. It never made number one. The Imagine album was number one, but the single wasn’t.
John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

The melody was inspired by Lonnie Donegan’s ‘Lost John’, a song Lennon played often. He wrote the basis of the music in 1968 while The Beatles were in India with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, although the song was not completed until just before the Imagine recording sessions began.

Lennon performed an impromptu version of ‘Oh Yoko!’ on 25 May 1969 at the Sheraton Oceanus Hotel in Freeport, Bahamas. The performance was filmed by Derek Taylor, and was included in the 2019 film John & Yoko – Above Us Only Sky.

Another recording was made in June 1969, during the second bed-in for peace in Montreal. The buoyant mood of this was in marked contrast to a demo version recorded towards the end of 1970, in which the song was taken at a mournful pace similar to ‘Mother’. The piano demo also featured Ono on harmony vocals.

In the studio

‘Oh Yoko!’ was recorded at Ascot Sound Studios on 27 May 1971 in a single take.

On the eight-track tape, tracks 1 and 2 had Klaus Voormann’s bass guitar and Alan White’s drums respectively.

Track 3 had a harmonica overdub by Lennon, played on his Hohner Blues Harp. The track also contained harmony vocals by Lennon and Phil Spector.

Track 4 had acoustic guitars by Rod Lynton and Andy Davis, and 5 had piano by Nicky Hopkins.

Tracks 6 and 7 contained vocals and acoustic guitar, both by Lennon, and 8 had more vocals and harmonica. The vocal overdubs were taped on 29 May.

‘Oh Yoko!’ saw Lennon playing the harmonica on record for the first time since the White Album’s ‘Rocky Raccoon’. The unpolished Dylanesque suck-and-blow solos were overdubbed after the backing track was completed, and the second was isolated when the other instruments were faded early at the album’s close.