Thursday, November 10, 2011

'Imagine', the album

John Lennon only released six 'real' albums: Plastic Ono Band, Imagine, Sometime in New York City, Mind Games, Walls and Bridges and Double Fantasy.

And while Plastic Ono Band is a masterpiece and one of the most important albums ever (not just Beatle related, but one of the greatest ever), you have to be in the mood for it. It's not something you throw in the CD player on the way to work like you would a Beatles' album.

For that kind of experience, I turn to my two 'favorites', Imagine and Walls and Bridges.

The funny thing about Imagine is that the title song is actually kind of a drag. I'm not a fan of Lennon's 'anthem' songs like 'Power to the People' or 'Give Peace a Chance'. They're too obvious and not all that interesting. And Imagine's closer, 'Oh Yoko' is, while catchy, also leaves me a bit cold.

But the stuff in the middle. Wow. What a great, very 'listenable' album. 'Jealous Guy' is perhaps the best song he ever wrote and has a fab performance not only vocally, but musically it's perfect. Especially the bass by Klaus Voorman.

'I Don't Wanna Be a Soldier' is a punked up hip update of 'I Want You (She's So Heavy)' and has a great rhythm and does what Plastic Ono Band failed to do: Make an unnerving song fun to listen to. Yoko's influence can be heard in his quivering vocals, which he does much better than she did. And singers like Johnny Rotten would do a few years later.

'It's So Hard' is a number where Lennon finally does what McCartney always could do so much better. That is, digging deep into the roots of authentic old school rock 'n' roll or R&B or whatever you want to call it. It's the real deal. Lennon must have loved this one, too, because, along with the title track, it's the only one on the album I recall him ever playing live.

The rest of the numbers I love, too. 'Crippled Inside', funky honkytonk with cynical (but fun) lyrics, 'Gimme Some Truth', another pre-punk punk song with lyrics that are even more poignant today than they were in 1971 ('just a pocketful of hope'), 'Oh My Love' is as good as any of the 'true' love songs he did with the Beatles. His jab at McCartney, 'How Do You Sleep?' could rate a whole blog entry on it's own. But take away the back story and it's still a great song (and I believe Lennon's statement that the song was as much about himself as it was about Paul). 'How?' is another example of him doing what Plastic Ono Band couldn't do; a song about fear and confusion but equally inspiring as it is depressing.

It's no accident that Imagine was his biggest seller while he was alive. Yes, Double Fantasy sold more but that's because Lennon was murdered three weeks after it came out. It barely cracked the Top Ten originally. Imagine, on the other hand went #1 all over the world and continued to be a solid seller over the years.


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