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Song: Imagine

Songwriter: John Lennon

Singer: John Lennon

It's significant that as the world mourned the death of John Lennon, that the song Imagine tended to get more airplay than any of his many great Beatles songs. This song of aspiration and hope for a better, more peaceful existence captured the mood of a world traumatised by Lennon's violent death.

It goes without saying that it's the idealistic vision of the lyrics to Imagine that connects with so many people. It shouldn't be forgotten, however, that Lennon's vision of a better world has some fairly controversial elements...

... no Heaven
... no Hell
... no countries
... no religion

... and he saves for last the one many of us, in our consumer age, would find hardest to stomach ...

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can

Like a great public speaker – think of Martin Luther King's “I have a dream” - Lennon takes his verbal motif “Imagine...”, and repeats it again and again. The word “Imagine..., not the songs chorus, is the real hook of the song.

In fact, the melody to which the verses are sung is very undramatic, essentially limited to G, A and B. Paul McCartney would have done something much more lyrical, but John Lennon's simple figure focuses our attention on the all-important text of Imagine. Only in the bridge does he get more adventurous, rising to the falsetto “I-I-I-I-I” (which becomes “You-ou...” in the bridges to the chorus). I find this oddly reminiscent of the shaking mop-top “ooooo”s of Lennon's Beatlemania days. Notice that Lennon indulges in this poppy musical extravagance where it will not interfere with our understanding the text.

The piano accompaniment of Imagine, although very simple, plays a vital role in the structure of the song. The suspended ninth of gently rocking piano riff which opens the song, adds a richness and tension to what would otherwise be a very bare harmonic texture. The figure of three rising semitones between the phases elegantly fills the gaps between the singer's lines, and heightens the impetus towards the next phrase, rather as a drum fill might do. And finally, the suspended fourth chord which resolves to E major – the only chord in the song not in the key of C major – forms the harmonic climax of Imagine. This appears as a sort of punctuation mark at exactly the lines bearing key message of the song, beginning with:

You may say I'm a dreamer

It is the very simplicity of John Lennon's Imagine, and his artful positioning of a few fine details, that testifies to Lennon's songwriting genius.


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