Hear the Original, Never-Heard Demo of John Lennon’s “Imagine”

Imag­in­ing a “broth­er­hood of man” sounds Pollyan­naish and painful­ly naïve when even an “uneasy truce of man” seems hard­ly pos­si­ble. But when John Lennon sings about it with con­vic­tion in “Imag­ine,” we sit up and lis­ten. Such is the pow­er of “Imagine”’s utopi­an vision, and Lennon lat­er admit­ted it “should be cred­it­ed as a Lennon/Ono song,” since “a lot of it—the lyric and the concept—came from Yoko,” specif­i­cal­ly from Grape­fruit, her lit­tle book of whim­si­cal “instruc­tions.” For decades the pair’s col­lab­o­ra­tions have received with­er­ing scorn from Bea­t­les fans, but no greater tes­ta­ment to their com­bined human­ist vision exists than “Imag­ine,” a prod­uct of Ono’s con­cep­tu­al dream verse and Lennon’s earnest songcraft.

So much has been said and writ­ten about the song, so many great and not-so-great cov­ers per­formed since its 1971 release, that we might think we know all there is to know about it. We even have behind the scenes footage in the doc­u­men­tary Gimme Some Truth of the some­times tense record­ing ses­sions. Yet it turns out that the orig­i­nal demo ver­sion Lennon record­ed at his own Ascot Sound stu­dios went unno­ticed in a box of tapes for 45 years. We can cel­e­brate its 2016 redis­cov­ery and now hear it for our­selves, that eight-track tape trans­ferred to dig­i­tal and enhanced by engi­neer Paul Hicks, above.

The record­ing was dis­cov­ered by Rob Stevens who found it, reports Jason Kot­tke, “while sift­ing through box­es upon box­es of the orig­i­nal tapes for Yoko Ono.” It seems that improp­er label­ing damned the tape to decades of obscu­ri­ty. “There’s a one-inch eight-track,” remem­bered Stevens, “that says noth­ing more on the ‘Ascot Sound’ label than John Lennon, the date, and the engi­neer (Phil McDon­ald), with DEMO on the spine. No indi­ca­tion of what mate­r­i­al was on the tape.” The find was “true serendip­i­ty,” he remarks.

Hear­ing this mov­ing, stripped-down solo ver­sion reminds me of David Bowie telling an audi­ence in 1983—just before singing the song on his Seri­ous Moon­light tour—of how Lennon approached his song­writ­ing: “’It’s easy,’ he said, ‘you just say what you mean and put a back­beat to it.’” Even with­out the back­beat, “Imag­ine” says exact­ly what it means. Imag­ine all the peo­ple liv­ing for today.

A set of “Ulti­mate Mix­es” of the Imag­ine album will be released in Octo­ber (pre-order here) and will of course include the new­ly-unearthed demo along with many oth­er demos and rar­i­ties. Till then, enjoy this amaz­ing dis­cov­ery, as well as Lennon’s live tele­vi­sion per­for­mance from 1972 on the Mike Dou­glas Show, just above.

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch David Bowie Per­form “Imag­ine”: A Touch­ing Trib­ute to His Friend John Lennon (1983)

Watch John Lennon’s Last Live Per­for­mance (1975): “Imag­ine,” “Stand By Me” & More

John Lennon Extols the Virtues of Tran­scen­den­tal Med­i­ta­tion in a Spir­it­ed Let­ter Writ­ten to a Bea­t­les Fan (1968)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.