Wednesday, July 25, 2007

No. 76: Imagine

Band: John Lennon
Album: Imagine
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Probably Lennon's most accessible solo work, "Imagine" has two of his signature songs ("Jealous Guy" and the title track). Imagine is a thoroughly honest record, though so infused with strings that Lennon called it "sugar-coated."
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: It's a great record, but if it was a Steely Dan record, it'd be in the 300s. But, it's Lennon, so it's 76.
Best song: The title track is as identifiable with Lennon as anything, though I really love "How Do You Sleep?" mostly because it's incredibly snide.
Worst song: "I Don't Wanna Be a Soldier Mama" isn't very good.
Is it awesome?: It's actually a pretty amazing record.

I think I would've liked John Lennon, had I known him. Yes, he did those stupid "bed=ins" with Yoko and that's dumb. He was way into drugs far too far into his adulthood and clearly was a bit optimistic for my tastes. But, if he was just a dude, I think he and I could have been pals, mostly because he was a petty, bitter man who had huge dreams for humanity.

I like that.

"Imagine" is a realization of that wonderful combination of those two seemingly divergent personality traits. His simple idealism can be heard on the ever popular title track, as well as "Jealous Guy," "Crippled Inside," "Oh, Yoko," and "Oh My Love" while his vindictiveness is pretty clearly the driving force behind "How Do You Sleep?" (sample lyrics: "The sound you make is muzak to my ears/You must have learnt something all those years,"). Both sides are tied up well together in "Gimme Some Truth," as Lennon demands to get answers from a corrupt government ("short-haired yellow-bellied sons of Tricky Dicky") and a society of sexists("tight-lipped condescending mommy's little chauvinists"). Only a true idealist can expect more than what he sees in the world as Lennon did.

The title track is almost synonymous with Lennon and for good reason. The song's message of societal constructs destroying humanity is decidedly anti-, well, everything, but goes down easy because of the sweetness of Lennon's voice, the majestic strings and Lennon's general standing in American society at the time. Still, take a look at the lyrics. Lennon is advocating an abolition of religion, the nation state and the capitalist system. It's an impressive list, but something I'm sure most listeners have not thought about entirely.

(With that said, Elvis Costello's criticism of Lennon in "The Other Side of Summer" -- "Was it a millionaire who said 'Imagine no possessions'?" -- is entirely valid.)

Still, it's the vindictive side I like more. Lennon was clearly a bitter, mean man and "How Do You Sleep?" is an expression of that. Though Lennon claimed he was writing about himself, the line "The only thing you did was yesterday/And since your gone you're just another day" isn't really subtle. Nor is the second couplet of the song, "Those freaks was right when they said you was dead, The one mistake you made was in your head." It also doesn't help Lennon's cause that George Harrison played slide guitar on the record, considering the most famous non-performance scene in "Let It Be" was Harrison and McCartney arguing over a guitar part.

That bitterness humanizes Lennon in a way that's very interesting to me. Despite being a clear musical genius, his maturity was easily malleable and he took out some really misplaced anger towards McCartney, who certainly didn't deserve any of it. Macca is an easy target, but that doesn't mean he should be hit like Lennon -- a supposed friend -- did.

Still, this vindictiveness is interesting to me. Lennon was certainly a flawed genius and "Imagine" shows that.

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