‘The album Imagine was after Plastic Ono.
I call it “Plastic Ono with chocolate coating.”’

– John Lennon, 1980

John Lennon Plastic Ono Band (with The Flux Fiddlers)
Produced by John & Yoko and Phil Spector

Track Listing

  1. 3:07
  2. 3:52
  3. 4:14
  4. 2:25
  5. 6:05

  6. 3:16
  7. 2:50
  8. 5:36
  9. 3:43
  10. 4:20
John Lennon & Yoko Ono at Tittenhurst Park, 1971 Photo by Peter Fordham ©1971 Yoko Ono

Just a year on from the implosion of The Beatles, John Lennon’s life had 
yet to settle.

In 1971, while lawyers picked over the remains of his old band, he travelled with Yoko to meet her family in Japan, and to America pursuing custody of Kyoko, her daughter by ex-husband Tony Cox.

Within John’s own, ever-enquiring mind, a war of ideas was raging. In London and New York he had been drawn to the radical underground, where hippy ideals of the 1960s met the hard-edged politics of a new decade. But this being John, nothing was cut and dried. In parallel he was cultivating an almost mystic line of thought, much of it inspired by the art and poetry of Yoko Ono.

John’s first post-Beatles album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, had emerged in late 1970 to critical praise but only muted approval in the marketplace. The conclusions were, to him, pretty obvious. He might be a trail-blazer in all kinds of ways, but he was at heart a populist – an artist but also an entertainer. The task was to frame his ideas in music that listeners loved and took inside their hearts. John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band had been admired, but often from a distance.

The role of the next album – the record that became Imagine – was an attempt for maximum communication, offering hopes to the bleeding, battered world.


John Lennon at Tittenhurst Park, 1971 Photo by Peter Fordham ©1971 Yoko Ono
John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band front cover Photo by Dan Richter ©1970 Yoko Ono
John Lennon & Phill Spector recording the background vocals for ‘Oh Yoko!' at Ascot Sound Studios, 1971 Photo by Peter Fordham ©1971 Yoko Ono

On the musical level he certainly succeeded. Imagine is the best-loved album of his solo career, while its title track is perhaps his most revered. By contrast to its austere predecessor the new music had melodies in abundance, and colour and variety. It had flashes of broad humour and moments of absolute joy.

In his home outside London, at Tittenhurst Park in Ascot, John had built a studio where he could record the raw tracks, without recourse to his traditional base at Abbey Road.

The producer Phil Spector returned to help John oversee an informal family of musicians.

Among them were George Harrison, and friends like Klaus Voormann and the drummer Alan White, who had all played on John’s tremendous debut collaboration with Spector, ‘Instant Karma! (We All Shine On)’.

'Instant Karma! (We All Shine On)' advert, 1971

The Rolling Stones’ favourite pianist Nicky Hopkins was there, and members of the Apple label’s Badfinger.

As Yoko says: ‘It was so good to have breakfast in our own home and walk right into the new studio next to it. We could smell the grass and the trees from the garden and heard the birds chirping. We felt like they were helping us.’

Imagine took shape in the early summer, after which the tapes were taken to New York for final overdubs (not least the magisterial saxophone of King Curtis) at Record Plant East.

It seems that everyone involved, and certainly John himself, had a sense of its being exceptional. Here were songs that threw revealing light on his whole personality at that point – from the devout but imperfect lover to the embattled former Beatle; a man preoccupied by his inner doubts yet ready for anyone when his righteous fury was aroused.


Borrowed Time (1977) by John Lennon
John Lennon & George Harrison at Tittenhurst Park, 1971 Photo by Kieron 'Spud' Murphy ©1971 Yoko Ono

The keynote song itself was drawn from Yoko’s work. It was so influential upon John that he later said she deserved a co-credit.

As far back as 1964, in her collection of poems called Grapefruit, Yoko began each piece with an invocation to ‘imagine’: one example, from 1963’s Cloud Piece, is quoted on the album cover. Whether in spiritual or earthly matters, the idea runs, we must visualise our goals before we can achieve them.

‘imagine the clouds dripping. dig a hole in your garden to put them in.’

yoko ’63

It’s a theme to which Lennon returned frequently, and the hymn-like simplicity of its setting reflects his basic faith – namely, that our collective imaginations are a force for good.

The cover art, from a photograph by Yoko, further shows John in a dreamer’s role, literally with “head in the clouds.”

Front and rear covers of Imagine

But typically of Lennon there was an earthier touch, as well, in a giveaway postcard of him wrestling a pig – satirising, as most fans at the time would have spotted – Paul McCartney’s pastoral image on his own solo LP of that year, Ram.

Postcard included in Imagine's album artwork, 1971 Photo by Peter Fordham ©1971 Yoko Ono

For all that Imagine has a generosity of spirit, the infamous ‘How Do You Sleep?’ is narrow and hard, despite its lush and spacious arrangement.

John would later say that the attack on his former musical partner was, in fact, as much an assault upon himself.

‘Gimme Some Truth’ looks out with an idealist’s impatience to the political world, while ‘Crippled Inside’ has that quality (more obviously than ‘How Do You Sleep?’) of a tirade that is leavened with self-reproach. Its knockabout honky-tonk contrasts with Lennon’s previous album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, through the lyric shares a “primal scream” acuteness.

Likewise ‘Jealous Guy’, another unflinching look into the writer’s own sense of failure, is spun into a different realm by its ethereal melody. If John felt that his last album – forbiddingly stark to some ears – had not found the mass audience its songs deserved, he was not about to make the same mistake with Imagine.


Emotional range is central to this record’s enduring appeal, with light and shade at every turn. From tough, grinding rockers like ‘It’s So Hard’ and ‘I Don’t Wanna Be A Soldier Mama I Don’t Want To Die’ we are sent to the solace of ‘Oh My Love’ or the confessional vulnerability of ‘How?’.

And the album skips away in a song of sheer delight, ‘Oh Yoko!’, possibly the happiest thing that John Lennon ever committed to record.

On its release in September 1971, the Imagine album was recognised as a rounded self-portrait of this complex, candid, passionate man. It re-established his eminence in the commercial firmament, among a rising generation of rock’n’roll stars such as Led Zeppelin and David Bowie. It was clear the 1970’s John Lennon would not sit in the shadow of his 1960’s self.

John Lennon at Tittenhurst Park, 1971 Photo by Peter Fordham ©1971 Yoko Ono

When he left England for America, on 3 September 1971, it was just another trip in John’s turbulent existence, probably in search of some fresh cause to champion, more battles to fight and unknown songs to sing. Nobody knew, of course, that he would never see his homeland again.

For now, New York looked like the city to be – the capital of the world, as he believed – where new adventures beckoned with siren allure…


John & Yoko in the garden at Tittenhurst Park, 1971 Photo by Peter Fordham ©1971 Yoko Ono
John & Yoko on the balcony at Tittenhurst Park, 1971 Photo by Peter Fordham ©1971 Yoko Ono
John carrying Yoko at Tittenhurst Park, 1971 Photo by Peter Fordham ©1971 Yoko Ono

Written by Paul DuNoyer
Included in the CD booklet of EMI’s 2010 Lennon 70 Definitive Remaster of Imagine.
Read Paul’s book: Working Class Hero: The Stories Behind Every John Lennon Song.
Recorded: Ascot Sound Studios, UK: 21 June 1971 – 2 July 1971
Recorded & Mixed: Record Plant East, NYC: 4-5 July 1971
Released UK: 8 Oct 1971
Released USA: 9 Sept 1971

Sleeve notes

John Lennon: vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, piano; whistling on ‘Jealous Guy;’ harmonica on ‘Oh Yoko’
George Harrison: electric guitar on ‘I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier Mama I Don’t Wanna Die Mama I Don’t Wanna Die,’ ‘Gimme Some Truth,’ ‘Oh My Love,’ and ‘How Do You Sleep?;’ dobro on ‘Crippled Inside’
Nicky Hopkins: piano; electric piano on ‘Jealous Guy,’ ‘Oh My Love’ and ‘How Do You Sleep?;’ piano on ‘Crippled Inside’
Klaus Voormann: bass; upright bass on ‘Crippled Inside’
Alan White: drums on ‘Imagine,’ ‘Gimme Some Truth,’ ‘Oh My Love,’ ‘How Do You Sleep?,’ ‘How?,’ and ‘Oh Yoko!;’ Tibetan cymbals on ‘Oh My Love;’ vibraphone on ‘Jealous Guy;’ upright bass on ‘Crippled Inside’
Jim Keltner: drums on ‘Crippled Inside,’ ‘Jealous Guy,’ and ‘I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier Mama I Don’t Wanna Die’
Jim Gordon: drums on ‘It’s So Hard’
King Curtis: saxophone on ‘It’s So Hard’ and ‘I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier Mama I Don’t Wanna Die’
John Barham: harmonium on ‘Jealous Guy;’ vibraphone on ‘How?’
Joey Molland and Tom Evans: acoustic guitars on ‘Jealous Guy’ and ‘I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier Mama I Don’t Wanna Die Mama I Don’t Wanna Die’
John Tout: acoustic guitar on ‘Crippled Inside’
Ted Turner: acoustic guitar on ‘Crippled Inside’
Rod Lynton: acoustic guitar on ‘Crippled Inside,’ ‘Gimme Some Truth’ and ‘Oh Yoko!’
Andy Davis: acoustic guitar on ‘Gimme Some Truth,’ ‘How?’ and ‘Oh Yoko!’
Mike Pinder: tambourine on ‘I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier Mama I Don’t Wanna Die’
Steve Brendell: upright bass on ‘Crippled Inside’
Phil Spector: harmony vocal on ‘Oh Yoko!’

The Flux Fiddlers (members of the New York Philharmonic): orchestral strings


All songs written by John Lennon except ‘Imagine’ and ‘Oh My Love’ written by John Lennon & Yoko Ono
‘Oh Yoko!’ written 1968
Published by Northern Songs Ltd
A joint interest in ‘Oh My Love’ claimed by Ono Music Ltd

Whip and mirror by Yoko Ono
Cover Design and Photos by Yoko Ono ©1971 Bag Productions Inc
Photos by Peter Fordham ©1971 Yoko Ono.
Typography: George Maciunas

Basic tracks made at Ascot Sound Studios
Engineers: Philip McDonald, Eddie Klein (no relations), Eddy Offord, Eddie Veal, Eddie Beer
Food by Val and Diana
John and Yoko’s personal assistant: Dan Richter
This and That: Mal Evans and Peter Bendry

Flux Fiddlers overdubbed at Record Plant, NYC
Engineers: Roy Cicala, Jack Douglas, Shelly Yurkas (Sleep)
This and That: Tom and Arlene and Al Steckler
String Orchestrations: Torrie Zito

‘Cloud Piece’ on cover by Yoko Ono
From Grapefruit paperback edition published by Simon & Schuster Oct 1971
All arrangements by Lennon except ‘Oh My Love’ by Lennon/Ono
Alan White appears by courtesy of Wizard Records Ltd
An Apple Record
An EMI Recording

First released: 9 September 1971


Versions Available

1971 – Original Stereo version: LP, 8 Track & cassette

1971 – Quadraphonic mix: LP & 8 Track

1987 – First released on CD

2000 – Stereo Digital Remaster & Remix: CD, LP

2003 – 5.1 Stereo Digital Remaster & Remix: selected tracks on Lennon Legend DVD

2010 – Stereo Remaster of original J&Y Master: High Resolution (24-bit/96kHz) Audio, BluRay, CD, LP, Mastered for iTunes

2018 – 5.1 & Stereo Remix: High Resolution (24-bit/96kHz) Audio, BluRay, CD, LP, Mastered for iTunes


2000 – Digitally Remastered and Remixed:
Produced by Yoko Ono
Remix engineer: Pete Cobbin

2003 5.1 Stereo Digital Remix for Lennon Legend DVD:
Executive Producer: Yoko Ono
Mixed by Peter Cobbin

2010 – Lennon 70 Definitive Remaster:
Producer: Yoko Ono
Remaster Engineers: Paul Hicks, Sean Magee

2018 – Imagine The Ultimate Collection:
Produced by Yoko Ono
Remix Engineers: Paul Hicks, Rob Stevens