After the stark and brutally honest Plastic Ono Band album, John Lennon simmered his disposition and plotted his next move. In May 1971, he set up shop in his Tittenhurst Park mansion and started recording songs for a new album. Phil Spector was brought on board to co-produce. Bassist Klaus Voorman, drummers Alan White and Jim Keltner, keyboardist Nicky Hopkins, Badfinger guitarists Joey Molland and Tom Evans, and former Fab guitarist George Harrison all dropped in for a number or two. The sessions were loose, creative and filmed for prosperity. The end result assumes a characteristic Spectorish resonance, but it steadily brandishes a vibe that stays much closer to the ground. Such is what makes Imagine perhaps the last great record of John Lennon's career.
Unlike its brilliant, contentious predecessor, Imagine went straight to the top of the charts. Its eloquent title track was also an instant hit. While numerous versions have since come to light, the original's haunting piano and solemn vocal continue to send ripples through the airwaves. The utopian world gives way to self-doubt and insecurities lingering inside the former Beatle on the next two tracks. Despite its lighthearted, honky tonk delivery, "Crippled Inside" graciously exposes some internal wounds. "Jealous Guy" sails through a sumptuous melody while spinning tales of envy. The tone is lifted as Lennon winds up the pitch for "It's So Hard" and "I Don't Wanna Be A Soldier I Don't Wanna Die" — rootsy and reverberating rockers highlighted by the blaring saxophone work of King Curtis.
Lennon goes on to bash a few heads with "Gimme Some Truth" and takes a swing at ex-partner Paul McCartney on the ferocious "How Do You Sleep." With Harrison by his side, Lennon's vent carries a big stick. But he recoils and overtly churns out some lovely strains of tenderness on "Oh My Love" and "How?" A swinging version of "Oh, Yoko!" closes out the album on a catchy chorus with a strange sense of universal appeal. It is well known that Lennon's ensuing travels would hip and hop through a quagmire of politics, marital gloom, and immigration problems. At the dawn of the 80s, it appeared as if Lennon was slowly returning to form, but never got the chance to lift off. We can only imagine what might have been.
~ Shawn Perry