Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
1971’s Imagine isn’t John Lennon’s best album, but it remains his most famous. 1970’s Plastic Ono Band was Lennon’s first full musical album as a solo artist, and it’s easily his finest work. He and wife Yoko Ono created some very experimental releases like 1969’s The Wedding Album and he put out some excellent singles like “Cold Turkey” and “Instant Karma!”, but John didn’t produce a full rock LP until POB.
It proved to be a difficult record to top. POB came during a period of severe introspection for John and he tried to exorcise many demons with it. POB remains likely the most personal album from any former Beatle, and it’s also arguably the best of the bunch.
By Imagine, John had mellowed a little, and the record showed a gentler side. Actually, that’s not fair; POB had some quiet and lovely tunes like “Look At Me”. Nonetheless, Imagine came across as a sunnier album as a whole; it definitely had some harsh moments, but they didn’t dominate the proceedings as they had with POB.
It’s also a more accessible piece, largely thanks to the title tune. “Imagine” has become a verified classic and may well be the most-played of all solo Beatle tunes. It got new life after the events of September 11 when its tone fit the aftermath of that terrible day; Neil Young performed it at the outstanding America: A Tribute to Heroes telethon broadcast. It even became part of a joke in Forrest Gump.
This may sound like sacrilege, but honestly, “Imagine” never did a lot for me. It’s a nice tune, and I appreciate the message, but it’s not the best track on the album. Unlike the intensely personal POB, Imagine covered a wider range of subjects. It dealt with his feelings toward Yoko, both in a fully positive way (“Oh Yoko!”) and more regretful (“Jealous Guy”). Lennon also deals with political issues in “Gimme Some Truth” and addresses the then-running feud with former bandmate Paul McCartney.
”Imagine” may be the album’s most famous song, but “How Do You Sleep?” clearly remains its most infamous number. In no uncertain terms, Lennon expresses his disdain for Paul and pretty much everything McCartney represented. (In case the song itself wasn’t strong enough, Imagine came with a photo insert that showed Lennon holding a pig in a clear mockery of the cover for McCartney’s Ram.)
While I guess Ringo stayed on the sidelines, another former Beatles showed his feelings on the matter, as George Harrison played on “How Do You Sleep?” among other Imagine tracks. His stinging slide guitar drove home the points made by Lennon. I always thought Lennon’s bitterness was excessive and misguided - there were no heroes or villains involved in the end of the Beatles - but it’s still an excellent song nonetheless.
”Sleep” offers one of Gimme Some Truth: The Making of John Lennon’s “Imagine” Album’s highlights. The program follows the sessions for the recording of the record and it provides an excellent look at that period. Truth shows a warts and all view of the sessions and offers some very interesting material.
Actually, the show mixes fairly raw session shots with short interview snippets and proto-music video montages. In the latter regard, we see silly segments for tracks like “Crippled Inside” - which shows John and Yoko at play - and “Oh Yoko!”, during which we watch the couple playact as they “search” for each other. There’s also a rudimentary video for “Imagine”.
Those moments are cute but insubstantial. In addition, the interview - which appears in a longer form in the DVD’s supplements - also lacks much punch; the information reveals little of use. However, the rest of the program features generally excellent material.
As I alluded, one of the highlights relates to “How Do You Sleep?” We actually get to watch Lennon play the song to Harrison for the first time; the quiet, barbed glee of the two as they connect their unspoken feelings about the unmentioned subject of the tune is fascinating to watch.
But that’s not the best moment of Truth. Those elements come directly within the studio, as we watch John and the band work out the numbers. I was very surprised to see the heavy role Ono played in the proceedings. She contributed many ideas and seemed to be an active participant in the work.
Most of the footage seems fairly innocuous, but some heated moments arise. Lennon gets actively irritated on a few occasions; we see his ire flare during “Gimme Some Truth”, “Oh My Love” and “Oh Yoko!” The latter’s the most extended and amusing. Lennon’s growing anger at the engineer’s continued mistakes contrasts with the song’s sunny tone and makes the piece all the more entertaining.
Spookier is a meeting between Lennon and an obsessed fan. Clearly the latter has some mental issues, as we learn during their discussion. Back in the day, Beatle fans had all sorts of freaky delusions, with or without drug usage. Though this deranged partisan seems harmless, the foreshadowing of December 8, 1980 makes this moment very creepy.
Gimme Some Truth could have used more documentary footage and less frivolity and musical montages, but overall, I still found it to be a fascinating piece of work. It’s an invaluable program for fans. We rarely see such candid and revealing glimpses of any musical artist, much less such a legendary one. From start to finish - which includes a demo version of “Look At Me”, by the way - Truth is a joy to watch.