On October 11, 1971, the song “Imagine” was released, and it quickly climbed atop the charts. It is often highly regarded as one of the greatest singles of all time. Despite its success, the song found itself surrounded by much controversy. In the song, Lennon proposes a world without a heaven, hell, a country, politics, hunger, and other social dilemmas. Many religious fanatics disliked the message of the song due to the idea of a world without a heaven. In an interview with David Sheff in 1980, Lennon talked about how a certain religion wanted him to alter his song:
The concept of positive prayer … If you can imagine a world at peace, with no denominations of religion—not without religion but without this my God-is-bigger-than-your-God thing—then it can be true … the World Church called me once and asked, “Can we use the lyrics to ‘Imagine’ and just change it to ‘Imagine one religion’?” That showed [me] they didn’t understand it at all. It would defeat the whole purpose of the song, the whole idea.
Subtly, I think he is trying to make the point that religion has brought more catastrophe and negativity into the world than chaos. People have this preconceived notion that one religion is better than another. People should not be separated and prejudiced simply due to their beliefs. He envisions a world of peace, and ironically this idea is opposed.
I think he is trying to engage the listener into believing that people should not be bounded by their country, politics, wars, etc. People should be “one” with each other and live in harmony. This song was also popular during the Vietnam War and Civil Rights Movement. Lennon may not have been necessarily attacking religion or the war in general through his song. However, he is challenging us to think about how the world would operate without certain constraints (social norms and man-made organizations such as religion or politics).
I think the song touches on two key aspects of “defining taste.” One can argue that the song has both explicit and implicit meanings. As stated previously, Lennon explicitly proposes a utopia without certain elements in our current world. Implicitly, one can argue that Lennon is jabbing at religion, government, and general greed. These things have often brought more bad into than world than they have brought good. In regards to the second aspect of who the song is designed to cater to: I think the song caters to everyone. The song really makes a person think about how peace can truly be achieved. Can we fully trust our religion and government that one day world peace can be achieved? One can argue that there isn’t a particular audience Lennon wants to address. Instead, he wants to address all people in the world.
Also, I think the song title is highly significant. When a person imagines something, often it is something that seems impossible to achieve. In the song, Lennon states:
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
Lennon knows that he is one of the few believers that people can achieve world peace. He hopes someday that you, the listener, can open your eyes and join his mission in stopping negativity in the world to achieve unison with all people. The song is a favorite of mine, and it has the potential to challenge your own set of beliefs and perceptions of the world.
Article Originally Published at: American Studies Media Culture Program (ASMCP)