Watch rare footage of John Lennon hearing ‘Imagine’ played for the first time

Throughout his tenure co-writing with Paul McCartney for The Beatles, John Lennon developed an innovative and multi-faceted approach to songwriting. In complex, Beat Generation-inspired compositions like ‘Happiness Is a Warm Gun’ and ‘A Day in the Life’, he straddled the line between experimentalism and pop. Meanwhile, songs like ‘Revolution 9’ and ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ shone a light towards the future.

Somewhere in between, however, Lennon caught a knack for writing simple, catchy and powerful songs of peace and love that reverberated with the 1960s’ countercultural movement. Speaking to Uncut in 2007, Yoko Ono discussed her late husband’s legacy, highlighting the importance of his simple peace songs.

“I think ‘All You Need Is Love’ was the beginning of John’s peace writing,” she said. “You notice that even when he was a Beatle, he wanted to dabble in different things, especially anti-war songs. But The Beatles were so successful he felt he couldn’t.”

Towards the end of Lennon’s time with The Beatles, he began writing darker, more personal songs, some of which didn’t fit the band’s agenda. After all, he had begun to reflect on his troubled childhood in the oppressive shade of war and injustice. Feeling a compulsion of duty, Lennon began to convey these passions in his budding solo career.

Lennon’s most famous solo song, ‘Imagine’, became an anthem for world peace following its arrival in 1971. The simple yet powerful message transcended borders, creeds and languages and accentuated Lennon and Yoko’s wider activism at the time. Meanwhile, Ono conveyed similar messages in her visual and conceptual art endeavours.

In 2007, Ono opened the Imagine Peace Tower on Viðey Island in Kollafjörður Bay in Iceland. The impressive “lighthouse” structure was erected as a memorial to Lennon. It consists of a tall tower of light formed by multiple beams projected skyward from a white stone monument with the phrase ‘Imagine Peace’ engraved into it in 24 languages.

Discussing the conception of the tower, Ono told Uncut: “About three years ago, I had to think about what to do with all the wishes that people tied to the wish trees at my museum shows. We have more than a million wishes. I thought, ‘I need a tower.’ Then I thought, ‘Oh… that should be John’s light tower.’ The light stands for empowerment and for energy, and wisdom. The wishes will be buried around the tower in capsules.”

Continuing, Ono discussed the monument’s link to Lennon’s music. “It’s called Imagine Peace Tower because the word ‘imagine’ was a very important word between us,” she said. “It’s very special because of John’s song ‘Imagine’, as well. I was there when he wrote it. We were in Ascot, in our bedroom upstairs. Because we were both artists, we showed each other everything. If I scribbled something, I’d show it to John. He would scribble something and show it to me. That’s how he wrote his songs, too. He wasn’t one of those writers who’d write from ten until 12 in the morning. He used to think of an idea when we were in a plane or something. He just writes it down. And at the time he writes it down, he’s already got the melody.”

“John didn’t have a narrow talent. He had all the different emotions he was able to express in his songs,” Ono asserted. “If you want to analyse it, his mum wasn’t around, and his dad wasn’t around, and he wanted someone to listen to him when he was a little boy. When I went to Liverpool, to his childhood home, I cried because I saw the little bedroom where it all started.”

“‘Imagine’ is my favourite of John’s peace songs,” Ono revealed later in the conversation. “I think he thought just like I do now – world peace is an inevitable thing. What are we going to do? Kill ourselves? We’re not that dumb.”

Below is video footage capturing the moment John Lennon first laid ears upon ‘Imagine’. As you can see, he’s quietly satisfied with the vocal but has a few notes for the engineer afterwards.

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