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John Lennon's Song 'Imagine' and Its Cultural/political Significance

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The Beatles are one of the most influential and well-known musical groups of all time. More than 50 years later their sound still influences todays popular music. The band put out hit after hit that resonated with the youth and their parents alike. Their specific reason for their success is heavily debated, but something everyone can agree with is that the Beatles had a revolutionary sound and their discography covers a lot of different musical genres. The Beatles star writing pair of John Lennon and Paul McCartney created songs that had meaningful lyrics which allowed the listener to connect to the song they were listening to on a personal level. Though after ten years the Beatles broke up in 1970 (Gilmore, 2009). This break-up resulted in each Beatle to pursue their own endeavors. John Lennon the focus of this paper started his solo career following the break up in 1970 (Gilmore, 2009). In 1971 John Lennon released his first commercially successful album and second as a solo artist titled “Imagine”. The titular song on the album should be a required listening for the course MUSC 2019 in the counter culture section of the course as it quintessentially captures the spirit of the counter culture movement between the 60’s and 70’s. All while having a major historical and cultural/political significance on the world today while using musical elements that were discussed in lecture to aid in the presentation of the song.

John Lennon was known as the smart Beatle during his tenure with the band. This was because of his outlook on how the world should be and his ability to write meaningful lyrics. Though after years in the band and exposure to the world around him his outlook on the world changed greatly in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. He began to openly endorse a wide variety of progressive and radical political stances were closely related to the ideals of counter-culture movement that was gaining a lot of traction in the early 60’s.

The counter-culture was a movement that started in the UK and then moved to most of the western world. The counter culture was a result of the need for change in the world. The members who identified as a member of the movement cited the need for change due to exploitation of the planet, the excessive conflicts around the world, and the need to accelerate the civil rights movement. The fundamental counter-culture ideals are based on being anti-establishment as the current establishment was destroying the world. The song “Imagine” should be a song that is mandatory in the counter-culture section of MUSC 2019 as it is a song that encompasses the ideals of the counter culture movement, it is anti-establishment in the purest form. “Imagine” though the ideals contained are on the extremes of the movement is a song that at its core rejects all ideals that represent establishment such as religion, country, and possessions.

The historical significance of “Imagine” is that it was written and released shortly after the peak of the Vietnam war in 1968 whereas the conflict started many years prior in 1955. There was a lot of tension between a lot of countries and a lot of strife between USA and USSR due to the cold war which started almost immediately after the WWII. The importance of the timing of “Imagine” is that the world as previously mentioned, was stuck in a never-ending war of self-importance. Every country had an idea of how the world should work, and any country or group of countries that opposed those views were a threat to the very stability of the world. “Imagine” was a call for peace, Lennon saw where the world was headed and created a song that is now related and even consider the universal anthem for peace. His words were such a danger to the establishment that was the US government that the they tried to deport him back to England (Sexton, 2018). This was due to the rally calls against the Vietnam war and his famous bed-ins that then president Richard Nixon saw him as a problem when he was up for re-election in 1972 (Sexton, 2018).

The song “Imagine” by John Lennon may have been inspired by picturing a world without conflict, but its cultural significance has not waned since 1971. In an ever-changing world were ideals change one thing seems to be constant, and that is conflict. The difference between cultures and ideals bring conflict. At this very moment there is more than 40 conflicts around the world. Some of these conflicts have been happening for many years over many generations. When people don’t agree there is the chance to fight, this is no different if those “people” are countries or different religious groups. John Lennon saw this and created a song that was not necessarily a call for action, but to make the world think as well as to paint a picture of a better world.

“Imagine” starts off immediately on a very religious tone. The opening of the song starts with a billowy piano that calms the listener before Lennon drops some very hard lyrics that many people would be very offended by. The first half of the first verse is as followed, “Imagine there’s no heaven. It’s easy if you try. No hell below us. Above us, only sky. Imagine all the people living for today” he wants the listener to picture a world free of all religions. His lyrics paint a picture of a world that has no reason to be attached to a faith, no reason to think about how if they live their life fighting for their god of choice they will be rewarded with eternal happiness. As a result, Lennon wants you to imagine a world that only lives for the present. He wants the world to be concerned with exactly what is happening in their life. This abstraction of reality, in all likeliness will never happen, but the point of what he is saying isn’t to implement that in to reality at this moment but, instead to think about it. Lennon even mentions in his lyrics that it isn’t hard even hard to imagine. He wants the listener to think about religion and if it were to be done away with. There is good reason to talk about religion in a song regarding peace as it has been stated by Matthew White in his book “The great big book of horrible things” states religion as the cause of 13 of the top 100 deadliest atrocities. Though religion differences are not the only cause for war and conflict. Countries and their ideals are also a reasons conflicts exist.

In the second half of the first verse Lennon in his distinctive voice singing very softly as if to plead with the listener and asks the listener to think about a world with no countries and borders. He says “Imagine there’s no countries. It isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for. And no religion too. Imagine all the people living life in peace”. As previously mentioned, countries play a major part in conflicts around the world. Lennon states that by dissolving these borders and removing power from these bodies there would be no reason to fight and die for something as abstract as a country. His sentiment for this makes sense, because as of 2014 there are only 11 countries covered by the Institute for Economics and Peace’s (IEP’s) which includes 162 countries, that are free from conflict.

In the second verse again Lennon again without providing an actual solution just wants the listener to think. The second verse is as followed “Imagine no possessions. I wonder if you can. No need for greed or hunger. A brotherhood of man. Imagine all the people sharing all the world”. He talks of a world without possessions, this philosophy is most likely lifted from eastern religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism which John Lennon and many of the counter culture followers respected. Specifically, in Hinduism The Bhagavad Gita, an ancient Hindu scripture, calls for a sacrifice of one’s possession as a step on the path of Enlightenment. Lennon is stating clearly that moving away from a materialistic life and sharing everyone on earth can be happy and peaceful. He does mention that this may be impossible for some people but is still something that should be thought about.

Based on the three main focuses of this song, anti-religion, anti-country/state, and anti-possession/greed the world will be able to come together in a peace. John Lennon may not have believed personally that this type of extreme solution would be the answer to ending conflict and promoting peace across the world. Lennon did create a worldwide anthem that the 39th president Jimmy Carter said that “in many countries around the world — my wife and I have visited about 125 countries — you hear John Lennon’s song ‘Imagine’ used almost equally with national anthems”. “Imagine” is and will be held as the worldwide anthem of peace until we a species can figure out how to get along whether it is as John Lennon says in the song or by realizing different stance and opinions are not worthy of fighting over.

A major focus in MUSC 2019 is how musical elements affect the listening experience and how people perceive the song. John Lennon has created musical set-ups that have stood the test of time and is still celebrated today as one of the most influential musicians of all time. “Imagine” uses some subtle elements to allow the listener to do as the song title suggests, imagine. The song starts on a soft piano progression that floats through the air and has a melody that seems to exist in a day-dreamlike environment. The use of the piano timbre further enforces that Lennon wants the listener to not act but just to think. The song is also performed in a major key which has been found to indicate positivity and happiness. These two musical elements are both covered in MUSC 2019 and “Imagine” would be a great talking point on how these musical elements add to the message of the song.

John Lennon’s “Imagine” would be a useful addition to the MUSC 2019 course as a part of the counter culture section for its ability to be used as both a method to explore some of the ideals that the counter culture advocated for and an investigation in how certain musical elements influence the way the lyrics and the theme of song can be digested. Lennon speaks a lot of how by thinking of a world where authority is not based in religion and countries it will result in a planet of peace. Lennon though a tad extreme in his abstraction his message does align with ideals of the counter cultures movement that the existing establishment is only causing problems. Overall the song presents an image of a world that has no conflict and only peace. John Lennon wants the listener to imagine the world he sees as ideal. “Imagine” also uses musical techniques and elements in order to strengthen the message of the song. The song is in a major key which is related to happiness and hope, and Lennon uses this to back up the positive tone of his lyrics he is using. Lennon also uses the way the song sounds to reinforce his message by using a very soft and calming chord progression that makes the listener feel as though they are in a dream state. This makes the listener imagine the world John Lennon is speaking of and that is the purpose of the song.

References

  1. https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/why-the-beatles-broke-up-113403/
  2. https://www.udiscovermusic.com/stories/when-john-lennon-faced-us-deportation/
  3. https://www.biography.com/news/john-lennon-imagine-song-facts 

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John Lennon’s Song ‘Imagine’ And Its Cultural/Political Significance. (2022, April 11). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 29, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/john-lennons-song-imagine-and-its-cultural-political-significance/
“John Lennon’s Song ‘Imagine’ And Its Cultural/Political Significance.” GradesFixer, 11 Apr. 2022, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/john-lennons-song-imagine-and-its-cultural-political-significance/
John Lennon’s Song ‘Imagine’ And Its Cultural/Political Significance. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/john-lennons-song-imagine-and-its-cultural-political-significance/> [Accessed 29 Sept. 2022].
John Lennon’s Song ‘Imagine’ And Its Cultural/Political Significance [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 Apr 11 [cited 2022 Sept 29]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/john-lennons-song-imagine-and-its-cultural-political-significance/
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