John Lennon – ”Imagine” Lyrics Meaning

Photo of author
Written By Brendan Briggs

Brendan is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and producer. In 2022, he released his first album "Dive" under the name "Arctotherium".

“Imagine” is an overview of the philosophy of John Lennon and appeals to the ideals he viewed as sacred during his life. These ideals include anti-capitalism, freedom of thought, pacifism, anti-dogmatism, and anti-materialism. The lyrics of “Imagine” ask us to picture a world in which all of these ideals are practiced consistently. It’s essentially a utopian vision.

The initial kernel of inspiration for the lyrics came from Yoko Ono’s poetry, which Lennon did not initially admit. More inspiration came from a Christian prayer book Lennon had received from Dick Gregory. The idea of prayer and imagination became the basis for the song, which Lennon took to a famously extreme level.

In this article, we’ll perform an analysis of these creative lyrics to discover their true meaning. We’ll also take a look at the songwriting story and the broader themes that give this song its impact. Without further ado, let’s get started!

“Imagine” Lyrics Meaning

The lyrics begin by attacking several commonly held notions. This is a pattern that will repeat itself in the coming verses, so keep it tucked away. The general idea is that if we could rid ourselves of certain human inventions, the world would be a utopia.

The first idea on the chopping block is “heaven” and the corresponding “hell below us.” The afterlife is no more. What is the alternative to these religious ideas? “All the people,” Lennon says, “living for today.” By focusing less on what comes after death, Lennon argues that our lives before it would be more fulfilling.

Next, Lennon attacks the idea of nationalism by asking us to imagine a planet with “no countries.” It’s really a very simple proposition, but anyone familiar with history knows how unprecedented it is. In the next line, Lennon reveals why he is targeting things that so many people find identity in. He does it so that there will be “nothing to kill or die for.” Without dogmatic thinking, Lennon believes tolerance will be the norm.

John delivers the famous “no religion too” line almost as an afterthought, which is probably intentional. Lennon has dismissed an unimaginably massive facet of human experience in a casual line. His point is that if we just stopped for a moment, evaluated our thinking, and got rid of things that hold humanity back, we would be free in a way we could only dream of.

I use that last turn of phrase on purpose because that’s exactly what Lennon says. He knows people may call him a “dreamer,” but he’s “not the only one.” He knows there are people who have the same vision and asks the listener to join the club. It’s a call to action, and, in the world we know, it’s a call for revolution.

Verse three is devoted to attacking materialism and capitalism. It may sound very passive, but it’s a very firm economic stance. Lennon asks us to “imagine no possessions” – something totally foreign to a society founded on private property rights. Yet Lennon argues that this would leave “no need for greed or hunger.” This can be considered a Marxist sentiment. By “sharing all the world” as a collective, Lennon believes needy people will be uplifted.

With images of Lennon’s “brotherhood of man” still in our minds, we are led into the song’s final chorus. After asking us one more time to join him, Lennon ends the track.

In summary, “Imagine” is a soft-spoken manifesto outlining the principles of John Lennon’s worldview. Due to the appeal of his message (especially during the Vietnam war), this song has left an indelible mark on musical history.

The Story Behind “Imagine”

Why did Lennon write “Imagine?” Well, in a famous interview with David Sheff, Lennon admitted that the initial inspiration for the lyrics to “Imagine” came from Yoko Ono’s poetry. Due to some “macho” misgivings, Lennon did not admit this at first. However, he came clean about Yoko’s contribution after some time had passed.

In addition to this poetry, a prayer book given to Lennon and Ono by none other than Dick Gregory served as inspiration. The mental process of prayer transfixed Lennon because it was a form of active imagination. This, along with the aforementioned poetry, combined to give Lennon a basis to work from.

Summarizing the legacy of “Imagine” here would be impossible. The impact of the song is very difficult to overstate. Many critics and publications consider it one of the greatest songs of all time. Additionally, the lyrics are highly controversial due to some of the sentiments expressed in them, which has probably only served to spread the song further.

Nonetheless, I will give some metrics here. “Imagine” is the best-selling single of John Lennon’s solo career, reaching a position of #3 on the US Billboard Hot 100. It also did extraordinarily well in the international markets, something Lennon would likely be proud of given his distaste for nationalism. Millions upon millions of people have heard this tune, and many artists have dared to cover it.

The next time you play this classic, let these pieces of musical history make it even more special!