Part 2: Imagine (1971)
Thereâ€™s really no other possible title for this album. But before we go into the follow-up to Join the Human Race, Iâ€™m going to go through the â€œground rulesâ€ I decided to follow for this series.
Rule #1: What happens after 1980?
This was the most obvious pressing question I faced: what to do after John Lennonâ€™s tragic murder? I systematically went through the options, and eliminated all but one.
Option 1: Continue after 1980 with only three songwriters/vocalists. Nonsense. Beatles without Lennon = no Beatles at all.
Option 2: Stop the series at 1980. Not only would this cut the number of albums way down, and lessen the space-saving impact of consolidating the solo Beatle albums, it would ignore some great songs recorded after 1980. Plus, with 13 of these albums to make instead of 6 or 7, itâ€™s twice as fun. So no.
Option 3: â€œBackfillâ€ the post-1980 albums with more Lennon tunes from the â€˜70s. Tempting, but also no. As much as Paul gets criticized for too much filler on his albums, the Lennon albums had their share of mediocre songs too, and weâ€™d really have to include almost every song from his more limited output. And letâ€™s face it, times change, the Beatles wouldâ€™ve changed with them, and the more recent albums would sound awfully weird with, say, â€œOld Dirt Roadâ€ between â€œMy Brave Faceâ€ and â€œDevilâ€™s Radio.â€
So weâ€™re left withâ€¦
Option 4: Julian. Now I will not claim that the two are interchangeable parts, or that Julian Lennon is one-tenth the musical genius his father was, but his best songs are still pretty darned good, his voice could *almost* pass for Johnâ€™s most of the time, and itâ€™s really the only way to include anything remotely Lennon-related on a post-1980 album that sounds like it was recorded in the same decade that the album was released. So when we get there, either close your eyes and pretend Julianâ€™s songs are actually Johnâ€™s songs in our alternate universe (and Johnâ€™s voice softened slightly as he aged, like a fine cheese), or just pretend that John was still murdered in 1980 and Julian replaced him in the group. Or just stop reading this series after we get to 1980. Itâ€™s up to you.
Rule #2: Maintain the songwriting / singer balance within each album
The real Beatles albums all included at most one tune sung by Ringo, two written and sung by George, and the remainder split roughly 50/50 between John and Paul (credited to â€œLennon/McCartneyâ€ but by 1966, it was usually obvious which one wrote the bulk of a song). I followed this as best as I could, occasionally allowing George a third tune (such as last week), and giving Ringo two on a couple of the more recent albums due to his sudden 21st century prolificity. Paul sometimes got slightly more than John / Julian, also due to the imbalance of material to choose from.
Rule #3: â€œChronological purityâ€
This means that all the songs on an album released in a given year have to sound like they could have been recorded in that year. I allowed myself to borrow from the near future or near past in cases where it was necessary (e.g. Johnâ€™s 1975-80 gap, Georgeâ€™s 1982-87 and 1987-2002 gaps, Ringoâ€™s lack of anything remotely passable in the late â€˜70s), or where the album fit together better by including a song from slightly earlier or later, but no vast mismatches between real year and fake year allowed. I got more liberal with later albums, because (a) Thereâ€™s not much George or Julian material to choose from and (b) production styles havenâ€™t really changed that much since 1990 (listen to Ringoâ€™s â€œTime Takes Timeâ€ and â€œY Notâ€ â€“ could you honestly tell which was recorded in 1992 and which was recorded in 2010 if you didnâ€™t know?).
*GET ON WITH IT!!!* cry the massesâ€¦
OK, 1971â€™s Imagine is here — another album of extremes, in a sense. I originally conceived the songs on this and Join the Human Race as a double album, because they were all recorded fairly close together, and all of Georgeâ€™s songs on either one come from the same album anyway, but decided against it. The White Album is universally praised today, but I donâ€™t think it was back then, and I would guess a steady stream of new material wouldâ€™ve been a better strategy for the Beatles in the early days of Apple Records. So instead, I thought they wouldâ€™ve experimented a little with an unorthodox â€œwhisper to a scream to a whisperâ€ track sequence on Imagine, since the title track really has to lead off the album.
This is one of a few albums throughout this series where I had a particularly challenging time figuring out the best order to put things in. Alternate suggestions therefore are welcome and encouraged! (Of course that goes for even the ones where I like the order as is, but Iâ€™ll specifically point out the ones where I had trouble deciding).
Oh, and by the way, just in case you hadnâ€™t figured it out, all the song titles are hyperlinked to YouTube soundclips (and sometimes videos) so you can hear the album. That goes for part One, too.
SIDE ONE (the â€œmellow sideâ€)
â€œImagineâ€ â€“ I can see it: hordes of long-haired teenagers, gathered in the shag-carpeted attic bedroom of the coolest, hippest guy in class (who probably looks like Greg Brady) for a premiere listening party of the groovy new Beatles album, and as the needle hits the vinyl (or the play head hits the 8-track) and those somber piano chords beginâ€¦ â€œwhoa, this is different, man! And no religions too, far out! Not sure if Iâ€™m gonna dig that Uncle Albert song thoughâ€¦â€
â€œDear Boyâ€ â€“ Itâ€™s very tough to follow up â€œImagineâ€ with anything, so I did something similar to what John did on the real Imagine LP, namely just shifted gears with something light and mildly silly, of Paulâ€™s Ram album. I found myself really liking most of Ram upon recent listen, more than I remember. I think it was a bit ahead of its time and people just didnâ€™t know what to make of it in 1971.
â€œIâ€™d Have You Anytimeâ€ â€“ On any other record, this would be track #1, as it was on All Things Must Pass, but here it still serves as an intro to â€œthe rest of the album.â€ Attention all men in relationships of any kind: lead your next Valentineâ€™s Day mix off with this one.
â€œAnother Dayâ€ â€“ Oddly not included on Ram (I think it would fit quite well), this is a sublime early single from Paul. Iâ€™ve always thought the bridge, complete with Beatlesque rhythmic shifts (recalling â€œWe Can Work It Outâ€ a little) and a surprising minor-to-major chord transition (a la â€œThings We Said Todayâ€) is really what makes this song tick. Why John chose it to deride in â€œHow Do You Sleepâ€ I have no idea. You could make a great mix of Paul songs (Beatles and solo) that start straight off with his voice, i.e. without any musical intro.
â€œJealous Guyâ€ â€“ I recently read that John originally pitched this to the Beatles with different lyrics (probably of a psychedelic nature), but Iâ€™m glad it ended up the way it did. The piano fill just before the chorus has always reminded me of â€œA Day in the Life.â€
â€œMonkberry Moon Delightâ€ â€“ And now, for something completely different.
SIDE TWO (the â€œangry sideâ€ until the end)
â€œToo Many Peopleâ€ â€“ Right now this is my favorite Paul McCartney post-Beatles song. And it doesnâ€™t really sound too dated (some of the lyrics certainly ring truer than ever) â€“ you might laugh, but I think itâ€™s got a particular indie vibe that isnâ€™t all that different than what you hear in many hip music stores today. The common perception of John as the innovator and Paul as the sellout really isnâ€™t fair and I think most of the people who say that havenâ€™t heard Ram or McCartney II (which weâ€™ll get to in a couple months).
â€œGimme Some Truthâ€ â€“ Johnâ€™s Imagine LP was all over the place, and I keep forgetting this is on it. The Beatles in the â€˜60s were seldom overtly political, focusing mostly on positive messages like â€œAll You Need Is Love,â€ but I think even if theyâ€™d stayed together they wouldâ€™ve had a hard time staying positive all the time by this point. Assuming they remained as popular as before, I envision â€œGimme Some Truthâ€ becoming a Watergate-era household protest slogan.
â€œLet It Downâ€ â€“ The loudest and most ambitious of Georgeâ€™s All Things Must Pass soundscapes, I love how it builds and changes mood. In my book the melody in the verses rivals â€œItâ€™s All Too Muchâ€ and â€œIf I Needed Someoneâ€ as Georgeâ€™s most creative of all time.
â€œBack Off Boogalooâ€ â€“ coming right after the most aggressive Paul, John and George songs of the era, Ringo proves heâ€™s down with the â€˜tude as well. And he made a video for it too! I love â€˜70s videos, theyâ€™re so quaint.
â€œUncle Albert / Admiral Halseyâ€ â€“ for me, creating a mythical album is all about the segues. The sudden reversion into pure whimsical Britishness here could be one of the legendary Beatle moments.
â€œHowâ€ â€“ Iâ€™m not 100% crazy about ending an album this way, but I looked at what else was here and decided this was really the only song that could come at the end. You could call it a statement that amidst all the preaching and shouting strewn throughout Imagine that the Beatles are really just four blokes from Liverpool and donâ€™t have the answers any more than you or I.
WELL â€“KNOWN SONGS FROM THE ERA THAT DIDNâ€™T MAKE IT:
â€œBangladeshâ€ â€“ too directly about one specific issue, I donâ€™t see the Beatles doing this.
â€œWoman is the Nigger of the Worldâ€ â€“ ditto.
â€œGive Ireland Back to the Irishâ€ â€“ Double ditto. But I recently learned that Paulâ€™s recording of â€œMary Had a Little Lambâ€ around the same time was not a wuss-out, but in fact a kind of â€œsod off, letâ€™s see if you can find a way to ban this!â€ message to the British media censors who banned â€œGive Irelandâ€¦â€ for political reasons and then banned â€œHi Hi Hiâ€ for its pro-drug implications. Further proof that Paul was cooler than we realize.
â€œHow Do You Sleepâ€ â€“ presumably John and Paul wouldâ€™ve made up at least enough to prevent this from seeing the light of day. But maybe in our alternate reality the lyric sheet was discovered in Johnâ€™s attic sometime in 1975, precipitating Paul walking off the stage in the middle of a show and a temporary rift that wasnâ€™t healed untilâ€¦ well, I wonâ€™t give away when the next album was just yet.
â€œCrippled Insideâ€ â€“ I always thought it was funny that John made fun of what he called Paulâ€™s â€œgrandma songsâ€ and then wrote something like this. Iâ€™m just not a fan of this one for some reason.
Next timeâ€¦ donâ€™t let me wait too long, but câ€™moon to 1973 and an album that is hi, hi, higher than the sum of its parts!