Lennon’s plaintive Imagine made #3 on the Billboard charts in 1971, and was cited as the third best song of all time, by Rolling Stone magazine in 2004. In 2005, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation named it the best song ever, as voted by Canadians that participated.
Despite the accolades, the song has been criticized by many that have felt the need to probe deeper into the political philosophy described by the lyrics:
No possessions (private property), no greed, and a brotherhood of man… it could be a world of communism achieved. No heaven and hell, no religion, is atheism. Nothing to kill or die for and just peace, well, sounds great but the song only asks us to imagine such a world. To some philosophers, such as Friedrich Nietzsche, we kind of need something to want to die for.
Perhaps Lennon’s heart did not remain with the lyrics of this song that is nevertheless a national anthem to millions today:
His last big interview (recounted here) was to Playboy magazine in 1980. Lennon was critical of foreign aid to developing countries (“You can pour money in forever”), noted that he wanted to be rich, said he was religious and not an atheist, and rejected evolution.
Perhaps the 1960s idealism of the lyrics meant Lennon learned he really was a “dreamer” imagining utopia. And that he could have given up that dream. And even regretted the logical inconsistencies of the song (for instance, no countries and religion and all being “as one” is hardly tolerant of cultural and political diversity of views – shouldn’t we tolerate all religions instead of forbid them?). Yet still so many people find the song so important to them without thinking enough about it.
John Lennon had tremendous political and social impact, as a person. This is ‘charismatic authority’ – we follow, support a person because of who we think they are – and a key form of power. Yet Lennon himself once noted that the Beatles were more famous than Jesus, a biting comment on the cult of celebrity. And if we must go tabloid on the man, musical genius aside, his personal life as a drug addict, deadbeat dad, adulterer and so on, is hardly a political role model. Tween girls faint at meeting Justin Bieber for his boyish good looks, and adults aren’t seeing past the pretty melody and simple arrangement of “Imagine” commit the same pubescent worship of a false idol?
See also: George Harrison – Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)