John Lennon’s 1971 song Imagine is considered one of his masterpieces. Rolling Stone once called it his “greatest musical gift to the world.”
It was also undeniably inspired by Lennon’s wife, Yoko Ono. Indeed, Lennon drew portions of the lyrics in Imagine from Ono’s 1964 poetry book, Grapefruit.
And in a 1980 video interview, Lennon said the song “should be credited as a Lennon-Ono song because a lot of it – the lyric and the concept – came from Yoko”.
Soon, more than four decades after the song’s release, 84-year-old Ono is likely to receive the songwriting credit Lennon said was always due her.
On Wednesday, the chief executive of the National Music Publishers Association announced that the process is underway to add Ono to the song as a co-writer, Variety reported. David Israelite, the CEO, shared the news at the organisation’s annual meeting in New York, where Imagine received the Centennial Song award.
Ono and her son, Sean Lennon, accepted the award onstage, where Ono proclaimed “this is the best time of my life,” Variety said. Ono – who is currently fighting a flulike sickness and had to be pushed onstage in a wheelchair – said her current illness has made her appreciate the song even more. Patti Smith then performed what many described as a poignant rendition of the song.
Sean Lennon later wrote about the award ceremony on his Instagram, calling it the “proudest day of my life.”
“Cut to: my mother welling up in tears,” he wrote. “Patience is a virtue!”
On Thursday morning, Ono tweeted a portion of the interview recording in which Lennon said Imagine was inspired by Yoko’s poetry.
“There’s a lot of pieces in it saying imagine this or imagine that,” Lennon said. “I know she helped on a lot of the lyrics but I wasn’t man enough to let her have credit for it. I was still selfish enough and unaware enough to take that contribution without acknowledging it.”
“I was still full of wanting my own space after being in the room with four guys and always having to share everything,” he continued.
The song, he said, “expresses what I learned through being with Yoko and my own feelings on it.”
Downtown Music Publishing, which manages Ono’s and Lennon’s solo work, tweeted that the award – bestowed to both its songwriters – was “an incredible honour for us.”
Adding Ono to the credits of Imagine is significant in part because it would extend the amount of time the song would be able to reap income for its creators, as Variety pointed out. A song enters the public domain 70 years after the death of its last songwriter. Lennon died after being gunned down in New York on December 8, 1980, by Mark David Chapman.
The decision would also be a highly controversial one among a segment of die-hard Beatles fans, some of whom still blame Ono for breaking up the band in 1970 by creating tensions and divisions between Lennon and the other band members.
As Delia Lloyd wrote in The Washington Post in 2012, many Beatles fans have formed the impression that “Ono was this new-agey, avant-garde, exotic Japanese freak show who forever spoiled the rough, working class sensibilities of the sometimes-truculent, creative musical genius from the streets of Liverpool.”
“There’s no doubt that after meeting Ono, Lennon moved in a decidedly different creative direction,” she added.
But Paul McCartney tried to dispel that mind-set in a 2012 interview with David Frost, announcing that Ono was not responsible for the disbanding.
“She certainly didn’t break the group up, the group was breaking up,” McCartney said. He added that without Ono’s influence, songs such as Imagine would never have been written: “I don’t think he would have done that without Yoko, so I don’t think you can blame her for anything.”