imagine the ultimate collection
reviewed by guitarist rod lynton
Imagine – The Ultimate collection
the music, the books, the films
Polaroid by John Lennon as used in the Imagine album inner sleeve design
I was fortunate to have already worked many times with George Harrison and Ringo Starr, and so was trusted to bring into this exalted musical experience three other fine musicians and close friends, guitarists Andy Davis and Ted Turner and keyboardist John Tout.
rehearsing ‘How Do You Sleep?’
Ted Turner (twelve string acoustic guitar), John (electric guitar and vocals),
Yoko (co-production), George Harrison (lead electric guitar),
and Rod Lynton (twelve-string acoustic guitar);
Ascot Sound Studios, 26 May 1971.
From the book Imagine John Yoko
This was to be unlike any other Beatle-studded recording I had ever been involved in as they usually took place in EMI’s Abbey Road Studios.
John was the former Beatle I knew least well, but that swiftly changed. Casual in denims, unshaven and joking easily in his inimitable way, even my friend and profound Beatles fan Andy soon relaxed.
The same would be true of Ted Turner and John Tout on following days, who were soon at ease in such company and surroundings. In the large kitchen, a table rarely empty of tea, coffee, soft drinks, fruits, or food for all. The atmosphere was laid back, and almost like a mixed family gathering.. George reading a newspaper, ever respectful Klaus Voormann and Alan white catching up on recent events, and John, quietly holding court with easy humour.
My friend and drummer through many of the bands I led, Steve Brendell, was now an assistant to John and Yoko under Dan Richter, their personal assistant. It was due to Steve’s former job at Beatle’s manager Brian Epstein’s NEMS Enterprises offices, that our most well known band, ‘Rupert’s People’, had become satellites to the stratospheric world of Beatle-ism. It was through knowing Steve and my much missed friend and Beatle assistant Mal Evans, that I had become a session guitarist for the very group whose songs and music had so inspired me, and a whole world generation.. and now I was to play with John. Was I aware of how fortunate I was to be a part of this heady mix? Absolutely! ..And I took my role not lightly. Technically I was also acting as a ‘fixer’ on the Imagine recordings soon to follow, bringing in musicians who I could trust to do whatever was musically asked of them, and do it well! I was ok with that, I had brought in the best suited, and as importantly in these surroundings, the most respectful.
Yoko Ono’s presence was subtle but guiding. Her discreet opinions as tracks progressed made largely to John, though her influence did not go unnoticed. This then was the production team of the Imagine album, Phil, John & Yoko.
The atmosphere during recording was a really heady mix of relaxed yet intense concentration. It very swiftly became a joy of an album to work on. Unforgettable.
But this release is so much more than even this! It is not only the Imagine album itself, but a truly insightful array of rough ‘raw’ mixes, out-takes, recorded elements, singles, an interview and more, which draws the listener into the heart of that cramped, yet oh so comfortable studio, where magic was made. Good magic.
The Raw Studio Mixes, Element Mixes and Out-takes puts the listener in the studio, hearing recorded parts as those involved would have, as the album progressed. This means that you, the listener, can immerse yourself in parts of the process of creating and developing the classic Imagine album, which so captivated its initial 1970’s audience. It is important to understand though, that the basic track for each song was recorded ‘live’ as a band, hence the feel of this legendary and important album and the great songs presented to us.
Mal Evans, John Tout, Steve Brendell,
Rod Lynton, Phil McDonald and John Barham
in the kitchen at Tittenhurst, 26 May 1971.
From the film Gimme Some Truth
John, self admittedly, had to learn to follow a peaceful path, and it was Yoko Ono who helped to illuminate the way. Their message to the world through Imagine is clear, though idealistic and socially unworkable while we still enjoy ownership, defend religious belief etc, and want our cake and eat it! However, that song is a beacon which will hopefully, one day illuminate a future, simply, beautifully, and inspirationally.
No-one who appreciated and loved the unique man that John Lennon was, and who loved this album, could want more from this carefully realised work, which it is. The entire package of music is one part. Then there is an accompanying book covering all aspects of this album release. The who, what, why and how of it, with never before seen photographs and very informative text.
And those negative souls who thoughtlessly criticised Yoko’s commitment and love for John, should think again and take stock. This is a work of dedication and love and care, and perhaps, in a very personal way a requiem to John’s memory. Something very meaningful and precious they had shared.
John & Yoko in conversation with
in conversation with Mike Ledgerwood
and Roy Shipton of Disc and Music Echo,
The White Room Tittenhurst, 22 July 1971.
From the book Imagine John Yoko
This book is rich with never before seen photographs of their private lives and of the recordings and playbacks and informal gatherings around the kitchen’s large table during breaks in recording of this landmark album. This tome covers much more of their lives and activities too, and is an encyclopaedic and cross referenced voyage of discovery that covers so many aspects of the Lennon’s lives together, and sadly in the closing pages, apart. One can only wonder at the emotional journey for Yoko in its compilation.
Additionally available is the DVD release of ‘Above Us Only Sky’, which gives even more close insight into John and Yoko’s life together, the recording of the Imagine album, and events surrounding it.
You do not have to be a musician to know and understand that musical sound has a life of its own, quixotically able to reach into us and move us, capture us, disturb us, lift us up, or sadden us.
Let us not then forget the art of the sound engineers and technicians who are so represented in this release, and whose dedicated skills and love of songs and music are so embodied in this work. Original sound engineers Phil McDonald, Eddie Offord, Eddie Klein (UK) and Roy Cicala, Jack Douglas, and Shelley Yakus of The Record Plant (USA), all of whom weaved their magic too.
The lyrical and expressive sax playing of King Curtis was recorded there at The Record Plant also, where he played some great sax that absolutely pinned the feel of the tracks he played on. In a bizarre twist of fate his life was ended outside his apartment only a month or so later, wasted by a couple of addicts.
Sadly, Curtis would be one of three people intimately connected with this album with a title track devoted to peace, who would die violently. My friend Mal Evans, who was a convivial gentle giant of a man, shot by U.S police during a suicide attempt which was probably a cry for help, and that amazing talent, the inimitable John Lennon, icon of a generation, who created so much great music and would have given the world so much more, his life taken by a disturbed nobody.
The troubled genius that was Phil Spector, would later reverse the role to spend the remainder of his years in a penitentiary following conviction for shooting his housekeeper.
Terrible and sad events that, in the case of John’s loss, stopped the world in its tracks with a huge outpouring of sorrow and grief that proved his importance in, and to, the lives of so many in this throw of the dice world we live in. We have a long road to travel before our world can abandon violence and embrace peace and understanding. Perhaps, one day, on the greater stage of the Universe we may. Easy words, but a hard path in our evolution it seems.
I preface my review of the final recorded work with this intriguing and very relevant research carried out by Dr. Masura Emoto, a Japanese researcher of note who conducted many telling experiments to prove that our thoughts influence and affect reality. He exposed very pure water to good and bad thoughts and words, then froze drops of that water instantly into crystalline forms. Anger and discord gave distorted and unsightly shapes. He also used music to prove his theory.
The Imagine track itself produced a rounded Mandala like beautiful form of six three point ‘petals’ with flower like structures near the centre. Almost identical to that produced by a Mozart Symphony!
All Art (Capital ‘A’!), is the created reality of an idea, a thought, or a concept. Think about that for a moment. All ‘Art’ is the realisation of the creational thoughts of an individual, or a group of individuals, or an extrapolation of the above. So when you are listening to this great album, or any music (Art), you are listening to the workings of the mind(s) of its creator(s). This is, ultimately why we hold Art in all its forms in such high regard, and bestow ‘fame’ upon its best progenitors.
John was once a famous Beatle, and then with Yoko, a voice for peace. But perhaps his best and most true musical works were created as a solo artist.
A unique man I am proud to have played alongside. John Lennon.
John at the bespoke console built by Eddie Veale
and David Dearden; Ascot Sound Studios, 3 August 1971.
From the book Imagine John Yoko
CD 1 begins with the stunning Imagine recording itself, a hauntingly simple and beautiful song now given even greater emotive clarity of sound thanks to the auspices of modern digital technology in such dedicated and careful hands. The quality and fidelity of this mix belies its origin from a 70s 8 track tape master recording. This newly enhanced mix gives an even greater dimension in sound transmission. The ethereal beauty of this track is lifted to give it even greater impact. As a result this song gains even greater intensity, particularly when heard on quality headphones. A lyrical gem of common sense for a future world to look back on one day, and nod sagely. This single song has done more for the cause of peace in the world than any other.
John asked me to add a guitar to this sublimely ephemeral track. I did try. Nothing I could do added anything, which was a good reason not to! It is the sparse and minimal simplicity of this song’s instrumentation which is so captivating. This is the most beautiful song, now given a new lease of life in its new mix perfection.
This was a great song to play on, tight and loose all at once, and I just love its spontaneity! It went down on the second take from memory.. literally only the second time we played it! Nothing lost and everything gained on this great mix, which allows the energy we put into it to bubble through. The ‘slappy’ rhythmic element in the sound was laid down originally by my former drummer Steve Brendell, playing drumsticks on the strings of the double bass that Klaus was playing for the first time ever, while Ted Turner and I pinned down the rhythm. Nicky Hopkins ‘honky tonk’ fingering is a joy, as is some great and very deft Dobro slide from George. John’s ‘Hillbilly’ style inflections in the vocal belies the truism’s in the lyric.. Yeeha!
Nicky Hopkins deserves a place in heaven just for the intro on this fantastic track. I know we were all moved when we heard the first rough mix playback. Ne’er a dry eye in the house it was so beautifully played, and the delicate melodic structures implicit in Nicky’s playing continue through this track so tastefully. Again, John’s poignant vocal has been enhanced, and now creates more intimacy and intensity, which the honesty of the lyric so deserves. It really is a great song despite its fragmented writing process, which started in India many years earlier, but with a complete lyric re-write prior to recording, though it sounds like a single inspired creation.. and indeed it is, Inspired!
The Flux strings define this track too, and as with other tracks they feature on, are not over embellished. Torrie Zito, conductor and arranger produced scores that embellish the songs to perfection.
Making great music is all about actively immersing yourself in the feel and ‘getting it right’. Listening, really listening, is a responsive immersion, and this track so demands that. Yet another great mix!
Steamroller solid rhythmically, this bluesy, R&B riffed track never lets its solidity waiver. The Flux strings repeat their four note phrase hypnotically against John’s vocal which weaves between almost a laconic delivery, that yes, life can be hard, but we’re stuck with it.. and something much angrier. Klaus Voormann’s bass keeps the steamroller rollin’ in his inimitable style, locked in tight with Alan White’s straight four shuffle, and ‘the King’ Curtis delivers the goods on sax so well. The ‘grainy’ texture of the original recording is not detracted from by this new digitised mix, rather the opposite, made more edgy perhaps. It’s a slow, blues shuffle gem!
I just love Klaus Voormann’s bass on this track, it never lets up its throbbing double time pulse against Alan White’s straight four drum beat. John’s vocals phrase across the four beat to create an unusual timing juxtaposition, an almost disturbing counterpoint that underlines the lyric content.
King Curtis hits some seriously edgy phrasing interpretively on this ‘get me out of here!’ lyric driven arrangement. Ice down the spine stuff if ever I heard it! Listening to his playing recalls what John said to us musicians a number of times, ‘Do what’s right, do what feels right’. King definitely did it right! In this new mix the sax has even more edge and the track has more bite and clarity.
John definitely trod his own path vocally, unique in every way, particularly on this album, and that tells of honesty and artistic confidence. Again the technology applied in the remix has not sterilised or detracted in any way, quite the reverse! There is a purer tonality in the vocals generally in fact.
The slow steady rhythm of this track is again so locked in by Klaus Voormann’s bass and Alan White’s timing. There is no better test of time keeping consistency with feel than a steady rocker such as this, now enhanced by a most perfect mix and clarity. I know from experience that putting a set of qualified musicians together does not guarantee a cutting edge performance or a ‘band’ feel.. but this album benefitted from players who had recorded and gigged together previously and the result speaks for itself. This band should have gigged! This brighter mix allows the blunt honesty and intensity of John’s vocals to come across so well.
Co-written by Yoko, this song tears at the heart so beautifully. Oh so gracefully played, this mix is so effective in bringing out the restrained and delicate treatment it was given by those who played on it and John’s sensitive vocals are pure emotion in sound. The new mix and sound quality has given this stunning track an emotional clarity in all respects. It is easy to hear how the players responded to the lyric and its heartfelt meaning. Minimal, moving, and utterly right. If ever ‘less is more’ was an accurate descriptive, this track embodies that ethic superbly.
This was John’s response to a couple of ‘jabs’ made on Paul McCartney’s ‘Ram’ album.
Before the rest of the band got involved, John and I sat on stools in the studio with a couple of acoustics and pinned down the feel and chording, which was when I realised what the lyric was about. That was a strange place for my Beatle appreciating head!
John’s vocal has more bite on this track, a different intensity in keeping with the lyrical message, and again this remix clarifies the track superbly. Yet again George’s slide guitar qualifies the band’s sound against Nicky Hopkin’s tasteful electric piano. The feel is so right and the Flux strings swoop through this great mix so effectively.
John was often critical of his own vocals, but this performance is just so honest and thoughtful it underlines what a uniquely sensitive vocalist John had become. Musically, not a note overplayed, but restrained and relevant to the message and feel of lyric and vocal.
When one considers the weight of being one of the most famous men of the era, and one who had evolved from Art student through leather jacketed rocker to ‘fab’ Beatle, then to outspoken yet humorous man of the times, and then with Yoko Ono as a promoter of Peace in ways that left Joe Public scratching its combined head in ‘huh?’ disbelief, with bed-ins and bagism but the conviction of belief that over-rode ridicule.. These factors give substance to this lyric and John’s restrained vocal performance. Beautifully played by the band, and once again, a stunning mix.
As with ‘Crippled Inside’ this track embodies the same ‘tight and loose’ rhythm quality, made even more distinct with this totally on the ball mix. The track swings along like a carefree summer day and was an absolute joy to have played on. As a tribute to his love for Yoko, John could not have written a more perfect yet light hearted lyrical and musical portrayal. No maudlin sentimentalities or gooey phrases, just a straight up and honest lyric in a jaunty and hooky musical setting with a catchy chorus. Fun to play on and to listen to.. It is ‘I love you’ with a musical smile.
A rockin’ little carefree track, all whimsy and lighthearted, (check the outro!), despite the greater meaning of the lyric. Another great mix too.
‘Elements’ gives a fantastic insight into the process of building a track towards completion, a real gift to any music lover who has not personally ever recorded and a close insight for those who have. This is a very thoughtful gesture from Yoko, which I applaud.
The Singles and Extras, the Out-takes and original Quad mixes and the Raw studio mixes give yet more to savour and revisit to fully take in.
The mix team deserve an accolade for their skilled work, and to the whole team of musicians, engineers, compilers, picture editors, head cooks and bottle washers whose dedication made this work possible, I salute you all!
To Yoko Ono, and her assistant Simon Hilton, a very special thank you for seeing this ambitious project through to such successful completion.
Imagine, and much more, has been given a clearer voice with which to speak.
Rod Lynton, 30th January 2019
Acoustic guitarist on the original recording of the Imagine album.