“Those days I was a bit more selfish, a bit more macho, and I sort of omitted to mention her contribution”
John Lennon and Yoko Ono via Twitter
It’s tough to conceive that a human wrote the song “Imagine.” It feels like a beautifully packaged gift delivered from the ether to the people of Earth. The song was always vibrating in our collective DNA, it just waited until 1971 to be expressed. Forty-six years ago, ex-Beatle John Lennon birthed the song into reality, and it would become the signature song of his storied solo career. But now, Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, is finally getting well-deserved credit for her help in writing the pop masterpiece.
At the annual meeting of the National Music Publishers’ Association, a 1980 BBC interview was played where Lennon credits Ono for inspiring the song:
“Actually that should be credited as a Lennon-Ono song because a lot of it—the lyric and the concept—came from Yoko. But those days I was a bit more selfish, a bit more macho, and I sort of omitted to mention her contribution. But it was right out of ‘Grapefruit,’ her book. There’s a whole pile of pieces about ‘Imagine this’ and ‘Imagine that.’ ... But if it had been Bowie, I would have put ‘Lennon-Bowie,’ you see. If it had been a male, you know. ... Harry Nilsson—‘Old Dirt Road,’ it’s ‘Lennon-Nilsson.’ But when we did [‘Imagine’], I just put ‘Lennon’ because, you know, she’s just the wife and you don't put her name on, right?’— John Lennon, 1980
After the video played, David Israelite, president and CEO of the National Music Publishers’ Association announced that the song would now be credited to Lennon-Ono. In the BBC interview, Lennon cites Ono’s 1964 book Grapefruit—written before the couple met—as the inspiration for “Imagine.” The book is filled with instructions for the reader to imagine things, including: goldfish swimming across the sky, one thousand suns in the sky, and the clouds dripping. Lennon used Ono’s imagine premise and shifted it to imagining “no heaven,” “no possessions,” “no countries,” and “no religion” for his song.
Ono and Lennon’s son, Sean, is elated to hear that his mother will finally receive credit for the song.
This isn’t the first dispute over writing credit on a Lennon song. In the late ’90s, Paul McCartney tried to have the writing credit for The Beatles’ “Yesterday” reversed from Lennon-McCartney to McCartney-Lennon, but Yoko Ono refused the change. “Yesterday” was written exclusively by McCartney, but was credited to both per an earlier agreement that all songs written either jointly or individually would be credited to both. The agreement ended when Lennon quit The Beatles in 1969.