Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, Lennon’s first solo album, got many rave reviews and deserved them all, but there are people who aren’t comfortable witnessing someone baring his soul, and Lennon wanted to reach them too. So he made sure his next album, Imagine, sweetened his message, even as he kept it intact. “Plastic Ono with chocolate coating,” he later called it. By lightening his touch and assuring the songs landed in his fans’ hearts rather than crashing into them, Lennon was rewarded with a commercial success, not to mention the title track that came to be his signature song.
Today, Imagine‘s songs are seen as some of Lennon’s strongest, which helps them withstand the thousands of covers they get (tens of thousands in “Imagine”‘s case). They are roses that by any other artists would smell as sweet. But the following ten covers aren’t by just any other artists; they follow in Lennon’s footsteps by making the songs just a little more special.
A Perfect Circle – Imagine (John Lennon cover)
Lennon said “Imagine” was “anti-religious, anti-nationalistic, anti-conventional, anti-capitalistic… but because it is sugar-coated, it is accepted.” A Perfect Circle strips all the sugar from this global anthem, creating a doom-laden soundscape that sounds more hellish than heavenly. This gives the song even more power, not just by being louder, but by making it clear that in this world, the sentiment is just a dream – but one that’s still worth dreaming.
The Low Key Family – Crippled Inside (John Lennon cover)
“Crippled Inside” has lyrics grim enough to fit in just fine on Plastic Ono Band, but marries them to an arrangement so jaunty that you can find yourself dancing to them. The Low Key Family replaces Nicky Hopkins’ kicky piano with Cindy Cashdollar’s steel guitar and give the song a country feel (in this case, that country would be Norway).
Donny Hathaway – Jealous Guy (John Lennon cover)
Lennon made a specialty of apology songs, many if not most directed to Yoko Ono. “Jealous Guy” would seem to be another Yoko-inspired tune, but in a 1985 interview, Paul McCartney revealed that John had admitted to Paul that it was about him, which gives the song an entirely new spin. The Roxy Music cover of “Jealous Guy,” released in tribute shortly after Lennon’s death, is probably the best-known, but Donny Hathaway’s version blows it away with its sheer soul power.
Masters of Reality – It’s So Hard (John Lennon cover)
Lennon brought the 12-bar blues, a tough vocal, and one of King Curtis’s last sax solos to “It’s So Hard,” a track that sounds raw even with a string section. Chris Goss’s Masters of Reality project covered it on the 2004 album Give Us Barabbas, and do the song the great compliment of leaving its brawniness perfectly intact.
Ride – I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier (John Lennon cover)
“I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier” is a murky, oppressive jam track on Imagine, but when Ride got their hands on it at the 1992 Reading Festival, they draped it in shoegauze and gave it a groove more lithe than lumbering. Result: the song gets a new lease on life, and the band gets to show off their peak onstage powers.
Primal Scream – Gimme Some Truth (John Lennon cover)
“Gimme Some Truth” features Lennon in protest mode, venting about the hypocrites and prima donnas before turning his biting diatribe into a plaintive request for nothing but the truth. That (plus George Harrison’s stinging slide guitar work) gave the song a universal appeal that makes it sound just as vital now as it did then (despite the reference to “Tricky Dicky” Nixon dating it). Primal Scream recorded it for a 2006 B-side, and by speeding it up enough to make it sound like a fight song, they find their own “Truth.”
Human Drama – Oh My Love (John Lennon cover)
After two consecutive rants (though less consecutive in the days when you had to stop and turn the record over), “Oh My Love” serves as the eye of Imagine‘s hurricane, a peace pause between attacks. Human Drama, the goth-based band led by Johnny Indovina, played it on their cover album Pinups, which stood out by featuring covers of many non-goth songs. “Oh My Love” is just one song on the album that gets respectful treatment without bringing, say, Siouxsie and the Banshees to mind.
Replicants – How Do You Sleep? (John Lennon cover)
Easily the most controversial song on Imagine, “How Do You Sleep?” was an undisguised attack on Paul McCartney, who had made what Lennon felt were several heavily disguised attacks on him, on his Ram album. While Lennon would later clarify that he didn’t feel like this about Paul every second of the day, and that the song could easily be about himself, his full-on bull-in-china-shop response is the reaction that’s lasted. On their sole album, the cover band Replicants can’t quite lift the song out of trudge-grudge status – but then, considering what they did to “Silly Love Songs,” maybe they have their own way of dealing with Paul issues.
Stereophonics – How? (John Lennon cover)
This live acoustic version of “How?” by Stereophonics beautifully captures the tentative fear in Lennon’s original. Kelly Jones’ voice, always on the edge of anxious cracking, is so true in its uncertainty, so strong in its expression of weakness, and the audience is spellbound enough to not make a sound until after the final note (not something you hear everyday, that).
Bill Patton – Oh Yoko! (John Lennon cover)
The closing track to Imagine, “Oh Yoko!” was a love song to a very specific audience of one, but it struck a universal chord and became hugely popular in its own right. Lennon refused to release it as a single, explaining later that “I was sort of shy and embarrassed and it didn’t sort of represent my image of myself as the tough, hard-biting rock ‘n’ roller with the acid tongue.” Bill Patton may or may not share that self-image, but his take on “Oh Yoko!” is quieter, mellower, and (sadly) shorter, allowing this cover collection to coast to a gentle close.
The album Imagine is available on Amazon, as is the documentary Imagine that includes footage filmed during the making of the album. Special thanks to The Beatles Bible, which served as an excellent reference in the writing of this piece.