It’s one of the most famous songs of all time, and now John Lennon’s “Imagine” is getting an additional writing credit almost five decades after its release. Announced this week, Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono will finally be receiving a writing credit for a song that she helped influence and inspire.
In 1980, almost a decade after “Imagine” hit the airwaves, Lennon was giving an interview to the BBC when he revealed that his wife and fellow musician Yoko Ono should be given a writing credit on the track. “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 [adopts a mock censuring tone] omitted to mention her contribution,” Lennon said. “But it was right out of Grapefruit, her book. There’s a whole pile of pieces about ‘Imagine this’ and ‘Imagine that.'”
Lennon is referring to Ono’s 1964 book Grapefruit, a collection of essays, poems and images that act as one of the first examples of conceptual art.
Written in 1971, and going on to become the bestselling single of Lennon’s post-Beatles solo career, “Imagine” has sold millions of copies worldwide and earned a Grammy Hall of Fame Award and an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.
The former Beatles member went on to say that had his wife been a man, he would have included her contribution on the track when it was first released. “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?”
It’s a depressing statement to hear John Lennon make, but thankfully it’s a wrong that is finally be corrected. At this week’s meeting of the National Music Publishers Association, NMPA CEO David Israelite reportedly played the BBC interview with Lennon ahead of announcing that Ono’s name would be credited to “Imagine,” which is receiving the Centennial Song Award this year. Ono attended the meeting with her son Sean Lennon, who we’re hoping gave his mother proper writing credits on the albums they’ve released together.
In an almost ironic and sadly not surprising addendum to the story, journalist David Bourdon wrote in the New York Times in 1989 that Ono’s Grapefruit has never been given its due as a leading force in the conceptual art movement, an art form that wasn’t made acceptable until “…white men like Kosuth and Weiner came in and did virtually the same thing as Yoko, but made them respectable and collectible.” Imagine that.