As chosen by Roger Daltrey, Ray Davies, Brian Wilson, Alex Turner and more…
Taken from the John Lennon album, Imagine (October 1971); released as a single October 1975. Highest UK chart position: 7
Written in one morning, with a lyric inspired by Yoko’s 1964 book Grapefruit, “Imagine” espoused a utopian dream after the gritty realism of Plastic Ono Band…
Peter Tork, The Monkees: Unlike McCartney, who retreated into domestic treacle, Lennon came at me, talking about – however naively – the world situation. He wanted to work on issues of world peace and international interaction. In other words, instead of writing the “Fuck you, bitch” songs he might have written to be nasty, he started writing songs about “imagine” – just imagine, and war is over if you want it, the Bed-Ins, everything. He was interested in the political aspects of his behaviour and for me as an audience, that was a stride forward, not a retreat.
Mick Jagger: My favourite Lennon song? “Imagine”, I should think. Because it’s the most catchy. I mean, there are many others, obviously, but that’s one that I like.
Neil Young: I did “Imagine” for a benefit show because I love that song. It’s apparently religious but not in the way you think – because that’s not always a good thing. You could say it’s holy, but not Christian, and it tells the right story. A story that was right for those circumstances.
11 ACROSS THE UNIVERSE
From The Beatles album, Let It Be (May 1970)
“One of the best lyrics I’ve ever written” according to Lennon. Composed on a late night songwriting roll, with added orchestra and celestial choir courtesy of producer Phil Spector…
Brian Wilson: My favourite Lennon song is “Across The Universe”. It had a great guitar sound. It flipped me out when I first heard it. And I thought his voice was especially good. He must have either taken some drugs or really concentrated hard, because he got a very special vocal sound on that one. The other thing was the lyrics. They were so heavenly [sings the chorus]. And they were most likely drug-inspired. I thought they were really great. People say that song reminds them of The Beach Boys, but not to me. It’s unique.
10 I AM THE WALRUS
From The Beatles EP, “Magical Mystery Tour” (December 1967); released as the B-side to “Hello Goodbye”, November 1967. Highest UK chart position: 1
Lennon’s most out-there composition, written after he learned pupils at his old school were studying his lyrics. “Let the fuckers work that one out,” he apparently said…
Neil Innes, Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band/The Rutles: At the end of Magical Mystery Tour, we had this party where the Bonzos got up and did their bit. John dressed as a biker, with a leather jacket and brylcreamed hair. When Larry [“Legs” Smith] came out wearing false breasts, John was shouting out “C’mon Larry, we’ve all seen them already!” We ended up having a jam with The Beach Boys, who were also there, doing “Oh Carol” for 20 minutes.
“I Am The Walrus” is code for what The Beatles understood about one another, the rest was Lear-like fun. You have to admire that grinding, angry melody. Most people would have put that anger into some kind of shouting, but this is mean and driving. I didn’t want to play John in The Rutles. It was daunting because he was sharp-tongued, quick and very funny. We forget the Bed-In was a satire of the advertising world. He wanted to make an advert for something as abstract as love. Everyone thought he was mad, but he wasn’t. He was just another bloody art student! Somebody apparently asked John what he thought of the Rutles, and he started singing “Cheese & Onions”. “Questionnaire” was a tribute to John. That song was the only reason I went ahead with [Rutles’ 1996 follow-up] Archaeology. I’d been to see George about doing a second Rutles album and his dark humour immediately came to the fore: “More Rutles? Which one of you is going to get shot?” But he said we should go ahead and do it, because it was all part of the soup.