John Lennon: Imagine – The Ultimate Collection, Produced by Yoko Ono Lennon

One of the first multi-disc reissues concentrating on a single album was Pet Sounds. What had been a mere three dozen minutes long (and critically and commercially ignored upon release) was turned into a glorious 4 CD box set. That strategy over the ensuing years encouraged us repurchase many classic albums in expanded, remastered format. More recently Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was given lavish attention recently, and The White Album is about to be handled in similar fashion.

Similar treatment is now available for John Lennon’s 1971 Imagine album. Available in various configurations, the most massive of which comprises 4 CDs and 2 Blu-ray discs, the listener is afforded many perspectives on some of Lennon’s best solo work.

John Lennon: Imagine – The Ultimate Collection, Produced by Yoko Ono Lennon

There is the Ultimate Mixes version of the album, which strives to meet Ono’s vision of bringing greater clarity and sonic resonance to the original version. Raw Studio Mixes are exactly as advertised, and sound alternately half-baked and inspired. And for those with the right equipment, a far more immersive experience can be garnered via the 5.1 surround and Quadrsonic versions of the album.

Paul Hicks was the wizard behind Ultimate Mixes (stereo, 5.1 and quad) portion of the project, with supervision from Ono. Hicks utilized high-definition 24-bit/96kHz audio transfers of the album’s original first-generation multi-track recordings for the task. Far greater clarity is revealed. As Hicks explains:

Yoko was very keen that these Ultimate Mixes should achieve three things – to be totally faithful and respectful to the originals, be generally sonically clearer overall and should increase the clarity of John’s vocals. ‘It’s about John’ she said. And she was right. His voice brings the biggest emotional impact to the album.

What I consistently like best in these reissues are the items scraped from the back of the vaults. In the case of Imagine, we are provided a treasure trove of obscurios. For some tracks, it is understandable why they have been kept mostly underwraps. “Do The Oz” is a late night raveup with an unrelenting riff, over which Lennon raves the song’s title and Ono shrieks intermittently.

George, John, Yoko across from Klaus Vormann (photo by Spud Murphy)

NYC (photo by Bob Fries)

Working class heroes. Photo by Iain Macmillan, who also shot the iconic Abbey Road album cover.

Imagine (photo by Peter Fordham)

In addition to a clutch of previously unheard demos, rare outtakes and isolated track elements, the package includes the Evolution Mixes, a unique track-by-track audio montage that details the journey of each song from demo to master recording via instructions, rehearsals, recordings, multi-track exploration and studio chatter.

Theses commentary selections let you be a fly on the wall, in the studio and during interviews. Lennon’s acidic demeanor comes through when he is acrimonious about the session players pissing about. But many of these audio clips are pleasantly reminiscent of the sunny Beatles’ studio chatter dropped into segments of the LOVE production by Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas.

In an interview extract, Lennon backpedals about the obvious slagging he gave McCartney in “How Do You Sleep” by saying what matters is how the pair are doing (“we’re OK”) and not what people think of the song. Of course, the song exists forever whereas Lennon’s lukewarm comments are pretty well buried in the mists of time.

Rob Stevens mixed the Raw Studio Mixes in stereo and 5.1 and Sam Gannon assembled the Evolution Mixes.

Contemporaneous is the DVD release from Eagle Vision of the Imagine film, which has been frame-matched to the original negatives, with every frame hand-cleaned and restored, and the respective soundtracks remixed and remastered in 5.1 surround sound. Produced and directed in 1971 by John & Yoko, along with numerous guest stars including George Harrison, Fred Astaire, Andy Warhol, Dick Cavett, Jack Palance, and Jonas Mekas, the film captures the last vestiges of the trippy 60s that Lennon helped define. In that each song from the album is given its own video interpretation, it is considered a video album and it continued the pioneering work The Beatles did a few years earlier. When the band gave up touring for good, they instead sent videos out of new singles. That predated MTV by at least a dozen years.

And speaking of visuals, going back to the box set release the massive book includes some great imagery, including stills from Iain Macmillan, who entered rock and roll longevity by shooting one of the eight photos that became the cover of Abbey Road, the final album recorded by The Beatles.


Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.