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Music

John Lennon’s Imagine six-disc box set gives fans the deepest dive yet into evolution of ex-Beatle’s iconic album

Yoko Ono oversaw production of commemorative release features 140 remixes, demos, alternate takes and original versions of some of Lennon’s most sharply rendered social and political commentaries and most disarming love songs

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 August, 2018, 9:04pm
UPDATED : Monday, 27 August, 2018, 9:03pm

After the Beatles formally disbanded in 1970, John Lennon wowed critics with his inaugural post-Beatles solo album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band.

But it took that album’s successor, Imagine, to capture the public’s affection in a major way with a more broadly accessible work that became the first of his three solo efforts to top Billboard’s national album sales chart, reaching No 1 in October 1971.

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To mark what would have been Lennon’s 78th birthday on October 9, 1940, his widow, Yoko Ono, has overseen production of an immersive six-disc box set, Imagine – The Ultimate Collection, scheduled to be launched on October 5 and encompassing 140 tracks, most of them never officially released.

Among the highlights are a complete remix and a 5.1 surround sound mix of the original album designed to more strongly showcase Lennon’s vocals and overall provide audiences with what Abbey Road Studios’ lead mixing engineer on this project, Paul Hicks, describes as “a more modern listening experience”.

“We’re not doing anything clever with it,” Hicks said. “It’s like taking a blanket off the music.”

Ono supervised the wealth of demo recordings and alternate takes, including the recently unearthed first demo of the title track, which features just Lennon’s unadorned voice and piano, recorded at their estate in Tittenhurst, England, where they built a home studio.

The new edition of Imagine, which spent 45 weeks on the Billboard 200 albums chart in 1971 and 1972, and yielded perhaps the most iconic single recording of his solo career, will be released in multiple formats. It’s also coming in a two-CD deluxe edition, a single CD remaster and a two-LP 180-gram audiophile vinyl version.

The box set will take listeners on the deepest dive ever released of Imagine, offering early versions of all the album’s songs that illustrate their evolution towards the finished album, which Lennon and Ono co-produced with Phil Spector. The latter had jointly produced the Plastic Ono Band album a year earlier, starting just weeks after Paul McCartney formalised the end of the Beatles with a press announcement in April 1970.

Imagine includes some of Lennon’s most sharply rendered social and political commentaries, including Gimme Some Truth, I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier Mama I Don’t Wanna Die and Crippled Inside, as well as some of his most disarming love songs, Oh My Love, Jealous Guy, How and perhaps the most unabashedly joyful song he ever committed to tape, the album’s closing track, Oh Yoko!

Along with the original 10 tracks from Imagine, Hicks and his colleagues at Abbey Road have also created new mixes of singles that Lennon and Ono made during the same time period, including Power to the People, Happy Xmas (War Is Over) as well as more obscure songs such as Well … (Baby Please Don’t Go), God Save Us and Do the Oz.

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“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,” Hicks writes in the companion book.

“‘It’s about John,’” Hicks writes of his directive from Ono. “And she was right. His voice brings the biggest emotional impact to the album.”