Release Date: September 9, 1971 US (October 8, 1971 UK)
Credits: John Lennon, with help from George Harrison and a flock of some of the best musicians of the day, including Nicky Hopkins, King Curtis, two members of Badfinger, and — of course — the Plastic Ono Band
Backstory: Lennon and his crew recorded the bulk of the album over a single week at Ascot Sound Studios — conveniently located in Lennon and Yoko Ono’s English country estate, Tittenhurst Park — before completing the production with Phil Spector in their soon-to-be-adopted hometown of New York City. The songs played off the anti-capitalistic, anti-war message that had also been behind the previous year’s Plastic Ono Band, a release he would later call “a little too real for people.” This time, he added “a little honey,” a tactic that paid off, earning him his first number-one LP.
Enduring Hit: The title track — an optimistic plea for peace through dissolution of organized nations and religion — became Lennon’s signature song, despite his insecurities that the public didn’t appreciate his solo work as much as his collaborations with Paul McCartney. “Imagine [stands] up to any song that was written when I was a Beatle,” he told Playboy in 1980. “Now, it may take you 20 or 30 years to appreciate that, but the fact is … you will see that it is as good as any fucking stuff that was ever done.”
Bad Blood: McCartney had some less than kind words regarding Lennon leaving the Beatles on Too Many People, a track from his solo album Ram — words that didn’t sit well with his former partner. In response, George Harrison joined Lennon for the track How Do You Sleep? a slick cut-down of McCartney’s tendency towards sappy themes. “The only thing you done was yesterday, and since you’ve gone you’re just another day,” Lennon sang. “The sound you make is muzak to my ears, you must have learned something in all those years.” (McCartney would later object to a line that called him out for “[living] with straights who tell [him he’s] king,” saying, “So what if I live with straights? I like straights.”)