When the box set made its debut as a CD format (and now blu-ray, as well), it was largely reserved to serve as a platform for a career-spanner, or an era retrospective. Only more recently have single albums, too, celebrated with such an expansive, multi-disc fete. Granted, sufficiently entertaining an audience with these additional spheres of outtakes, raw mixes, and excerpts of interviews with Elliot Mintz, plus a 100-page hardcover, can be a lot to ask to justify the time or the purchase. Yet, John Lennon’s Imagine box puts the iconic album under this mighty powerful microscope and comes away with exceptionally pleasing, and somewhat surprising, new discoveries.
Disc one shows-off new “ultimate” stereo mixes of the original album, done at Abbey Road, plus fresh listens of its contemporaneous singles and extras. They are each consciously well-crafted, with an organic warmth and immediacy throughout the 10 album cuts and six singles that bring Lennon and his Plastic Ono band, circa 1971, right into the living room. There simply is no better way to experience the classic album. However, it’s on the additional three discs of elements, raw mixes, and Lennon, himself, talking about each song that tells a revelatory story of the sessions worthy of inclusion.
No doubt Imagine, the proper album, collected the best versions of those 10 songs in both performances and arrangements. Where the extra material provides insight is into the dynamic of the band, itself, and Lennon directing traffic. Hear him articulating the grooves he’s grabbing for, like flashes of reggae in “How Do You Sleep?” and “I Don’t Wanna Be A Soldier Mamma I Don’t Wanna To Die,” by sounding-out beats over Alan White’s drumming, in a passive-aggressive hints of what he wants. There’s also Yoko Ono making confident suggestions, which John echoes, tucked in there, as well. For the Lennon (or Beatles) aficionado, it’s the opening of a fascinating window as to John’s nature as an artist and leader in the early post-Beatles aftermath.
By the time all four discs have been consumed, there really doesn’t seem to be anything left to hear that could provide further insight or any more glimpses necessary to impress from (mostly) White on drums, Klaus Voorman on bass, Nicky Hopkins on piano, a guesting King Curtis on blistering sax, or Beatle George Harrison on greasy slide guitar. Not to mention the marvelous Flux Fiddlers, especially on the inclusion of the gorgeous “strings only” mix of the title track. All of this dovetails to a conclusion that not only was Imagine, arguably, Lennon’s songwriting peak as a solo artist, it was also an album stuffed with repeatedly enthralling musical performances by its makers.