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Yoko Ono Joins John Lennon With Credit Line For Writing 'Imagine'

Jun 17, 2017
Originally published on June 17, 2017 6:26 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And here's one more item for your gender politics file. For nearly 50 years, credit for this song - "Imagine" - has gone to one writer - John Lennon. That changed this week. The National Music Publishers Association announced that Yoko Ono will be credited as a songwriter as well.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IMAGINE")

JOHN LENNON: (Singing) Imagine there's no heaven. It's easy if you try.

MARTIN: NPR's Neda Ulaby tells us why John Lennon believed credit to his wife and artistic collaborator was long overdue.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: John Lennon explained it himself back in 1980 in a joint interview with Yoko Ono on BBC Radio 1. The interviewer brought up "Imagine" as one of Lennon's most beloved songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LENNON: Actually, that should be credited as a Lennon-Ono song because a lot of the lyric and the concept came from Yoko. But those days I was a bit more selfish, bit more macho, and I sort of omitted to mention her contribution.

ULABY: Ono's 1964 book of conceptual poetry, "Grapefruit," contained verses like, imagine clouds dripping and imagine goldfish swimming across the sky. She also contributed to the song's theme of a world without borders or religion pulling people apart. Still, she backed away from taking credit in the interview.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

YOKO ONO: Everything we did together in those days. We just inspired each other.

LENNON: Yeah, but if it had been Bowie, I would have put Lennon-Bowie. See, if you had been male. You know, when we wrote "Fame" together. But when we did it, I just put Lennon because, you know, she's just the wife. And you don't put her name on, right?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IMAGINE")

LENNON: (Singing) Imagine all the people.

ULABY: Imagine a world without "Imagine." Former President Jimmy Carter said it was the one song he'd heard played in nearly every country he ever visited. It's an international anthem. Professor Karen Tongson, who studies popular culture, says Ono getting credit is significant.

KAREN TONGSON: The story about her has always been that she was this sort of erotic, exotic interloper who busted up John Lennon's marriage...

ULABY: To his first wife and to the Beatles. But Tongson says Yoko Ono's artistic daring inspired Lennon to push the boundaries of mainstream music. And you can hear and see her influence today on such stars as Lady Gaga and Sia and their love of spectacle and experimentation. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OH YOKO!")

LENNON: (Singing) Oh, Yoko. Oh, Yoko. My love will turn you on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.