More than 40 years after John Lennon’s powerful song Imagine changed the music landscape, his longtime partner and collaborator, Yoko Ono, will be receiving a songwriting credit on the song.
The 1971 song, which carried with it a strong message of love and peace, has enjoyed an abnormal longevity and is usually considered Lennon’s most successful and well-known tune.
Ono, who appears in the music video for Imagine (above), is now going to be credited as a partial songwriter. The surprise announcement was made in New York City at the annual meeting of the National Music Publishers Association by the CEO, David Israelite.
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So why this move by the NMPA, 46 years later? It all stems from a clip of Lennon talking, which was played at the meeting on Wednesday. In it, Lennon says point-blank that “a lot” of Imagine came from Ono herself.
“A lot of it — the lyric and the concept — came from Yoko,” he said in the clip. “But those days I was a bit more selfish, a bit more macho, and I sort of omitted to mention her contribution. But it was right out of Grapefruit, her book. There’s a whole pile of pieces about ‘Imagine this’ and ‘Imagine that.’”
Ono and the former duo’s son, Sean Lennon, were on hand at the ceremony to receive the Centennial Song award for Imagine when they were surprised by Israelite’s announcement.
“When they officially acknowledged — through my father’s account — that my mother co-wrote Imagine, the song of the century, it may have been the happiest day of mine and [my] mother’s life,” Sean Lennon told Billboard.
The 84-year-old artist arrived at the meeting in a wheelchair following a recent illness but was clearly pleased by the announcement.
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“This is the best time of my life,” she said.
Ono hasn’t yet received songwriting credit but the process is underway, and Israelite acknowledges there might be some controversy surrounding it. Not only are some Beatles and Lennon fans indifferent towards Ono, but under U.S. law, a song enters the public domain 70 years following the death of its creator. By adding Ono to the songwriting credits now, this notably increases the length of time current rights holders can generate income off the song.
John Lennon’s Imagine
(Ono is already a beneficiary of Lennon’s estate, so royalty distribution shouldn’t be significantly altered.)
There have been many past beefs between Ono and the remaining members of Lennon’s band, The Beatles; after Lennon’s death in 1980, many of the arguments involved song credits and the order of names. For example, Ono previously threatened to sue Paul McCartney to stop him from changing songwriting credits on classics like Let It Be and Eleanor Rigby, which were featured on his 2002 live album.
Instead of the usual “Lennon-McCartney” credit, McCartney changed it to “Paul McCartney and John Lennon.” In the end, Ono never pursued legal action, but said at the time that McCartney’s move was “totally inappropriate.”