Jack Douglas has worked on countless incredible tracks throughout his career with a long list of music legends. Today, Jack Douglas is back with us once again to talk to us about working with John Lennon and Yoko Ono to produce John Lennon’s hit song “Imagine”.
About Jack Douglas
Jack began his career in music as a folk musician and songwriter. He travelled to England and played in multiple different bands before moving to New York. In New York, he attended the Institute of Audio Research, and was a member of the first graduating class! His first professional gig was as a janitor at the Record Plant in New York. From this position, he worked his way up to the desk as an engineer and participated in projects by Miles David, The James Gang, Alice Cooper, and Cheap Trick.
He later became a staff engineer at Record Plant in New York City, Jack worked with countless incredible artists, including Patti Smith, Blue Öyster Cult, The New York Dolls, Aerosmith, and John Lennon.
John Lennon’s “Imagine”
In 1971, Jack Douglas had the opportunity to engineer John Lennon’s Imagine album. Jack and Lennon worked together very well, forming a close bond, and the two went on to work together for the rest of Lennon’s life. Today, Jack is here to take us behind the scenes of the making of the title track from this album.
Lennon began recording “Imagine” with Yoko Ono at his home studio in England. The final version of the track, however, was recorded at the Record Plant Studio B in New York City. In fact, the piano, vocals, and strings were all re-recorded once Lennon arrived in New York. Lennon himself played the piano for this track, Klaus Voormann played bass, and Alan White was on the drums. The piano and vocals were both recorded on the 7-foot Steinway piano in Studio B at the Record Plant, as Lennon loved to play on this specific piano. “Imagine” also had the same arranger as “How Do You Sleep?” and “Happy Christmas”.
Lennon co-wrote this song with Yoko Ono. Unfortunately, at the time that the song was released, she was not attributed any of the co-writing credit. However, Jack tells us that if you knew Ono, and knew the way she spoke and the way she wrote, it is actually very obvious that she wrote a large portion of the lyrics for this song. He says that lines like “imagine no religion” are characteristic of Yoko Ono’s writing style and were very similar to the style of writing she used in her poetry. At the time, this was not realized by many people, but people can see it now. In 2017, Yoko Ono received official co-writing credit on the song, which Jack feels is very well-deserved.
Watching how Lennon and Ono worked together, on this song and others, was hard for Jack to understand. He says that Lennon took him aside once and told him he had to “think backwards” in order to understand his and Ono’s relationship. He said that Jack was thinking “too Western” to understand their relationship. Lennon trusted Jack, though, and trusted him to work with Yoko Ono, so Jack learned to adapt to her unique creative process. He told her once that he “didn’t care if she got inside the piano and played it or sat at the stool”, giving her the freedom to do whatever she needed to when she was working in the studio.
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Jack notes that it is interesting how this song has become so iconic and famous, while the team working on it at the time had no idea how massive it would become. They knew it was a special song, but did not predict the impact the song has ended up having.
After being released by Apple Records in October 1971, “Imagine” became the best-selling single of Lennon’s solo career.