Why Paul McCartney Refused to Cover John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’

John Lennon‘s “Imagine” is the most famous song by a former Beatle. Paul McCartney has covered countless songs over the years and yet he never put his spin on “Imagine.” He once explained why he didn’t want to cover “Imagine.” Love or hate his decision, his reasoning makes a lot of sense given the song’s lasting cultural impact.

Paul McCartney felt that everyone sings John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’
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During a 1990 interview with Rolling Stone, Paul discussed one of his aborted ideas. “In fact, I considered doing a major tribute to John,” he said. “But it suddenly felt too precious, too showbiz. I was going to have a whacking great picture of John and just say, ‘He was my friend.’ Which was true. I’m totally proud to have worked with him.

Outsiders wanted Paul to sing John’s most famous solo tune. “But then people started saying, ‘Why don’t you do ‘Imagine?’” he recalled. “And I thought, ‘F****** hell, Diana Ross does ‘Imagine.’ They all do ‘Imagine.’”

To put Paul’s comment in context, by 1990, “Imagine” had been covered by Elton John, David Bowie, Queen, Joan Baez, and others. Since 1990, it’s been performed by Madonna, Lady Gaga, Avril Lavigne, Yoko Ono, Gal Gadot, and Willie Nelson. “Imagine” is one of the most ubiquitous standards of modern times. Understandably, some fans feel that covering “Imagine” has become a tedious cliche.

The ‘Silly Love Songs’ singer seemed to imply he was a better rock star than John Lennon
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Realizing “Imagine” was overexposed changed Paul’s feelings. “That’s when I backed off the whole thing,” he said. “You go on tour, you sing your songs, arrange ’em nice, do it, and if you do it well enough, that’s what people will remember.”

The “Silly Love Songs” singer clearly cared about John. Despite this, Paul was asked where he put himself in the rock star pecking order and his words could be seen as a slight towards John. “I’d put me at the top. Just because I’m a competitor, man. You don’t have Ed Moses going around saying, ‘Sure, I’m the third-best hurdler in the world.’ You don’t find Mike Tyson saying, ‘Sure, there’s lots of guys who could beat me.’ You’ve got to slog, man.”

What Paul McCartney thought of ‘Imagine’
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While Paul decided not to cover “Imagine,” that doesn’t mean he dislikes the song. During a 2002 interview with Hot Press, he revealed the dissolution of the Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership was difficult. Despite that, Paul said John was able to write “Imagine” without him and that “Imagine” was one of the greatest songs of all time. For context, John wrote “Imagine” with help from Yoko Ono, and the tune was produced by John, Yoko, and Phil “The Long and Winding Road” Spector.

Perhaps Paul will cover “Imagine” someday. However, it’s unlikely he could really add much to the song, which has been covered to death. Paul would be better off covering one of the neglected tracks in John’s discography, like “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night.”

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