Lennon was a rebellious and goonish pupil in the 1950s who most of his teachers thought would never amount to much. His unique artistic qualities were beyond their conventional provincial understanding. And then in 1963 he became one of the most famous, most loved men on the planet in his four-man pop group. John was also "the married Beatle", having put Cynthia Powell, an uncomplicated Liverpool girl, "in the pudding club". John did what was expected of him in those times, and they had a register office marriage in August 1962.

His wife and baby were a secret at first, so as not to put off any Beatles' fans. The group worked almost non-stop for the first few years, often away on tour or in the recording studio, and, married or not, they took full red-blooded advantage of the lusty females who threw themselves at their idols.

Then, in November 1966 Lennon met Japanese conceptual artist Yoko Ono at a London gallery, and they instantaneously connected. By 1968 the Lennons' marriage was over, and by 1971 the inseparable JohnandYoko were ready to make "Imagine".

"imagine john yoko" is a lovingly created example of the bookmakers' art. It is personally compiled and curated by Yoko. Now 85 years old and having lost her husband to a deranged man in 1980, she remains the idealist of the late 1960s, and in her preface offers her belief that the world is separated into two industries: the War Industry and the Peace Industry. "If one billion people in the world think peace, we'll get peace," she opines. "The people who all worked on IMAGINE were Peace People and it was so enlightening and exciting all the way through to be one of them." Thus begins the story of the album.

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Logically, she opens at that gallery, the Indica, after which came the publicity stunts that perplexed the world: the bed-ins for peace in Amsterdam and Montreal, the naked "Two Virgins" album cover, the Bagism press conference at the Hotel Sacher in Vienna where they conducted the entire interview unseen from the inside of a bag, and the acorns sent to world leaders to plant for peace.

The lyrics of "Imagine" are printed, and Lennon himself once described the song as a sugar-coated version of the message he had expressed in far more acidic terms in his song "Working Class Hero". While some listeners find the song inspiringly idealistic, others find it hypocritical, pointing to the contradiction between a dream of a world with "no possessions", and Lennon's accumulation of riches, including six or seven apartments at the Dakota building in New York, Palm Beach real estate and a herd of Regis Holstein cows.

Ono defends that particular criticism on the grounds that the line was always intended on "a more symbolic level and that its message is more the Buddhist one of non-attachment, to mental concepts as much as material possessions. If the belonging is not a burden to you, if it does not interfere with your mental freedom then it's fine."

"imagine john yoko" is a treasure trove of trivia from Ono's archives, 80 per cent of it exclusive, previously unpublished archive photos and footage sequences of all the key players plus hand-written lyrics on hotel stationery, Ono's art installations, and new insights and testimonies from her and over 40 of the musicians, engineers, staff, celebrities, artists and photographers who were there.

From the late summer of 1969 until August 1971 the couple lived in Lennon's Tittenhurst Park, a Georgian country house set in a 29-hectare estate near Ascot in the English county of Berkshire, and it was here that Lennon installed a recording studio and made the LP "Imagine". The book shows detailed floor plans of the mansion and maps of its grounds, and annotated boxes of audio tape from the sessions. There are also pencil sketches, postcards and two letters written by Lennon at the height of his campaign for peace.

Both letters are angry missives: one arguing a New York Times journalist's accusations that the Beatles imitated and exploited black music ("It wasn't a rip-off, it was a love in," Lennon responded) and one to Paul and Linda McCartney after the Beatles' break-up that simmers with rage ("I was reading your letter," Lennon begins, "and wondering which middle-aged cranky Beatles fan wrote it.").

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And a letter to Lennon from Steinway & Sons in London on 29 January 1971 confirms the order for a birthday present for the buyer's wife – a grand piano, spray-painted white and costing £1891. The following May, Lennon used it to record the title song of his new album, and buyers found tucked inside the LP sleeve a poster showing the composer at the keyboard. In the new book, we find that the exalted piano now resides in Ono's apartment in the Dakota, and she is photographed sitting on its stool last year.

Archive interviews with the core musicians and session players, studio assistants and producers (including Phil Spector) are reproduced, including Julian Lennon, bassist Klaus Voormann, drummers Alan White and Jim Keltner, society photographer David Bailey and chat-show hosts Dick Cavett and Michael Parkinson, who both interviewed Lennon and Ono on their programs.

Lennon tended to ignore Julian, the son he had with Cynthia, and Julian recalls the joy of being invited to his dad's country pad after a period without contact – they go boating on the lake in the estate, drink Dr Pepper and play on a Mellotron. Polaroids of father, son and stepmum rowing on the lake accompany his memories ("It was the first time that he actually called me in quite a long time... it was wonderful.").

There's also the story of Claudio, the shell-shocked Vietnam veteran and Beatles fan who kept sending telegrams to Tittenhurst Park, then started appearing in the bushes in the grounds. Lennon chatted with him at the door and then invited him in to eat. It was the Sixties, and as Ono explains: "At Tittenhurst, there was no particular security. John always felt responsible for these people because they were the result of his songs."

"imagine john yoko" is a fine tribute to this intensely creative time in the couple's joined-at-the-hip lives; an encyclopaedic extravaganza of reminiscences and memorabilia about the making of Lennon's best-known and most-loved solo album. The very fact that such a luxurious scrapbook has been published 47 years after the fact is testament to the music's enduring appeal.

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"imagine john yoko," published in hardback by Thames & Hudson, 9 October 2018. £35
Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • 1. Tittenhurst
  • 2. Recording Imagine
  • 3. Album Artwork
  • 4. Filming Imagine
  • 5. This Is Not Here
  • 6. Legacy


SPECIAL UNSIGNED COLLECTOR'S EDITION
25 October, £185

Limited to 2000 copies worldwide, the expanded Collector's Edition includes a hand-numbered and officially stamped giclée print.

  • An expanded copy of "imagine john yoko", slipcased and bound in real cloth, with an additional 176 pages.
  • Over 150 new illustrations, including more artworks from the This Is Not Here exhibition, further new insights and personal testimonies, an entirely new chapter devoted to the singles from the period, and six almost 1-metre-long gatefolds of panoramas stitched together from rare film outtakes.
  • A clothbound portfolio case containing a hand-numbered and officially stamped giclée print reproduced on acid-free Olin Regular High White 300gsm woodfree paper, using archival pigment inks.
  • Limited to 2000 copies worldwide, plus 10 copies retained by the artist, inscribed i-x.


SPECIAL SIGNED COLLECTOR'S EDITION
25 October, £375

Limited to only 300 copies worldwide the extra-special Signed Collector's Edition includes, in addition to the expanded book and clothbound portfolio case, a bookplate signed by Yoko Ono and a hand-numbered, officially stamped giclée print.

  • Hand-numbered bookplate signed by Yoko Ono.
  • An expanded copy of "imagine john yoko", slipcased and bound in real cloth, with an additional 176 pages.
  • Over 150 new illustrations, including more artworks from the This Is Not Here exhibition, further new insights and personal testimonies, an entirely new chapter devoted to the singles from the period, and six almost 1-metre-long gatefolds of panoramas stitched together from rare film outtakes.
  • A clothbound portfolio case containing a hand-numbered and officially stamped giclée print reproduced on acid-free Olin Regular High White 300gsm woodfree paper, using archival pigment inks.
  • The print, exclusive to this edition, is of an unused photographic proof of the Imagine album artwork by Yoko Ono.
  • Limited to 300 copies worldwide, plus 10 copies retained by the artist, inscribed i-x.

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