Social Commentary Paper on “Imagine” and “Let it Be”
Alas, the perpetual battle between utilitarianism and ideologues pervades every bit of contemporary society. Should humankind fight vigorously for an unattainable utopia or should they let go and find a happy ‘complacency’ in our grim world? Maybe these are out-dated, oversimplified tracks of thought; however, the question still stands: Can a perfect world be achieved? Or do we, as humans, make a happy collective sigh and say ‘oh well.’ McCartney and Lennon were discussing these polemics in Imagine and Let it Be. The dichotomy of their reasoning is not only suggestive of their personal turmoil but their ideological differences as well.
II. Issue Discussion
The two songs, “Imagine” and “Let it Be” were composed just a year apart, throughout and after the chaotic split-up of the Beatles which was preceded by the disputed Let it Be/Get Back Sessions (Fricke 58). Imagine, composed in 1971 on Lennon’s first solo album and Let it Be, composed during these sessions in 1970 could easily be construed as a discourse between the two on their diametrically contrasting worldviews (Roberts 292).
McCartney’s “Let it Be” is a song that urges its listeners to forget and let it go. In life, many individuals find themselves stressed, worried, and eventually overwhelmed by life’s many occurrences. In a sense, Let it Be asserts that people should live without thinking, or rather, over thinking, and let things fall into place as they have been predestined by a higher power (Blaney 50-51). The conventional wisdom is that McCartney composed this song for his late mother but in reference to song facts, an image of his mother talking to him was the inspiration behind the song. At the time Let it Be was being composed, McCartney was a worried and anxious man due to the division within the band. The dream itself was impressive. His late mother appearing to him and telling him not to worry about everything was very supernatural (Levy 87). It brought him the peace he much needed and composing the song further encouraged listeners to lead lives free of anxiety and worry.
In Lennon’s “Imagine,” the song screams peace. Imagine openly asserts that Lennon desires peace between earth’s inhabitants and the song was an effective way of delivering this message globally (Harry 382). Once more, in reference to song facts, the song was intended to portray the message of peace. Imagine contains a political message which is sugarcoated with melodious tunes. Lennon chose this softer approach to appeal to a wider audience hoping they would listen to the message (Tim 288). The music video for this song successfully portrays this message. In the video, Yoko Ono dressed as an Indian and Lennon dressed as a cowboy. This wardrobe strategically says that everyone, alike or different, needs to come together, disregarding the past and all the differences, and become one.
III. Comparison of Songs
Imagine is a discourse of optimism for an illusory, quixotic world, free of famine, religious strife, and war. Imagine is ardently anti-capitalist, anti-religious, and anti-nationalistic. It is easily depicted as a sequel to Plato’s Republic in which the beauties of society prevail and there are perfect spiritual, political, and social orders. Nonetheless, this song does not advocate a ‘solution’ or an ‘answer,’ it merely abets the listener to ‘imagine’ these things.
Let it Be has a deep cultural impact but delivered in a different way. Many Catholics highly regard the song because they misinterpret the intro lyrics, “When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me.” The reference does not stand as an ode to Christ’s mother; rather, it stands as an ode to McCartney’s mother, who succumbed to cancer when he was fourteen years old. Pressure over division among the Beatles during album sessions, McCartney had a dream in which his mother visited and informed him “It will be alright, just let it be.” Nevertheless, the theistic elements of the song cannot be denied. Let it Be visualizes a flawed universe where little control is exercised other than to find resignation and acceptance. Listeners are told “there will be an answer” but are not told where the answer will derive from. Simply wait. It will fall from above.
Strangely enough, the word ‘Amen’ translated into English is ‘let it be.’ McCartney laments that, “When all the broken hearted people living in the world agree, there will be an answer.” Could this possibly mean that the ‘answer’ lies upon the consensus of all ‘broken-hearted individuals?’ This, however, leaves the listener with more questions than answers. Let it Be further does a clandestine job of exhibiting the spirit of The Serenity Prayer whereby one is urged to petition the Lord to “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Nonetheless, Let it Be heavily relies not only on Judeo Christian but Buddhist tendencies also. Let it Be embraces detachment just as many Hindu and Buddhist doctrines recommend release from worldly expectations and desires, a viewpoint that can be interpreted as apathetic.
Although both songs have many similarities, they still have their differences. They both have strong meanings but the meanings are different to each songwriter. Lennon’s “Imagine” sends out a concise message that each person stands up and possibly do something about a universal issue that has been in occurrence since time began and sadly has not been mitigated. McCartney’s “Let it Be” sends out a different concise message. He encourages his listeners to let go of things and not dwell on the bad or sad occurrences. Not only these, he further encourages listeners to let a new world, a more peaceful and happier world, become a reality. McCartney’s song advice the listener to leave the past as it is, just as he did his mother’s passing, and let things to take their intended course of action.
Both songs share some differences and similarities. The messages carried by both are similar and at the same time different. Both Lennon and McCartney were previously in the same band and both their songs fall into the same category ‘soft rock.’ The rhythms of both songs are similar, being that, they are mellow. The piano is the main instrument in both songs, allowing the melody to be calming and soft.
IV. Music/Lyric Connection
In McCartney’s “Let it Be,” Mary ascends like an angel, whispering to him—let it be. “Let it Be” means relax, let go, worry not about your troubles, these words are words of comfort, reminding the listener not to think too much about sad occurrences and accept the bad things that are unchangeable. However, this is not the only message in McCartney’s song. Next, he uplifts the listener and from his own life, he sings about all the broken-hearted individuals inhabiting the earth, individuals who are at war or despise each other. “Although they may be parted, there is still a chance that they will see. There will be an answer– Let it be.” Here, the phrase “Let it Be” has a different meaning. Here, it does not mean relax and forget life’s problems, it means “let it happen” –let a new world, a more peaceful and happier world, become a reality. During the time in which this song was released, violence was occurring in Ireland and wars in Vietnam. McCartney was singing about angry and sad people who waged war against each other. Situations like the aforementioned still prevail today, with broken-hearted people battling each other. This song speaks volumes; it gives humankind a vision for peace. It is similar to Lennon’s “Imagine.” Both songs give hope of a more peaceful and happier world.
Lennon’s “Imagine” is a massive flow of thoughtful and beautiful wording. The process starts from the first verse itself. Lennon asks listeners to imagine the absence of hell and heaven. And who teaches about heaven and hell? Religion does. Not to discredit any religion, but the chaos existing in the world in the name of ‘Religion’ is unjustifiable under any faith. It is as if the world would be better without religions. Lennon asks listeners to “imagine there are no countries.” Why? Countries are nations with their own governments, occupying particular territories. This is a red flag. Many wars have been waged in the name of sovereignty, imperialism, territory, and patriotism. If the world was one nation, such problems would be non-existent. In the third verse, Lennon gets spiritual. “Imagine no possession.” What are possessions? Possessions are things possessed or owned. Lennon urges listeners to let go of earthly possessions as they shall be left behind when one passes away. The change of tonality is interesting in Lennon’s imaginations.
Imagining the absence of heaven is easy, imagining the absence of countries, easy as well, imagining a universe without greed for material things, not as easy. Heaven is a perception, it can easily be let go. A country is part of every individual’s livelihood; it has been ingrained into their bones. It is not easy to let go, but it can be done. People do it when they migrate/resettle. How about letting go of one’s car, Smartphone or house? Not as easy. But that is where humankind should be to achieve global peace. Nothing belongs to a person. Everything is a product of nature and there too, shall it return. It is as simple as that. The plain lyrics in Imagine may conceal the powerful message behind it; however, it is not difficult to see if one has an inquiring mind.
Lennon strategically uses “Imagine” to stress something important. The phrase “Imagine” asserts that if every person imagined a better world, they can make it happen. Secondly, Lennon utilizes metaphors. He utilizes phrases like “A brotherhood of man” (Lennon) to compare two objects without using “as” or “like.” The quote mentioned above reflects that if humankind was united, peace and unity would prevail. Lastly, the theme in Lennon’s “Imagine” is hope. Hope is a single-word explanation of a literary work. The theme here is derived from the positive attitude and how the lyrics shift from “Nothing to kill or die for” to “Imagine all the people living life in peace.” Hence, the theme in “Imagine” is used to assert that humans are not lost and the world can still be salvaged if humans collaborate.
Ultimately, McCartney and Lennon present plausible cases for their diametrically opposing worldviews. McCartney’s “Let it Be” is a saying equivalent to “Leave it alone,” meaning, let things happen naturally and worry not about the outcomes. Further, “Let it Be” means “let it happen” let a new world filled with hope and peace become reality. McCartney gives listeners his vision of peace, which is also mirrored in Lennon’s “Imagine.” Lennon’s “Imagine” typifies a quixotic yet naïve expectation for a world that is lacking the presence of all the laminar differences that cause so much turmoil and strife to contemporary society. Humans can easily ‘imagine’ such a place but must be conscious of the immovable forces that exist. Lennon is asking the listener to imagine a world without borders, religion, and possessions, and suggesting these things cause conflict, therefore, without them, war would become pointless and obsolete, resulting in ultimate peace. It is a very flawed and simple ideal, and some may say Lennon is a dreamer, but he is not the only one.
“The Beatles, Let it Be… Naked”. The Observer Music Monthly. London. 19 October 2003. Retrieved 20 April 2018.
Blaney, John (2007). Lennon and McCartney: Together Alone (1st ed.). Jawbone Press. ISBN 978-1-906002-02-2.
Coleman, Ray (1992). Lennon: The Definitive Biography (Updated ed.). Harper Perennial. p. 370. ISBN 978-0-06-098608-7.
For the musical notation to “Imagine” see: Lennon 1983, pp. 5–9; for the piano on which Lennon composed “Imagine” see: “George Michael buys Lennon’s piano”. BBC News Online. 18 October 2000. Retrieved 20 April 2018.
Fricke, David (2012) 2002. “The Making of ‘Imagine'”. In Wenner, Jann. John Lennon: The Ultimate Guide to His Life, Music, and Legend. Rolling Stone. ISBN 7-09-893419-4.
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Levy, Joe, ed. (2005). Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (First Paperback ed.). Wenner Books. ISBN 978-1-932958-61-4.
Paul McCartney. “Let it Be.” Let it Be. Apple Records, 1970’s. CD.
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