Imagine there’s no Billboard
to measure record sales.
No song’s the winner,
no song ever fails.
Imagine all releases
Imagine the most defining song of John Lennon’s career NOT reaching the number one spot on the Billboard charts when it was released in October 1971. I wonder if you can. Surprisingly, John’s iconic peace anthem “Imagine” actually peaked at number three, which just goes to prove that chart position does not a legendary song make. John’s only solo career single to hit the number one spot during his lifetime was “Whatever Gets You Through the Night,” which topped the U.S. charts in November 1974.
As was his method, media junkie John often copped song titles and ideas from tabloids and boob tube babble. One late night, while channel surfing in his New York City apartment, he stumbled upon a program featuring the black evangelist Reverend Ike, who said unto the TV audience: “Let me tell you guys, it doesn’t matter, it’s whatever gets you through the night.” Bingo. The rest came naturally.
In the summer of 1974, John called on his friends – all top session players of the day – to seal the song on vinyl. They included guitarist Jesse Ed Davis and drummer Jim Keltner. John’s pal from the Beatles’ early Hamburg days, Klaus Voormann, played bass, and his British brother-in-therapy Elton John provided backing vocals and piano. But it’s the song’s blast of sax, provided by Texan shit-kicker Bobby Keys, that gave the tune its rollicking signature sound.
Recorded for the “Walls and Bridges” LP, Lennon had little faith that the song would make an impact as a single. But Elton felt otherwise. He made a wager: if the song hit number one, John would have to promise to perform at Elton’s Thanksgiving concert at Madison Square Garden on November 28, 1974. On November 10, the song rocketed to number one in the U.S., and John made good on his promise. To the audience’s great surprise, a very nervous former Beatle took the stage with Elton to sing “Whatever Gets You Through the Night,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” and “I Saw Her Standing There.”
Who would have ever imagined that it would be John’s final concert performance?
Out the blue or out of sight,
S’alright, John. S’alright.
Watch this fabulous video of the song. It’s comprised of animations of John’s whimsical drawings.
By Dana Spiardi, Oct 9, 2014