Three decades ago today, John Lennon was shot to death outside his home in New York’s Dakota building, and in the time since, the world has changed immeasurably … and not necessarily for the better.
And while fans can endlessly debate how things would’ve been different had Lennon lived, the iconic musician’s most lasting contribution to the planet is his music — songs of hope and ideals, protest and prosperity that still contain the power to make us strive for a better tomorrow. As a testament to this, one of his best-known compositions — “Imagine” — has (and seemingly ever will be) one of the most covered songs on the planet, having been sung by everyone from David Bowie to, well, Will Farrell and Manny Pacquiao.
Over the past decade, the covers have kept rolling in. Some of them miss the mark (and the true spirit) of Lennon’s original, piling on the histrionics and ignoring the true sentiment of the song. Others have shone, mostly because they kept it simple and focused on feeling above all else. So, to mark the 30th anniversary of his death, here are some of the best covers of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” taken from the past 10 years.
Neil Young, 2001
Recorded live at the “America: A Tribute To Heroes” telethon, which raised nearly $200 million for the United Way’s September 11th Fund, it features Young backed by a stirring string section, but what resonates most is the sentiment: it’s fragile, earnest and above all hauntingly bare.
Eva Cassidy, 2002
Released six years after her death, it showcases Cassidy’s jaw-dropping voice above all else, which is why it’s such a great version of the song. Tender and heartbreakingly simple, it sadly remains — like most of her work — vastly overlooked.
A Perfect Circle, 2004
From their eMOTIVe album (a collection of politically-charged songs released to coincide with the 2004 election), Maynard James Keenan and Co. offer up a drastically different (and downright dark) take on the tune, and the end result is dizzyingly effective. If Lennon’s original was a wishful take on how he saw the world, APC’s cover is brave enough to present the world as it actually is.
Avril Lavigne, 2007
Taken from the Instant Karma Darfur benefit album, it’s surprisingly great, mostly because, unlike most charity covers of the song, Lavigne resists the overwhelming urge to get schmaltzy. Backed by little more than a piano and a weary string section, it puts her vocals front and center. And she sings the hell out of it.
Lady Gaga, 2009
Performed live at the National Equality March in Washington, DC, it’s just Gaga and her piano, and yet it packs a wallop. At one point, she changes the “Above us only sky” lyric to “And only Matthew in the sky,” in memory of murdered gay student Matthew Shepard, and then updates the song to reflect the ongoing struggle for gay rights, singing “People of the nation, are you listening? It isn’t equal if it’s sometimes, I want a real democracy.” We’d like to think Lennon would’ve approved.
What’s your favorite cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine”? Let us know in the comments!