Yoko Ono to Receive Songwriting Credit on John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’

Yoko Ono John Lennon
FremantleMedia Ltd/REX/Shutterstock

UPDATED: At the annual meeting of the National Music Publishers Association in New York on Wednesday, Yoko and Sean Ono Lennon received the organization’s new Centennial Song award for John Lennon’s legendary 1971 song “Imagine” — and Yoko received more than that. NMPA CEO David Israelite showed a video from 1980 wherein John said that Yoko deserved a songwriting credit for “Imagine” because of her influence and inspiration on it — and Israelite announced that in accordance with Lennon’s wish, Yoko will be added to the song as a co-writer.


Yoko Ono John Lennon

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Cornered by Variety after the event, Israelite confirmed that the process to add Yoko’s credit, while not yet confirmed, is already under way, but he said that the NMPA and Downtown Music Publishing, which administers both Ono’s and Lennon’s solo compositions, are optimistic that it will be confirmed. While Israelite initially said that adding Ono to the credits would extend the period of time before the song enters the public domain, he later corrected himself and noted that because the song was published in 1971, the life of its copyright lasts 95 years after publication — not the current law, instituted in 1978, which extends the copyright 70 years after the death of the last author. Adding Ono as a writer will not extend the life of its copyright. Downtown Music CEO Justin Kalifowitz said: “We are delighted to have worked with the National Music Publishers’ Association in recognizing Yoko Ono’s contribution to this extraordinary song. It was truly a historic evening for sharing credit where credit was due.”

At the ceremony, held at Cipriani, Yoko took the stage to accept her award in a wheelchair, pushed by Sean. While her words were partially obscured both by her accent and the echo from room’s high ceilings, she spoke briefly about how her illness — she is suffering from an unclear flu-like ailment — has made her appreciate the song and other elements of life more fully, and said “This is the best time of my life,” to applause. She continued, “And I am so surprised that Sean created his own vision —” But then Sean, whose long hair, beard, fedora and dark suit made him look startlingly like his father circa 1969, gently took the microphone and said, charmingly, “Let’s not talk about me!,” to laughter. He spoke briefly about the importance of music education in schools, and how much his father learned at art college. “So let’s not let any generation be denied the opportunity of letting those parts of their imaginations [thrive].”

An emotional Patti Smith, accompanied on piano by her daughter Jessie, then performed the song, mixing up the lyrics a little and pausing at times to compose herself.

Because Ono is a beneficiary of Lennon’s estate, the move is not as complicated financially as it might have been were she not. However, virtually everything involving The Beatles and the vast fortune they generated has many ramifications, so more legal maneuvering is likely in the months and years to come.

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    1. Gerry Coogan says:

      In 1963 The Beatles published “I’ll Get You,” a song credited to Lennon and McCartney. The opening line is, “Imagine I’m in love with you”. Perhaps Yoko Ono will now be pushing for Paul McCartney’s name to be added to the credits for not only “Imagine” but also her own “Grapefruit” scribblings since “I’ll Get You” clearly predates both works and has just as strong a claim to have been the inspiration for “Imagine” as “Grapefruit” has.
      While she’s at it, she should push for McCartney to be recognised as the sole author of huge hits such as “Yesterday”, “Here, There And Everywhere” and “Let It Be” since Lennon consistently admitted in interviews that he made no contribution whatsoever to their composition. Of course, Ono might then be morally obliged to pay a considerable amount of money to McCartney in back royalties if she adopted a consistent approach to the principles involved in these matters so I think I can safely predict that she’ll put profit before principle.

    2. Sandra Lent says:

      Wonderful to see Yoko being acknowledged. I hope this need for a wheelchair isn’t permanent.

    3. Dma says:

      The comment about copyright extension only applies to the US. In other jurisdictions this move will delay it entering the public domain.

    4. Robert says:

      Inspiration is not writing. End of story. Its a load of BS.

    5. Joyce Ross says:

      She may have inspired him while HE wrote the song, but if he had wanted her to share the credit, he would’ve done so at the time. Not sure whose idea this was but I am less than pleased to hear it. This woman has no talent in the musical field. She can’t sing, period! I never saw her play any musical instruments either, except bongo drums and tamberine which doesn’t take much effort. She may be an artist, but she benefited greatly even in that area because of the publicity she received being married to John. Let’s face it, who ever even heard of her until she married him??? Does she deserve any credit for Imagine? John already gave it to her in his statement. Only a greedy person would need more. Funny how she never gave Julian what he deserved from the estate, but she had no qualms about taking credit for something she doesn’t deserve credit for. This is sad and pathetic!!!!! John once wrote a song about Paul called How Do You Sleep; I wonder how Yoko sleeps at night?

    6. tjchurch2001 says:

      I for one am waiting for Starr & Sir Paul to collaborate (as they did on Ringo’s great “Vertical Man” album, which included a “Love Me Do” remake with Steve Tyler playing drums) on a sequel, which I suggest titling “Imagine John Hadn’t Married A Tone-Deaf Person Who Broke Up The Group”.

    7. BobB says:

      More money grubbing from anti-capitalists.

    8. eddie willers says:

      Worst John song ever.

    9. David Hiles says:

      I guess you gotta role this antique s### out every now and then…

    10. David Hiles says:

      Why? Why Now? After nearly fifty Years? Why

    11. John Lennon was on the record numerous times about Yoko’s book, Grapefruit, being the inspiration for Imagine and she helped him put together lyrics to the song. He said that he should have given her a writer’s credit when it first came out, so I think this would have been in accordance with his wishes.

      • John isn’t here any longer so how can anyone be so liberal with his compositions as to change the man’s own signature on his own work? At a time when the artist is in no position to defend his rights or give his consent. How can this be ethical? John went on to live ten more years after the release of Imagine and never changed the signature of it, no matter what someone caught him saying in a recorded interview. Who – who then? – suddenly claims to have the power to do so? Did John write his consent for this in his legal testament?

    12. Phillip Jeffries says:

      When will Yoko allow Paul a solo writing credit for Yesterday?

    13. Reader1 says:

      Is there any precedent for this? Another song that gets altered writing credits decades after it was written. It does seem odd to me. Where will it end?

      • Yes, there are precedents. Yoko herself credited Lennon for co-writing two of her songs from her album “Fly”, that was recorded and released along with “Imagine”, which just makes sense. The original vinyl version of “Fly” credits all composition solely to Yoko, while in the 1997 CD re-release the songs “Mind Train” and “Mind Holes” are credited to Lennon/Ono.

        • No, I don’t work for her. I’m just a fan and a person who hates all the crap people throw at Yoko out of misinformation, racism, and misogyny.

        • Jack says:

          I believe that man is speaking in general. BTW Do you work for Yoko Ono? It appears you are constantly working here to solely defend her “credits” etc. IMHO

    14. Kate Li says:

      What a scam to keep the money in the family. I can imagine how much money that song generates. And Julian got writing credits? I don’t think so.

    15. Tony D says:

      “… a song enters the public domain 70 years after the death of its last creator, and adding Yoko, now 84, will significantly extending the number of years that the song will generate income for its writers.”

      Ay – there’s the rub. Sean Lennon will have income for the rest of his life.

    16. njbruce says:

      I agree with Benny in his comment below. Whatever John may have said, there is a difference between a muse and a co-writer. If Beethoven had written Fur Elise and called it something else, the muse was still there but not co-written. He could have titled it “For Yoko” and it would still stand up as the iconic song it is.

      • I agree. When the “Imagine” album came out, John gave her a co-writing credit on “Oh My Love” so that shows he was not against giving her a co-credit when he felt she deserved it. But he said she came up with the melody to the song, which leads me to believe she must have done far less on “Imagine.” Grapefruit being an “inspiration” isn’t enough in my book to hand her over half the song.

      • Jack says:

        I agree with you 100% this is beyond logic to me. The case you make here is valid to me.

    17. No wey,she as everithing she ever wanted,plus 😣

    18. Carol says:

      No please no….no problem with Sean but Yoko. John could not see the twisted person she was. The movie Fly proves it. Sick woman

    19. Yoko has said in the past she would never do this this so frankly, I’m not sure how to feel about it.

        • Gerry Coogan says:

          I’d be astounded if this wasn’t Yoko Ono’s doing. She would obviously prefer it if the public believed that it wasn’t her doing but I think it’s far more likely that she’s lobbied very hard behind the scenes to bring about this outcome and have it presented as someone else’s idea. It’s not as if she doesn’t have previous form for manipulating people and situations.

    20. Benny says:

      Just a wild guess: this is less about “credit where credit is due” (nothing stopped John from listing Yoko as co-writer back in 1971), and more about extending the copyright term.

      Next up – Julian gets a piece of Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, because it was his childhood painting (and title) which inspired the song.

    21. Me says:

      ” a video from 1980 wherein John said that Yoko deserved a songwriting credit for “Imagine” because of her influence and inspiration on it — and Israelite announced that in accordance with Lennon’s wish, Yoko will be added to the song as a co-writer.”


    22. tlsnyder42 says:

      “Imagine” has the worst, dumbest, most irrational, and most ignorant lyrics ever written. John lost his mind over this woman.

      • Phillip Jeffries says:

        I wouldn’t say it’s the worse but ….well, It’s not my cup of tea. I like Instant Karma much better. It’s a little pretentious.

      • It is literally one of the greatest songs written by a rock musician ever. Period. Brilliant song. Just because he proposes a idyllic world of peace and unity doesn’t make the song dumb, ignorant, and terrible. It makes it idealistic. It’s a thought on par in scale with what Dr. Martin Luther King proposed. Eradicate poverty and homelessness. He just never talked about uniting the world, if I remember correctly. He did talk about uniting African Americans, which, one could argue, he accomplished to a large degree. Was Dr. King dumb, irrational, ignorant, and ignorant for wanting peace and unity? No. Imagine isn’t either.

      • See Me - Feel Me says:

        It may be that you have to have an imagination to criticize anyone who does but typically people who believe in the mythology of the bible tend to dislike this song a lot.

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