That ‘Panic-Inducing’ Cover of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ Pushed the Song Back on the Charts

If you had to pick one, “Imagine” would have to be the signature John Lennon song. The title track from Lennon’s classic 1971 album might not rock like other great songs he wrote (see: “Gimme Some Truth”), but “Imagine” is an anthem in the truest sense of the word.

To Lennon, it was his answer to “Yesterday,” the revered Beatles track Paul McCartney recorded without his bandmates in 1965. None other than Chuck Berry said he wished he’d written “Yesterday,” but Lennon thought he’d matched McCartney’s feat when he came up with “Imagine” circa ’71.

A half-century later, you could argue “Imagine” has matched “Yesterday” in fame and adoration. And when the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit the West in March ’20, a team of celebrities fronted by Gal Gadot thought they might comfort their social media followers by singing “Imagine” a cappella.

It didn’t work out that way. While the Gadot-led singalong was widely mocked, Nick Cave hit the nail on the head when he called it “the most panic-inducing version of ‘Imagine’ ever recorded.” Nonetheless, Gadot’s effort did push the 49-year-old track back onto record charts.

John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ re-entered the Hot Rock Songs and sales charts in March ’20

John Lennon on the piano in 1970
John Lennon (1940-1980) plays on ‘Top of the Pops’ in February 1970. | Icon and Image/Getty Images

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Though Lennon scored 20 No. 1 singles with The Beatles, his often rawer solo work didn’t have the same commercial appeal. However, Lennon did top the pop charts on several occasions. In his lifetime, he hit No. 1 with an assist from Elton John on “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night.”

“Imagine” was also a major hit, topping out at No. 3 on the pop charts. And as the song’s legend grew over the years, the track has made a number of returns to the charts. In the mid-’80s, it once again made hay on the Billboard pop charts. In the ’90s, it was a big hit in France.

That has continued in the 21st century. In 2012, it cracked the top 20 on the UK charts. Meanwhile, American music fans also never stopped embracing “Imagine.” In 2015, the track muscled its way in the Rock Digital Song Sales chart, Billboard reported.

A performance by a group at the 2018 Winter Olympics brought “Imagine” into the top 25 on the Hot Rock Songs chart that year as well. And those were the latest appearances by “Imagine” on the U.S. charts before Gadot’s “cover” brought it onto the Hot Rock Songs (No. 15) and Rock Digital Sales Songs (No. 13) charts in March ’20.

Imagine how Lennon would have responded to Gadot’s cover on his 80th birthday

1971 'Imagine' cover
Cover of the John Lennon album “Imagine,” released in 1971 | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

In case you missed the worldwide celebrations, Lennon would have turned 80 on Oct. 9, 2020. While every fan has their reasons for missing the man, music writers undoubtedly miss Lennon’s sparkling wit. Over the years, he dropped more hilarious comments in interviews than you can count.

So you can only imagine how he’d have responded to Gadot, Natalie Portman, Sarah Silverman, Jimmy Fallon, and other millionaire celebrities interpreting the lyrics about “no possessions” from their comfortable, isolated redoubts around the world.

We’ll never know, but Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids, Get Shorty) had some choice words for the video in which he participated. On the Grounded podcast, O’Dowd lumped it in with “that first wave of creative diarrhea” that arrived with the pandemic. He also called it “the thing we didn’t need that everybody hated.”