So, Did Cee-Lo Green Spoil ‘Imagine’ Or Not?

Cee-Lo Green (Photo Stuart Ramson / PictureGroup) via AP IMAGES

On New Year’s Eve, Cee-Lo Green took to the stage in the middle of Times Square, to perform a version of the John Lennon song ‘Imagine,’ as a timely prayer for peace and understanding across all creeds and nationalities. It’s the perfect song for such an optimistic moment, because the lyric points a steady finger at everything which causes disagreements among humans, from money and property to faith and creed, and simply asks how important they really are.

And it’s a song which means an awful lot to a lot of people, so really, you mess with the lyrics at your peril.

Check out that line in the verse, where he sings “…and all religion is true” instead of “…and no religions too.” That’s a bold step, isn’t it?

People on Twitter certainly thought so, including the sports journalist John Giannone, who trotted out this outraged response: “I am imagining the spin cycle inside John Lennon’s grave right now.”

But has it really changed the meaning of the song that badly? What’s the difference between saying all religions are wrong and saying they’re all right, especially in a song which only invites the listener to imagine what it would be like if either statement was true?

World conflict depends on an intolerance of other people’s beliefs, whatever they may be, so yes, if those beliefs didn’t exist, that would help, but so would everyone acknowledging that everyone’s truth is equally valid. Maybe you have a strong faith, maybe you have no faith at all, the question of the song is, what would it be like if we all stopped telling other people off?

I know that’s not going to happen, but if you take it as a literal call to action, the entire song is a logistical nightmare anyway. The point is we’re supposed to see the bigger picture, think about what everyone wants and what they really need, and act accordingly. That’s why it’s called ‘Imagine.’ And while I probably wouldn’t have changed that line, it seems perfectly in keeping with the rest of the song to offer that one alternative lyric.

And, if we can’t even give up one line in one song, how on Earth are we going to manage giving up possessions, heaven and everything else?

For his part, Cee-Lo offered these (now deleted) tweets as an explanation: “Yo I meant no disrespect by changing the lyric guys!”

I was trying to say a world were u could believe what u wanted that’s all.”

Yes, imagine that…

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

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