It is common knowledge to many Beatles fans that Yoko Ono co-wrote a number of songs with John that were either credited to John and Paul, or simply John. There’s ‘Give Peace A Chance’, ‘Because’, and perhaps Lennon’s most iconic song, ‘Imagine’.
It’s a common occurrence for songwriting credits to become blurred – often it’s a contractual thing, sometimes it’s simply because art and ideas are transitory and often hard to pin authors to (Courtney Love co-wrote ‘Pennyroyal Tea’ with Kurt Cobain, yet receives zero official credit; Brian Jones wrote the main sections of ‘Paint It Black’ and ‘She’s A Rainbow’, songs credited to Jagger/Richards, and so it goes on).
Happily, as Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ was awarded the National Music Publishers Association Centennial Song Award in a ceremony in New York on Wednesday, Yoko Ono was surprised by being officially credited as the song’s co-author.
NMPA President David Israelite said of the correction, “While things may have been different in 1971, today I am glad to say things have changed. So tonight, it is my distinct honor to correct the record some 48 years later, and recognize Yoko Ono as a co-writer of the NMPA Centennial Song ‘Imagine’ and to present Yoko Ono with this well-deserved credit.”
“When they officially acknowledged — through my father’s account — that my mother co-wrote ‘Imagine,’ the ‘Song of the Century,’ it may have been the happiest day of mine and mother’s life,” Sean Lennon told Billboard.
The “account” that Lennon is referring to is from a BBC interview, when he explained of the song: “Actually that should be credited as a Lennon-Ono song because a lot of it — the lyric and the concept — came from Yoko,” he said. “But those days I was a bit more selfish, a bit more macho, and I sort of omitted to mention her contribution. But it was right out of ‘Grapefruit,’ her book. There’s a whole pile of pieces about ‘Imagine this’ and ‘Imagine that.’”
While this is undoubtedly a nice, and well-deserved honour, and a rightful correction of the history books, it does now pose some questions. Will other songwriting credits begin being retroactively altered, particular given how divisive, and widely-spread this alteration will be? Whose call is it? To cite an earlier example, should tapes of Cobain speaking about co-writing Nirvana songs with Courtney Love be used to add her to writing credits? Will the publishing company act to block this, knowing they could lose out on royalties? Would royalties be retroactively awarded? It’s legally murky – but history does often need to be corrected.