When David Bowie paid tribute to dear friend John Lennon with a moving cover of 'Imagine'
25 August 2023, 16:06
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Yoko Ono once said they were as "close as family".
Their relationship dates back to 1974 when Bowie had recently ditched his Ziggy Stardust guise and relocated to America.
Knowing that the star was nearby, Lennon reached out to meet him in a New York hotel room, though David was "petrified" about meeting his hero according to long-time producer Tony Visconti.
Despite his immediate nerves, the pair swiftly bonded by drawing outrageous caricatures of one another, and solidified their long-lasting friendship.
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It was a friendship that had creative success too - Lennon co-wrote the funk-laden plastic soul number 'Fame' which appeared on Bowie's 1975 album Young Americans, even contributing backing vocals to it.
He also offered his spin on a classic from The Beatles, covering 'Across The Universe' on the same album.
But it wasn't the only time David Bowie would cover a song of Lennon's - he covered John's enduring peace anthem 'Imagine' on the third anniversary of the icon's death.
At the final concert of his 'Serious Moonlight Tour' in 1983, David played in Hong Kong and revealed to the audience that the final time he ever saw John was in fact in Hong Kong.
The concert took place on 8th December, which was incidentally the date that John Lennon was murdered by Mark Chapman three years earlier.
Once he heard about John's death, it deeply impacted Bowie, who cancelled his tour at the time and retreated to Switzerland to grieve the loss of his dear friend.
After performing 'Fame' on the night, David took the opportunity to talk about the friendship they shared, sharing a few candid stories of their time together and what Bowie took from it.
In darkness with just a solitary spotlight on him, David sits down in a moment of calm amongst the buzz of the concert.
"I asked John one day, 'how do you write your songs', he said 'it’s easy, you just say what you mean, you put a back beat to it," he recalled.
I said 'what do you think of my kind of rock 'n' roll?, he said 'it’s great but it’s just rock 'n' roll with lipstick on."
This is, of course, with the typically accurate impersonations Bowie made it clear he was capable of executing throughout his career.
David Bowie - Imagine (Live at the Coliseum, Hong Kong, 8th December 1983) [4K]
He then goes on to tell an anecdote about making Lennon wear a rip-off Beatles jacket from a market stall they crossed in Hong Kong, and got photographic evidence to verify it.
After discussing his love for John, Bowie then takes off into a triumphant rendition of 'Imagine', complete with grandiose horn section and requisite passion required for the emotive anthem.
George Simms, a Bowie collaborator and back-up singer during the performance recalled the preparation that went into it, revealing that there wasn't any at all.
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"If I remember well, we didn’t rehearse that song. The night David did the 'Imagine' song, none of us in the band had any idea how that song was going to come off," he confessed.
"It was the third anniversary of Lennon’s death; it was December 8. We all grew up listening to The Beatles and John Lennon."
"After we did 'Imagine', we all went off the stage and back into the holding area Normally we’d be slap-happy, talking and laughing, but that night there was absolute silence because of all the emotion of doing a tribute to John Lennon—especially knowing that David was a friend of his and that David was speaking from his heart."
"We didn’t know how dramatic the lights’ impact was going to be. Nobody wanted to break the silence; it was like a sledgehammer into your chest," he continued.
It's a remarkable tribute from Bowie to Lennon. 'Imagine' is one of the most covered songs of all time, yet this feels special.
From one friend to another, given their relationship and the significance of the day - the anniversary of Lennon's death - it's certainly more evocative than most.
David Bowie once revealed that he thought of John Lennon as his "greatest mentor" as an artist, even though they were just great pals outside of music.
It's a lofty compliment, given the tremendous influence that Bowie himself had on music and popular culture, but evidently, he was humble enough to admit the impact their friendship had on him and his life.