We're celebrating NPR's 50th anniversary by revisiting cultural milestones from 1971. On this day, 51 years ago, John Lennon's album Imagine — along with its utopian title track — was released.



We are celebrating NPR's 50th anniversary this year by revisiting some cultural milestones from 1971, the year we went on air. And today we have a great one.


Yeah. Exactly five decades ago today, John Lennon released his landmark album "Imagine." The Beatles had recently broken up, and this was Lennon's latest solo release.

KING: The album included songs like "Jealous Guy," "Gimme Some Truth," "Oh Yoko!" and, of course, the timeless title track. "Imagine" was John Lennon's utopian anthem.

ANTHONY DECURTIS: It's not a protest against a particular war, or it's not ripped out of the headlines. It's about dreams that will be real as long as human beings hope for a better time.


DECURTIS: My name is Anthony DeCurtis. I'm a contributing editor for Rolling Stone and, of course, a great admirer of John Lennon.


JOHN LENNON: (Singing) Imagine there's no heaven. It's easy if you try.

DECURTIS: Imagine there's no heaven, no hell below us.


LENNON: (Singing) No hell below us.

DECURTIS: The idea of a world without borders - I mean, these are fairly radical ideas, but they get smoothed over because the song is so beautiful.


LENNON: (Singing) Imagine all the people livin' for today, ah.

DECURTIS: This is Lennon stating hopes and dreams as directly as he could.

SEAN ONO LENNON: Hi. I'm Sean Ono Lennon, and I am the son of John and Yoko. My mother and father believed very much in the power of conceptual thinking, and that's where the "Imagine" concept comes from. It's just saying, think about it, and then meditate on what happens when you think about it. That doesn't mean you have to do it. But how does it make you feel? What does it make you imagine? We're listening to somebody who isn't naive and isn't saying these things from a kind of arrogance or ignorance. It sounds like somebody who thinks deeply but is speaking simply. And I think there's a power in that.


LENNON: (Singing) But I'm not the only one.

LENNON: There's a kindness to the song. It's sort of like a hug. So it doesn't feel like you're being lectured. It takes a very particular stance that I don't think any other politically minded song had ever done and I don't think has done since.


LENNON: (Singing) Imagine no possessions. I wonder if you can.

LENNON: I mean, it's really hard to nail exactly why this song occupies this place on a shelf alone. There's something about "Imagine" where it's a mood, it's a performance - how the lyrics talk about big ideas without a lot of pressure. It's the perfect package for that kind of heavy-duty delivery.


LENNON: (Singing) You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll join us, and the world will live as one.

MARTIN: "Imagine," written by John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono - the album and song were released 50 years ago today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.