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Monday, January 2, 2012

Is Cee Lo Green Changing the Lyrics to "Imagine" Really So Bad?

Posted by on Mon, Jan 2, 2012 at 11:48 AM

On Saturday night Cee Lo Green performed a version of John Lennon's "Imagine" at the Times Square New Year's party. Except Cee Lo's version changed the lyrics from "nothing to kill or die for / and no religion too" to "nothing to kill or die for / and all religion's true."


The internet is outraged—OUTRAGED!—by the fact that Cee Lo Green changed the lyrics to "Imagine."

But is it really so bad? As an artist in his own right, Cee Lo can interpret and perform the song however he chooses. He was signing Lennon's song, but it's not like his personal performance of the song changes anything about Lennon's version. Artists cover other artists songs all the time, changing everything from the beat to the lyrics to the mood. Leave Cee Lo alone!

Cee Lo later reportedly said, via Twitter (though that Tweet has since been pulled):

"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."

Official Line Out poll time!


Comments (59) RSS

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Kathy Griffin looks like the kind of hookers who used inhabit Times Square during the Kojak era.

As far as Lennon, Black Eyed Peas did the best ever cover of "Power to the People"…
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on January 2, 2012 at 12:06 PM · Report this
Paul Pearson 2
"Imagine" is one of Lennon's lamest songs to begin with. Cee Lo could sing the words of "Begin The Beguine" to the tune of "Imagine" and I wouldn't mind.
Posted by Paul Pearson on January 2, 2012 at 12:12 PM · Report this
Well, it certainly changes the meaning of that line. I wouldn't call that an interpretation per se.
Posted by JonnyH on January 2, 2012 at 12:13 PM · Report this
douchus 4
John Lennon is one of the lamest Beatles to begin with. Cee Lo could sing a Lennon song and say it was Ringo's and I wouldn't mind.
Posted by douchus on January 2, 2012 at 12:15 PM · Report this
It's bad because it completely changes the meaning and intent of the person who originally wrote the song. Lennon was a vocal critic of the myriad abuses perpetrated by organized religion over the course of history, and for Green to change the lyrics to specifically endorse organized religion, against the viewpoint (whether you agree with it or not) of the originator is not only probably a breach of copyright at minimum, but an insult to to Lennon's memory. This isn't some Weird Al parody we're talking about here; it's a conscious, deliberate attempt to insinuate a personal opinion into the lyrics of a well-known song that wasn't there to begin with, and which in fact are the diametric opposite of those held by the songwriter himself.

If Green wants to express a pro-organized religion point-of-view in musical form, he can write his own song, instead of co-opting and perverting the lyrics of a much more talented songwriter than himself.
Posted by COMTE on January 2, 2012 at 12:16 PM · Report this
Aaron 6
Disagree with @2 vehemently, but opinions are cheap.

Lennon very intentionally took on the issue of pious religious patriarchal power with his line as written. Cee Lo Green is re-purposing a well loved song to his own agenda, exactly opposite that of Lennon. I don't like it.
Posted by Aaron on January 2, 2012 at 12:17 PM · Report this
I thought Cee Lo was a pretty cool guy before this. Now I realize he's a fucking asshole.
Posted by Dave M on January 2, 2012 at 12:17 PM · Report this
djh 8
Atheists are so damn Dogmatic these days. it's a fucking pop song not a religious text.
Posted by djh on January 2, 2012 at 12:25 PM · Report this
MacCrocodile 9
Could we also talk about the man in fur and diamonds singing "Imagine no possessions"?
Posted by MacCrocodile on January 2, 2012 at 12:30 PM · Report this
Megan Seling 10
Ha! MacCrocodile wins.
Posted by Megan Seling on January 2, 2012 at 12:37 PM · Report this
Some Old Nobodaddy Logged In 11
I could sing "Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg", but I wouldn't expect people to think I'm 'interpreting' the original song. I'm deliberately changing the lyrics to get an opposite effect, which is precisely what Cee Lo is doing. If he wants to move in that direction, go for it. Just sayin', Weird Al is way ahead of him.
Posted by Some Old Nobodaddy Logged In on January 2, 2012 at 12:43 PM · Report this
ballard dude 12
The new line completely changes the meaning of the song, of course. Cover songs often change the original to one degree or another. Sometimes those changes aren't really significant, i.e, changing her to him (see 'Crimson and Clover' by Tommy James/Joan Jett). This is a significant change. Personally I think it's lame... but you know, artistic integrity isn't for everyone.
Posted by ballard dude on January 2, 2012 at 12:44 PM · Report this
It totally changes what John was trying to say. He'd said some religion wanted to use the song in ad changing the line to "and one religion too." He said no, they didn't get the song. Don't think he woulda liked this reworking either.

Posted by Little Brown Hen on January 2, 2012 at 12:46 PM · Report this
girl with no name 14
#5 FTW. Exactly what I was thinking.
Posted by girl with no name on January 2, 2012 at 12:46 PM · Report this
JonnoN 15
@8, what would be an atheist's religious text?
Posted by JonnoN on January 2, 2012 at 12:48 PM · Report this
Mattini 16
Cee Lo was an awful choice to sing this at NYE all around. But yes, changing the lyrics in a way that reversed the meaning was particularly offensive.
Posted by Mattini on January 2, 2012 at 12:49 PM · Report this
Oh MacCrocodile, nicely done! Were J-Len stil alive in his Central Park West redoubt I'm sure he'd giggle at the change of line, maybe make a sharp, funny, dismissive comment on it. I suspect what would really worry him is the delight so many people seem to be taking in their feelings of outrage.
Posted by gloomy gus on January 2, 2012 at 12:50 PM · Report this
Paul Pearson 18
I wouldn't call Cee Lo's reinterpreted line one of support for organized religion. Religion can be disorganized. Interpreting Cee Lo's line as "all organized religion's true" seems a stretch to me. If all religions were true, it'd be the most disorganized situation imaginable.

Having said that, I don't think Cee Lo's restructured lyric was very effective.

I don't care for "Imagine" because it's a simplistic flight of fantasy that has somehow been elevated to, as #8 put it, a "religious text." I don't necessarily disagree with the sentiments of the song, but its glorification has always bothered me.

And the calls for Cee Lo's head from Lennon fanatics - let's face it, THAT action is the diametric opposite of what John Lennon would have done. If you want to censure everyone who ever interpreted against a writer's original intent, it'd be open season on Shakespeare theatrical companies worldwide.
Posted by Paul Pearson on January 2, 2012 at 12:50 PM · Report this
Paul Pearson 19
#9: As Elvis Costello once sang, "Was it a millionaire who said 'Imagine no possessions'?"
Posted by Paul Pearson on January 2, 2012 at 12:54 PM · Report this
Fnarf 20
Seeing as how "Imagine" has the worst lyrics of any song ever written, including "Friday" by Rebecca Black, I think this is OK. Why anybody thinks it's interesting what Lennon thought about religion is a mystery to me. The man spent virtually his entire adult life in a succession of mansions, completely isolated from anything resembling real life. Nice melody though, if a bit insipidly played (on a million-dollar Steinway no less, which George Michael now owns).

Lennon was not a saint. He was a pop star, just like Cee Lo.
Posted by Fnarf on January 2, 2012 at 1:02 PM · Report this
Some Old Nobodaddy Logged In 21
Hey Paul-- You can imagine a world that isn't based on possessions no matter how much money you have. Being ostentatious about it is something different. And it's not a 'reinterpretation' if you're singing something that is the opposite of the original. "Whisper words of farting, let it stink" has nothing to do w/ interpreting, but putting your own ideas into a song that wasn't made for them.

I don't take Cee Lo's critics literally, so I doubt anyone would be willing to kill him over this. People butcher artist's works all the time, and he's getting the appropriate backlash.
Posted by Some Old Nobodaddy Logged In on January 2, 2012 at 1:10 PM · Report this
Paul Pearson 22
I don't take Cee Lo's critics literally either -- but I do stand by my speculation (and gloomy gus's) that Lennon himself would have found this uproar pretty hilarious.
Posted by Paul Pearson on January 2, 2012 at 1:19 PM · Report this
Buttercup 23
@5 - perfect. Thank you.
Oh, and shut the hell up, Fnarf. Jesus Christ, you're an asshole.
Posted by Buttercup on January 2, 2012 at 1:41 PM · Report this
Fish Wrench Asteroid 24
Can we really be assured of peace if all religions are true. There are so many that state that if you pick the wrong one, you'll be tortured for eternity. With stakes so high, can any true believer in good conscience allow other religions to exist?
Posted by Fish Wrench Asteroid on January 2, 2012 at 1:44 PM · Report this
Paul Pearson 25
#24 - That's why I don't think Cee Lo's revision was very effective. Cognitively it didn't make more sense than Lennon's original line. The indignant uproar over it, though, I think is pretty silly.
Posted by Paul Pearson on January 2, 2012 at 1:48 PM · Report this
If this idiot had wanted it to be "all religions, too" that's what he would have sang. He apparently said, "all religion's true." It's two different things.

John Lennon was not a saint but he did change his life to reflect his beliefs. He would have made Bono look like a piker for change for world peace. Cee Lo's a whole lotta hot air and not much talent.

Boo to Cee Lo (and get a real name).
Posted by westello on January 2, 2012 at 1:49 PM · Report this
@5: Well said, perfect.
Posted by RVPMB on January 2, 2012 at 1:52 PM · Report this
balderdash 28
Your poll is stupid and I hate you.
Posted by balderdash on January 2, 2012 at 1:54 PM · Report this
I'm more offended by his terrible singing.
Posted by GeekLove on January 2, 2012 at 2:10 PM · Report this
Fnarf 30
@26, you mean like when he put a Kotex on his head and assaulted a waitress? That was a great blow for peace indeed. Or when he was beating his first wife, yeah yeah yeah. Or the time when, coming back from seeing the Maharishi in India, he spent the entire flight detailing every one of the hundreds of women he slept with, the ones he could recall at least, in a twelve-hour orgy of personal and mental torture. Or when he kicked Yoko in the belly when she was pregnant with Sean. Or when he temporarily abandoned his "peace" mantra and became an advocate of violent revolution for a while during the Jerry Rubin days. Don't you know that you can count me out and in.

You can imagine a world without possessions no matter how much money you have, indeed, but what about when you own an entire apartment in the Dakota just to keep your wife's fur coats in? One could also mention the significant number of people in this world who really DON'T have any possessions, and how they feel about their circumstances. Lennon never showed any interest in them, did he?

He was, however, a great expert on the subject of religion: He told his bandmates in all seriousness, in the offices at Apple, “I’ve got something very important to tell you all. I am Jesus Christ come back again. This is my thing.” So, yeah, there's that. A great saint.

Of course, nearly everyone was a dipshit in the late sixties and early seventies. But Lennon worked at it harder than most.
Posted by Fnarf on January 2, 2012 at 2:22 PM · Report this
The best thing about Cee Lo changing the lyrics to mean the opposite of what Lennon intended is that you just know Yoko Ono was running around the Dakota in her New Year's kimono shrieking and for once, no one was around to call it art.
Posted by Crepuscular on January 2, 2012 at 2:25 PM · Report this
balderdash 32
I think all this really is, is a demonstration that Cee Lo is a professional entertainer and not a deep thinker or a politico.

Consider for a couple minutes, as he obviously did not or at least did and did not care about, what "all religion's true" would actually entail, and you will see that it is basically indistinguishable from "no religion." There is such a howling chaos of world religions that they could all be true only in such a vague, metaphoric state that they'd all be reduced to fables anyway.

Anyway, who cares. The man just wanted to sell more recordings and not have people get mad at him. Whatever.

Posted by balderdash on January 2, 2012 at 2:29 PM · Report this

Note, Lennon said religion not God/god/gods/goddesses.

Many religions end the world with an end "religion" in a Second Coming.

So Imagine is not necessarily atheist, in fact, it could be seen as the opposite -- striping away the institutions of Man and presenting a Utopian/Second Coming vision.
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on January 2, 2012 at 2:44 PM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 34
What's a Cee Lo, and why is it messing with the Lennon Sisters? Haven't they suffered enough?
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay on January 2, 2012 at 2:47 PM · Report this
OuterCow 35
@23 I'll definitely third what COMTE said, and second Fnarf being an asshole.
Posted by OuterCow on January 2, 2012 at 3:21 PM · Report this
Internet atheists overreact when someone says something that could be vaguely interpreted as pro-religion, maybe, if you kind of squint, but was actually just intended to be inclusive? I'm shocked. Next you'll be telling me fundamentalist Christians overreact when someone says "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" in an attempt to be inclusive.
Posted by rcrantz on January 2, 2012 at 3:28 PM · Report this
Fnarf 37
@35, because you think kicking your pregnant wife in the belly is a good thing, right? Only an asshole would criticize that.
Posted by Fnarf on January 2, 2012 at 4:04 PM · Report this
This is so effing lame. I support Cee Lo--I wish he hadn't taken down his tweet. Chill out people. The real irony and outrage should be the fur coat, as one poster mentioned.
Posted by Papayas on January 2, 2012 at 4:11 PM · Report this
sirkowski 39
No sir, I do not like it.
Posted by sirkowski on January 2, 2012 at 4:16 PM · Report this
@37, your facts are obscuring our view of the icon. Iconoclasts are welcome here on Wednesdays only. Please make a note of it.
Posted by gloomy gus on January 2, 2012 at 4:37 PM · Report this
Fred Casely 41
I'm imagining pre-1978 Mormonism being true.

I'm imagining Cee Lo not liking it very much.
Posted by Fred Casely on January 2, 2012 at 4:46 PM · Report this
No heaven, no hell, no possessions, no countries...but all religions are true! It's not offensive. It's just spineless and kind of dumb.

Imagine dogs go to heaven
And kitties too, why not?
Hell is only for Hitler
And maybe for Pol Pot

Imagine all the people not thinking much today

Imagine we helped some countries
Marginally improve
Nothing too hard or controversial
(Don’t knock their religion, dude!)

Imagine all the people with UN troops keeping the peace

You, you may say I’m a coward
But I’m just an average joe
I hope some day you’ll just give up
And we’ll preserve the status quo

Imagine more possessions
For those of us who lack
We’ll keep the greed, just not the hunger
And a progressive income tax

Imagine all the people with slightly less income inequality

You, you may say I’m a coward
But I’m just an average joe
I hope some day you’ll just give up
And we’ll preserve the status quo
Posted by Zuulabelle on January 2, 2012 at 4:46 PM · Report this
@30. Wow, I did not know all of that. Kind of takes some of the sincerity out of those pro-women lyrics from later on. So does that mean Yoko was or was not the horrible influence everyone always says she was? Rhetorical...

And Cee Lo's intention, I imagine, was to be inclusive... says this atheist.
Posted by snapdragon on January 2, 2012 at 5:38 PM · Report this
Was it a millionaire who said "imagine no possessions"?
A poor little schoolboy who said "we don't need no lessons"?
- Elvis Costello
Posted by Moag on January 2, 2012 at 8:09 PM · Report this
Maybe if he wanted a song about how awesome religion is, he could have picked any one TEN MILLIONTY BAZILLION that are available, many of which are in public domain.
Posted by spiderplanet on January 2, 2012 at 8:13 PM · Report this
Westlake, son! 46
Well, we changed his lyrics to "forget you," so I can't say it's all that big a deal.
Posted by Westlake, son! on January 2, 2012 at 9:42 PM · Report this
@ 42 f'n awesome

(that's "forgetting awesome")
Posted by MFY on January 2, 2012 at 10:08 PM · Report this
Canadian Nurse 48
@42: Brilliant!
Posted by Canadian Nurse on January 2, 2012 at 10:17 PM · Report this
TreGibbs 49
That fat dwarf has got a lot of nerve....
Posted by TreGibbs on January 2, 2012 at 10:42 PM · Report this
@32--right! "All religion's true" is somewhere between screamingly stupid and greeting-card insipid. It simply can't be done.
Posted by fruitbat on January 2, 2012 at 11:38 PM · Report this
Donolectic 51
I wonder how long this will be the most commented post on Line Out?

Also, Fnarf rocks. Suck it haters!
Posted by Donolectic on January 3, 2012 at 12:06 AM · Report this
watchout5 52
Saying all religion is true is THE EXACT SAME thing as saying no religion is true. For many religions, if another religion is true their religion is impossible, so in many ways it's just as much of an insult. But really, who the fuck cares, I didn't pay this guy money, and I won't, to the people who do pay money to him, I bet they give the same amount of fuck.
Posted by watchout5 on January 3, 2012 at 12:34 AM · Report this
The idea that "all religions' true" will either be seen as a affirmation of one's own religion, irrelevant to the application of the maxim on others, or as a means to dismiss other religions as not religions at all because they "certainly" aren't true (like one's own).

All religions can't be true, anyway, they differ immensely on such issues as who created the world, and when, and what gods control it now, and what the right way to live is, and the right way to live in paradise after death.

Heinlein tried to reconcile this in "Job: A Comedy of Justice" by suggesting that each god's worshippers went to their repsective afterlifes -- Christians to Heaven, Norse pagans to Ragnarok, Canannites to Mot, and so on. But that sort of concurrent pantheism should cause most actually religious people massive cognitive dissonance headaches.
Posted by K on January 3, 2012 at 12:54 AM · Report this
tomsj 54
Aside from the fact that changing the lyrics as did completely subverts the meaning of the song, the guy just can't hold a tune. Cee Lo's rendering of "Imagine" was the worst I've ever heard.
Posted by tomsj on January 3, 2012 at 6:54 AM · Report this

Not as bad as shooting a park ranger, but genuinely bad.
Posted by RonK, Seattle on January 3, 2012 at 7:43 AM · Report this
Suz 56
"True religion" what got Lennon killed. Cee Lo can shut the fuck up.
Posted by Suz on January 3, 2012 at 8:21 AM · Report this
bedipped 57
Would Cee Lo have changed it if Lennon were still alive?

Is this better?
Steven Tyler, Alice Cooper, and Weird Al doing Come Together on NYE, Maui
Posted by bedipped on January 3, 2012 at 8:59 AM · Report this
Well, I think it's as reasonable to ask someone to imagine a world where all religion is true as it is to imagine a human world with no possessions. Or no religions. Or unicorns crapping skittles.

And anyone who says a world without religion is inherently guaranteed to be peaceful is a complete idiot - as is anyone who claims that religion guarantees peace.

Yes, it "completely changes" the meaning of that one phrase, and puts in a phrase that is radically at odds with the rest of the drivel in the lyrics. It doesn't change "the meaning" of the song except to people who felt that the song was a specifically atheist manifesto in the first place. Even for atheists, that one phrase can't rescue the inanity of the whole piece.

If it has any power, it's the call to rethink your basic unquestioned assumptions of how things have to be interpreted, not that Lennon's "vision" is a workable philosophy for humanity. The fact that asking people to consider that all religion might be true in some sense is causing as much pearl-clutching horror as the original lyric did is very telling. Apparently, to many, the orthodoxy of refusing to acknowledge any value in religion has replaced the orthodoxy of unquestioning obedience to it.

Good gods, what happens if someone changes a lyric in "American Pie?" Will the world wobble on it's axis?
Posted by Lymis on January 3, 2012 at 9:02 AM · Report this
More, I Say! 59
Fnarf is the only one talkin' any sense here. I don't know why Lennon continues to get the saint treatment, either.
Posted by More, I Say! on January 3, 2012 at 10:29 AM · Report this

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