Watch David Bowie’s Only Performance Of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’
On what would have been John Lennon’s 80th birthday, the David Bowie Estate has shared a moving performance of Imagine, the former Beatle’s iconic song. Sung in tribute to Lennon on 8 December 1983, the third anniversary of his death, it marks the only time that Bowie performed the song.
Performed live at the 12,500-seater Hong Kong Coliseum on the final date of David Bowie’s Serious Moonlight tour, Imagine was the closing number of that night’s main set. Captured by the award-winning director Gerry Troyna, who had been filming Bowie’s December 1983 shows in Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong for the Ricochet documentary, Bowie’s rendition of Imagine followed Fame in the setlist – a song that Bowie and Lennon had co-written together, and which became Bowie’s first ever US No.1 single. The original footage has now been remastered in 4K high-resolution.
“It’s just rock’n’roll with lipstick on”
Before singing Imagine, Bowie recalled a conversation he’d had with Lennon about songwriting: “I asked John one day, ‘How do you write your songs?’” he told the audience. “And he said, ‘It’s easy. You just say what you mean, and you put a backbeat to it.’” Remembering that he’d also asked, “What do you think of my kind of rock’n’roll?” Bowie revealed Lennon’s typically to-the-point answer: “He said: ‘It’s great, but it’s just rock’n’roll with lipstick on.’”
Released in 1975, Fame closed Bowie’s Young Americans album, where it sat near a cover of another John Lennon song, Across The Universe (penned for The Beatles’ final album, Let It Be). In 1998, Bowie returned to Lennon’s solo material when he recorded Mother, originally written for 1970’s John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album, and which Bowie recorded with producer Tony Visconti for a John Lennon tribute album.
Bowie and Lennon enjoyed a friendship that lasted until Lennon’s death. “Last time I saw John Lennon was in Hong Kong,” Bowie revealed on stage at the Coliseum, finishing his tribute with a wry anecdote: “We went to Hong Kong market and there was a stall that sold old clothes, and there was a Beatle jacket on the stool. And I did something that’s not usually in my character: I asked him to put it on so that I could take a photograph. I took a photograph. I’ve still got the photograph; the jacket doesn’t fit properly. It looks like John had outgrown it.”