Cee Lo Green Changes ‘Imagine’ Lyrics

Cee Lo Green caused on New Year's Eve by changing the lyrics of Imagine from "And no religion, too" to "And all religions true."

Cee Lo Green caused on New Year’s Eve by changing the lyrics of Imagine from “And no religion, too” to “And all religions true.”

HuffPoCee Lo Green Changes ‘Imagine’ Lyrics To ‘All Religions,’ Fights Twitter Anger

Cee Lo Green’s small change to the lyrics to John Lennon’s song “Imagine” is causing a very big uproar.

Charged with singing Lennon’s famous solo-era tune on NBC’s New Year’s Eve show shortly before the ball dropped in Times Square , Green 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 change didn’t go unnoticed, and to preempt criticism, he soon tweeted, “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.”

That did little to comfort angered Lennon fans, who lashed out over Twitter. Watch the performance below and then read the angry exchanges over Twitter.

This is followed by a HuffPo classic: a 21 page slideshow capturing Twitter quotes to drive up pageviews.

I find the notion expressed by many commenters that this is some horrendous insult to Lennon and his legacy absurd. His version has been preserved for the ages and been played countless times over the decades since it was released. Green has the artistic license to change is around a bit to put his spin on it.

While my sympathies are with Lennon on this one, Green’s alternate is interesting. On the one hand, it’s a sweet sentiment. On the other, it’s an absurdity: the major religions directly contradict one another on major doctrinal tenets; they can’t all be true.

At any rate, the video’s below. Green’s performance begins at the 3:56 mark.

FILED UNDER: Popular Culture, Quick Takes, Religion
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Meh. If there’s were anything other than a sainted Lennon song, this wouldn’t even be a story I suspect.

  2. J says:

    Outrageous! I do believe “all religions true”. Religion is subjective. I also do believe that the altered lyrics shouldn’t’ve been used. To me, Green could’ve used another song if he didn’t like singing “and no religion too”, since this is Lennon’s intellectual property.

  3. John Burgess says:

    Altering a vapid song seems hardly worth the ink or electrons.

  4. I was going to add that Sinatra used to change lyrics in live performances all the time.

    Then I realized that Cee Lo Green is no Sinatra

  5. John Burgess says:

    @Doug Mataconis: You’re right! In some ways, CeeLo is better. Sinatra turned out a lot of turkeys in his lengthy career, no surprise there, and CeeLo has as well.

    For that matter, I can’t think of a single performer or composer whose opus is purely brilliant.

  6. @John Burgess:

    I think even Sinatra would admit that there were a lot of turkeys.

  7. PJ says:

    I’d argue that it’s all about what is changed, how, and why.

    Unless people think there’s no difference between changing the pronouns in a song and adding offensive lyrics to The Star-Spangled Banner? (Two extremes just to make the point.)

  8. Eric the OTB Lurker says:

    Boy, I can’t think of many things less trivial than getting upset over song lyrics. This is what is called “artistic license,” something which is exercised all the time by–wait for it!–artists. Furthermore, it seems to me no artistic work should be so hallowed as to be immune to artistic reinterpretation, as that’s part of what art is and does.

    I don’t agree that all religions–or any religion–is true, but I respect artistic ability and the First Amendment more.

  9. Bleev K says:

    He was probably too much of a sissy to use the actual lyrics.

  10. Doctruth says:

    Trivial? More wars have been initiated by the interpretation of words than by all other causes combined. There is no “artistic license ” which justifies reversing the lyrics’ intent when the entire point of performing that particular song is its traditional status. Cee lo made a foolish, arrogant error. Creating easily predictable bad feeling on nye? Lame.

  11. Eric the OTB Lurker says:

    @Doctruth:

    Trivial? More wars have been initiated by the interpretation of words than by all other causes combined. There is no “artistic license ” which justifies reversing the lyrics’ intent when the entire point of performing that particular song is its traditional status. Cee lo made a foolish, arrogant error. Creating easily predictable bad feeling on nye? Lame.

    Well, first of all, I said “song lyrics,” not “words.” Secondly, if there is no artistic license that could justify changing a few words in a song, then it seems on your view no one is justified in exercising artistic license ever, anywhere, on anything.

    Lastly, words like “arrogant” and “foolish” to describe such a–yes, I’m going to say it again–trivial matter like this seem to me rather overly dramatic and are more appropriate for, say, describing Napoleon’s Russian campaign than song lyrics.

    And as for “predictable bad feeling,” well, I’m pretty sure most of us can’t make it through the day without pissing someone off somewhere.

  12. marco says:

    @John Burgess:

    Yanni had a perfect career without a hitch.

    😛

  13. John Burgess says:

    @marco: Perfectly awful.

  14. Ron Beasley says:

    You would be hard pressed to find anyone more anti-religion than me but I agree this is a tempest in a tea pot and I rally don’t care.

  15. Gustopher says:

    Traditionally, song lyrics changed all the time, as different performers added and subtracted things, altered things, and generally made the song their own.

    Woody Guthrie borrowed the melody of “Jesse James” for his song “Jesus Christ”, and in return the so-called socialist verses of “This Land Is Your Land” are regularly dropped.

    “Froggie Went A’Courtin'” has hundreds of different verses to choose from, with radically different endings (furry tadpoles, interrupted wedding, devoured by snakes, etc).

    As a counterpoint, Ola Bella Reed never changed the lyrics of any of the songs she sung (“You change the words, it ain’t the truth of the matter!”), which often changed the meaning — her “Bonaparte’s Retreat” is a beautiful and gorgeous lesbian love song, sung by a very devout Christian woman who probably didn’t mean it.

    Songs have become stagnent of late — live performances have been less important, and copyright pushes people to perform their own music rather than someone else’s. I think Cee Lo Green’s change is stupid and insipid, but it’s more in tune with the history of music than a slavish reuse of the original lyrics.

  16. On the one hand, it’s a sweet sentiment. On the other, it’s an absurdity: the major religions directly contradict one another on major doctrinal tenets; they can’t all be true.

    The original is just as absurd; that if we just got rid of religion, we wouldn’t find something else (like nationalism, ethnicity, hell people have huge fights over who’s the best soccer team) to fight for. Especially since, while religion is great at getting people worked up enough to go fight, it usually isn’t the actual cause for the conflict. Religion is an excuse, not a reason.

  17. rodney dill says:

    Cee Lo’s change isn’t really a pro-religion move either. I can’t imagine Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, paganism, or whatever saying whatever anyone wants to believe is right or OK. Yes, each religion does practice different levels of tolerance of the beliefs of each other, even in the same religion, but from any given religion’s point of view ‘All Religions True. is no more comforting nor correct than ‘No Religion too.’ .

  18. Eric the OTB Lurker says:

    Especially since, while religion is great at getting people worked up enough to go fight, it usually isn’t the actual cause for the conflict. Religion is an excuse, not a reason.

    I can certainly appreciate you trying to straddle the middle here, Stormy, but I’m not sure your claim is backed up by history. For example, what were the Crusades about if not religion?

    Yes, each religion does practice different levels of tolerance of the beliefs of each other, even in the same religion, but from any given religion’s point of view ‘All Religions True. is no more comforting nor correct than ‘No Religion too.’

    I think you’re probably technically correct, Rodney, but I think the issue in question here is not about the truth value of the song lyrics, but about whether Cee Lo had artistic license to change the lyrics as he saw fit. My position is simply that one should be free to exercise artistic license in an unrestricted manner without regard to any particular orthodoxy.

    As I stated above, reinterpretation or reinvention is part of what art is and does. Never should one be prevented from exercising his or her creative instincts just because someone might get mad–whether they be Lennon purists or religious apologists.

  19. Brian Garst says:

    @Eric the OTB Lurker:

    For example, what were the Crusades about if not religion?

    Power. Control.

    As for this whole “controversy,” good for Cee Lo, I say. Finally we can talk about what a ridiculous, overrated song is “Imagine”. I just wish he had changed more of that god-awful, Marxist claptrap.

  20. Eric the OTB Lurker says:

    @Brian Garst:

    Power. Control.

    Really? All by themselves? There wasn’t anything else involved here? All that religious stuff about removing the infidels from the Holy Land and all that was just coincidental? Hey, look at how the very beginning of the Wikipedia article on “The Crusades” begins:

    The Crusades were a series of religious wars… .

    Bolded AND italicized just so you don’t miss it.

  21. KC says:

    Here is my take on the matter:

    ‘Forget’ ’em Cee Lo

  22. rodney dill says:

    I think you’re probably technically correct, Rodney, but I think the issue in question here is not about the truth value of the song lyrics, but about whether Cee Lo had artistic license to change the lyrics as he saw fit

    I see three issues (at least) related to this post. The first is just Lennon purists that don’t want to see the original changed. The second, are those that don’t want to see the pseudo-religious statement, surplant the atheistic mantra. The third, is the artistic license issue. These are not necessarily in order of importance to the post. As far as artistic license considerations I am in full agreement with Eric the OTB Lurker.

    The crusades were religious wars, but arguably religion can be considered to be all about power and control.

  23. @Eric the OTB Lurker:

    For example, what were the Crusades about if not religion?

    Controlling the trade routes between Asia and Europe. Which is why once sea lanes opened up enough that control over the land routes through the Levant didn’t really matter any more, Europe suddenly stopped caring.

  24. mike says:

    JOHN LENNON on CHANGING THE LYRICS TO IMAGINE:

    The World Church called me once and asked, ‘Can we use the lyrics to Imagine and just change it to “Imagine one religion”?’ That showed they didn’t understand it at all. It would defeat the whole purpose of the song, the whole idea.”

    – John Lennon
    All We Are Saying, David Sheff

    http://www.beatlesbible.com/people/john-lennon/songs/imagine/