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Reimagining John Lennon’s Imagine album

Outdoing last year’s Beatles masterpiece Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band remix, John Lennon’s 1971 Imagine album loads on remixes, outtakes and more.

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John Lennon: Imagine -- The Ultimate Collection.

Geffen/UMe

It was just last year when Beatles fans were treated to a remix (not merely a remaster) of the iconic Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, and now we have John Lennon's best post-Beatles work, Imagine, lavishly expanded on the six-disc John Lennon: Imagine -- The Ultimate Collection box set. It's set to drop on Oct. 5, and there will also be single- and double-CD remastered editions, CD-resolution downloads, streaming, as well as a few 180-gram LP versions to choose from.

I was invited to a recording studio in New York earlier this week to preview some of the tracks. The highlights were Imagine's "Raw Studio Mixes" where I could hear the music the way it went down in Lennon's home studio, before it was mixed or edited. I literally had goosebumps when I heard this music without added reverberation, orchestral strings, and other production bits and pieces. It's as if I traveled back through time to be present at the sessions!

The tracks for Imagine sessions were recorded in 1971 at Lennon's then-state of-the-art Ascot Sound Studio in his home in Tittenhurst Park, in Berkshire, England. Some of the tunes, like Jealous Guy and Gimme Some Truth were written when Lennon was still with his old band. Beatles guitarist George Harrison plays on a bunch of tracks, so maybe that's why the entire album has something of a Beatles afterglow to it. Lennon's next few albums never matched Imagine's heights.

Listening to the Raw Studio Mixes Lennon's vocals are so completely naked they're startling. I've never heard Lennon sound so real, so immediate and full of life, it was a real treat for this Beatles fan. When I closed my eyes, Lennon all but materialized in front of me!

I also heard the 5.1 surround mixes of many of the album's tunes, with Lennon's vocal in the center channel speaker, keyboards on the left, guitar right, drums left rear and bass in the right rear channel were interesting, but I'll reserve judgment on the surround mixes till I hear these tunes in the CNET listening room in October. Since the album was recorded in the 1970s, there's also a four-channel Quadraphonic mix, the first time that quad mix has been touched since the original release. 

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Lennon's Ascot Sound Studio was in his home in Tittenhurst Park, in Berkshire, England.

Peter Fordham ©Yoko Ono

The original version of Imagine is included in the set, but remixed from high-definition 24-bit/96 kHz audio transfers of the album's original first-generation multitrack recordings at Abbey Road Studios in London.

The six-disc Ultimate box (four CDs, two Blu-rays) contains a total of 140 tracks, high-resolution mixes in stereo, four-channel, and 5.1 surround versions on the Blu-rays (the Blu-rays are audio-only, there's no video content). The Collection also includes lots of outtakes, original album mixes, new remixes, singles, and a 120-page book.

The John Lennon: Imagine -- The Ultimate Collection drops Oct. 5.

Correction Aug. 26, 2018 at 7:53 a.m. PT: An earlier version of this article said a documentary was included with the set, but it turns out that's not the case. The article has been corrected accordingly.

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