When Lennon and Ono co-hosted The Mike Douglas Show for a week in January 1972, they brought in friends ranging from radical political figures to Chuck Berry. When Lennon performed “Imagine,” he made the comment, “Only people can save the world.” With “save” switched to “change,” the phrase would become the chorus for this MIND GAMES (1973) track and be printed on the album’s inner sleeve.
The ebullient melody reflects the hopeful little boy part of Lennon’s personality in the same vein as tunes like “I Should Have Known Better” and “Oh Yoko!” With its skipping, folk/R&B swing, it almost sounds like something that could have been sung by the Brady Bunch.
As Lennon was adept at finding inspiration for songs in commercials (i.e. “Good Morning, Good Morning”), it would be unsurprising to learn that “Only People” owed something to the famous “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” commercial from 1971, helmed by Medium Cool director Haskell Wexler.
The commercial made such a splash that the New Seekers (“Georgy Girl”) quickly released it as a hit single refashioned as “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.” Coke allowed the proceeds to go to UNICEF.
(What do you think? Am I hearing things?)
“Only People” was certainly Lennon’s least threatening attempt to use pop to sway the masses. For the ultraconservatives who wrote books like The Beatles, LSD, and Communism, no doubt this would have struck them as one of Lennon’s most insidious propaganda pieces, refashioning a Coke commercial for socialism.
Bouncing back from Nixon’s 1972 landslide, Lennon commiserates with his fellow idealists. He concedes they’ve cried a lot of tears, but now they’re wiser and ready to start again. He throws in his usual feminist reminder that if man and woman work together they are unstoppable, and vows to resist the Pig Brother scene, conflating the “Big Brother” that had put him under surveillance and slang for the cops.
Whooping like a cheerleader before a clapping gospel chorus, Lennon finished his final political song. He and Ono would mirror their generation by abandoning activism, and by the end of the decade, Ono would transform herself into an economic wheeler dealer like the yuppies.
But while it would be easy to slam the sixties idealists for selling out, they had won the war against conformity and ended the Draft. The right to liberated sex without marriage, long hair, and freedom of expression and religion progressively melded with the mainstream throughout the decade. The ex-Beatles could look around at the new, freer world and know they had played a central part in changing it.