David Bowie's moving 'Imagine' cover, in tribute to John Lennon three years after his death

25 September 2020, 12:14 | Updated: 25 September 2020, 12:18

David Bowie covers John Lennon's 'Imagine' on the third anniversary of his death
David Bowie covers John Lennon's 'Imagine' on the third anniversary of his death. Picture: YouTube / Maya Vision

By Sian Hamer

On the final night of his 1983 tour, David Bowie gave a poignant rendition of 'Imagine', dedicated to his close friend, John Lennon, on the third anniversary of his death.

After meeting in the 1970s, John Lennon and David Bowie formed a strong bond.

They were so close that Bowie once said he thought they'd be "buddies forever", adding, "I know which Beatle I always liked."

On the third anniversary of Lennon’s tragic death, Bowie decided to close the final date of his Serious Moonlight tour with one of his friend’s most famous songs.

"On this day, December 8, 1980, John Lennon was shot and killed outside of his New York apartment," the singer announced to the audience, before the spotlight faded.

Moments later, the first notes of 'Imagine' began to play...

Read more: The Story of... 'Imagine' by John Lennon

Standing on stage in the Hong Kong Coliseum in 1983, the 'Space Oddity' singer recounted his last memory of Lennon in that very same city.

He told the audience about a trip to a market the pair had made, where they'd stumbled across an old Beatles jacket on a clothes stall.

"I asked him to put it on," Bowie recalled, "so that I could take a photograph."

He revealed that he still had the photograph of Lennon wearing the jacket, which was too small, and looked like the singer had "outgrown it".

David Bowie paid tribute to John Lennon three years after his death with a moving cover of 'Imagine'
David Bowie paid tribute to John Lennon three years after his death with a moving cover of 'Imagine'. Picture: Getty

Read more: The 10 greatest John Lennon songs, ranked

George Simms, a back up singer on the tour, revealed in an interview that the band hadn't rehearsed the song and no one had any idea how it would sound.

Speaking to the Bowie fan magazine, The Voyeur, he said: "We all grew up listening to the Beatles and John Lennon. After we did 'Imagine' we all went off the stage and back into the holding area.

"Normally we'd be slap-happy, talking and laughing, but that night there was absolute silence because of all the emotion of doing a tribute to John Lennon – especially knowing that David was a friend of his and that David was speaking from his heart.

"Nobody wanted to break the silence; it was like a sledgehammer into your chest."

John Lennon and David Bowie, alongside other music stars, at the 1975 Grammy Awards
John Lennon and David Bowie, alongside other music stars, at the 1975 Grammy Awards. Picture: Getty

Read more: John Lennon's killer apologises to his widow Yoko Ono for 'despicable' crime he committed for 'self-glory'

Bowie had previously described Lennon as "one of the brightest, quickest witted, earnestly socialist men" he'd ever met in his life, in an interview with MTV in '95.

"Socialist in its true definition, not in a fabricated political sense," he continued.

"A real humanist and he had a really spiteful sense of humour which of course, being English, I adored."

David Bowie on stage
David Bowie on stage. Picture: Getty

Read more: David Bowie's 20 greatest ever songs, ranked

There's was one quote from Lennon which really struck a chord with Bowie.

"I asked him what he thought of what I was doing, glam rock, and he said, 'Yeah, it’s great, but it’s just rock and roll with lipstick on'.

"I was impressed as I was with virtually everything he said."