In 1998 the French bank Crédit Agricole continued their long running “Imagine” advertising campaign with a small series of commercials for which Ray Charles’ friend Jean-Pierre Grosz produced the soundtrack, with Ray’s special version of John Lennon’s Imagine. You can still watch some samples online: here and here.
The complete song was first released in France as a CD single. There also was another (12″?) single, obviously (cf. the logo) produced for the bank, for promotional purposes.
Subsequently, in 1997, Imagine was added as a bonus to the re-issue of the Strong Love Affair CD.
In 2001 the tune was part of the 2-CD compilation The Definitive Ray Charles (which was only released in Europe).
The first U.S. release of the original was in 2002, on the compilation CD Ray Charles Sings For America.
The studio takes were later abused for a track on Genius And Friends (2005), where Ray’s vocals were partly replaced by a disastrous interpretation by Ruben Studdard. This production should be erased from all records.
The ‘French’ version was recorded at Guillaume Tell, Davout, Harryson, Penthouse Studio, and RPM in Los Angeles.
Personnel: Jean-Michel Mernard – p; Slim Batteux – o; Claude Salmieri – dm; Paul Braslin – g; The Harlem Gospel Singers – backing voc. Erwan Le Marc’Hadour – arr.
Ray performed a magnificent version of Imagine during The Goodwill Games Opening Celebration on 18 July 1998, from the World Financial Center in New York. Listen here.
The footage of this show was part of the Forever Ray stamp promotion (DVD: Concord, CRE-34585-02, 2013).
The great B3 Hammond organ parts were played by Billy Jay Stein. “I received a chord chart and improvised my organ parts. […] We had one run through that day,” he informed me.
As usual, The Genius nailed the tune as nobody else could.
The 2-hour live TV show, from the World Financial Center in New York, was directed by Ron de Moraes and televized by TBS. Jason Howland was the music director. Other performers were Natalie Cole, Brandy, BeBe Williams, Marc Cohn, Linda Eder, Isaac Hayes, All 4 One, and Hootie & The Blowfish. See this.