Monday 31 January 2011

Yoko Ono "A Story" (1974/1999) (News, Views and Music 89)

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Yoko Ono “A Story” (recorded 1974, released 1992)

A Story/Loneliness/Will You Touch Me?/Dogtown/Tomorrow May Never Come/Yes, I’m A Witch/She Gets Down On Her Knees/It Happened/Winter Friend/Heartburn Stew/Hard Times Are Over

Having covered two of the biggest selling albums made by the groups on this list, now we get back to normality with one of the poorest-selling, hard to find albums in the whole AAA back catalogue! Ironically, of course, I prefer it to both the albums we’ve just covered as this album – recorded in 1974, locked away in a draw, re-recorded in part in 1981 and then finally seeing the light of day first as part of a 1992 box set and then as a full album in 1997 – is a delight. ‘Approximately Infinite Universe’ is a special case, a magical album that contains all of Yoko’s best work by light years (see review no 54 for why) and should have been a huge boost to a talented, diversified career– but that album aside, it’s oh so typical that Yoko’s best work, her most successful attempt to match her caustic feminist tone with some extraordinarily well crafted songs, has gone unheard by about 99% of the people who like her work, never mind the public at large. Had ‘A Story’ come out at the time it was intended to – as a close cousin of husband Lennon’s ‘lost weekend’ albums of ‘Mind Games’ and ‘Walls and Bridges’ (‘A Story’ was recorded somewhere between the two) – then it might well have become Yoko’s best seller to date. It’s probably no coincidence either that a handful of tracks from this album in inferior re-recorded form from the 1980s are on Yoko’s most genuinely successful album ‘Season Of Glass’. As it is, this is a forgotten gem, albeit it one that’s valued highly by the small percentage of people who call themselves Yoko Ono fans.

Let’s make one point clear. If you’re new to Yoko’s work then you probably expect this record to be one long angst-ridden scream, similar to JohnandYoko’s experimental work on the ‘Two Virgins’ ‘Live Peace In Toronto’ and disc two of the ‘Sometime In New York City’ LPs. You’d be wrong, in the years after 1971 at least. In terms of melody Yoko even beats her husband, seemingly sharing a closer affinity with McCartney in terms of writing songs that have a clearly definable beginning, middle and end and that sound so obvious and hummable you’re amazed they haven’t been around for generations. Where Yoko does sound more like John is the subject matter, as starting with the ‘Approximately’ album Yoko’s never been afraid to go near subjects lesser mortals would wince from covering. Think Lennon’s ‘lost weekend’ albums are harrowing? They’re nothing on the very real heartbreak throughout this album; the worry felt for the future, the left-turns that come out of nowhere to take us all by unpleasant surprise from time to time and a very real fear when facing possible rejection. Yoko even has a chance to show off her rarely heard sense of humour with the song ‘Yes, I’m A Witch’ which does exactly as the song suggests! The one reason Yoko isn’t better known - other than for marrying a Beatle and supposedly breaking up the biggest band on the planet, of course – is her voice. Western culture is oh so narrow minded, even when it thinks it’s being wide open to any new thing and what with English being her second subject Yoko isn’t as fluent on most of these songs as listeners expect her to be. But if you look past the recording – and the occasional production faux pas – then ‘A Story’ is a rewarding album, right up there with all but the very best Lennon solo albums.

One other point worth making is how revealing this album is. Yoko had shied away from revealing her true feelings on 1973’s ‘Feeling The Space’, predecessor to ‘A Story’, perhaps after the flak some of the more honest songs on ‘Approximately’ received, not least from her feminist friends in high places who felt that any admission of guilt or sadness was more ammunition for the anti-feminist movement. Alas, taking that advice resulted in a truly terrible record, one that’s all about sloganeering and politics without humanity in a way that made even ‘Sometime In New York City’ sound like it came from the heart, not the pages of the tabloid press. Despite selling well, Yoko seems to have gone back top her original intention of writing about her feelings here, making a record that tells you more about how Yoko was feeling during the ‘lost weekend’ than we ever learnt from Lennon in three LPs from that period. How ironic, then, that it’s this album should be titled ‘A Story’ – Yoko is clearly reaching out to make her songs more accessible here than they had been before and yet never had she put more of herself into her work.

How typical, too, that Yoko was robbed of her powers of speech just as she was beginning to come out from under Lennon’s shadow and have something of her own to say. The Beatles’ label Apple was all but over by early 1974 when this LP was recorded - George Harrison’s ‘Extra Texture’ record from later on that year is actually Apple’s last ever release – and, having just broken up with Lennon and missing his support to get the album pushed through – ‘A Story’ had no chance in the schedules. The few reviewers who even notice this album are mixed over how ready this album was for release – one school of thought has the album all waiting and ready to go, with a set track listing and a rather pertinent front cover picture of a five-year-old Yoko with a rubber ring round her neck, as if to save her form drowning all ready to go (it’s also a neat mirror of JohnandYoko’s joint ‘Plastic Ono Band’ primal scream LPs, with a back cover of the pair of them as toddlers). Others say Yoko never got as far as actually putting the albums’ sessions in any order – which may be why the running order between 1992 and 1997 (when this album came out first as CD 6 of the box set ‘Onobox’ and then later as an album in its own right) changes dramatically. However far ‘A Story’ got, it’s a crying shame that Lennon couldn’t see past his differences with Yoko to actually get the album made – he always kept in touch during even the darkest days of his ‘Lost Weekend’ and must have known about Yoko’s album  (they were forever playing each other songs down the phone). Interestingly, Lennon himself comes out of it quite well – just as John’s work is full of tracks like ‘Bless You’ that sound more apologetic and romantic than any song written for her during their time together – with Yoko having vented most of her anger against men in general on ‘Feeling The Space’ and Lennon in particular on ‘Approximately Infinite Universe’.

One final point to make is that fans will recognise quite a few of these songs from Yoko’s immediate post-Lennon album ‘Seasons Of Glass’, still her best-selling album to date even if it was mainly out of sympathy for Yoko’s plight in those dark days of the Winter of 1980-81. Now, that’s fascinating for fans who know both albums and can compare them side by side because, even though the arrangements having changed much, the whole feeling of the two albums are so so different. On ‘A Story’ Lennon is the absent party, having dropped Yoko and responsibilities for what was effectively a mid-life crisis, taking up with other women romantically and other men artistically to fill the void of Yoko while she is left with nothing. On ‘Season Of Glass’ Lennon is again the absent party, but he’s down the end of a phoneline, being carefully observed by an anxious Yoko wondering where it all went wrong, but out in the spirit world, taking up with other women and artists simply because he’s not alive anymore to work with Yoko, while she is – again – left with nothing. There’s emotion a plenty on both albums, but whereas Yoko’s feeling sorry for herself a bit on ‘A Story’, picturing herself as the victim to some extent, she’s simply numb with incomprehension on the later recordings. It’s not for nothing that Lennon hovers like a ghost on two out of three of Yoko’s immediate post-1980 recordings for his presence is all over every record she makes, even now – and yet its ‘A Story’ where his hole is biggest, with each song a reaction to lost opportunities, mistakes, guilt, anger and remorse at the fact the pair aren’t as close as they used to be. Closing track ‘Hard Times Are Over’ is especially powerful in this context – John and Yoko got back together just months after this recording and Yoko clearly felt that conciliation was in the air and the song serves a similar service when used as the closing track of the pair’s ‘comeback’ album Double Fantasy in 1980. Yet in both cases it’s a cruel blow because we, the modern listener, know how the album will work itself out, that hard times are indeed over, but only over ‘for a while’.

The album actually starts with the sound effect of a train whistling through a station, a clever metaphor for this album being just another, further stop down Yoko’s musical and actual life journey. The title track then comes into life, sounding like an outtake from ‘Approximately’, sharing that same song’s semi-autobiography and wistful, fragile air, although on that heavier, rockier album it would no doubt have been used as light relief. In fact, musically it sounds not unlike the first few Belle and Sebastian albums – really pretty until you scratch the surface and read the hidden scars between the lines. A flute melody pulls against some rather cloying strings before some twinkling pianos float the song away on a cloud. ‘A Story’ is a crucial song for cementing Yoko’s new post-screaming sound and gets more important yet when you begin to decipher the lyrics. In many ways its the ultimate John and Yoko song, starting off in both their childhoods (a big thing with the Ono-Lennons thanks to their joint primal therapy in 1970), with Yoko brought up in a strict household where she wasn’t allowed ideas of her own and could only work out her personality from telling ‘stories’ and John unable to use his intelligence, finding that the only time people liked him was when he made them laugh. The pair’s coming together is pictured as the saving for both of them, allowing them to become the people they always wanted to be but were afraid to. Most telling is the third verse, when the pair make love for the first time and find that, rather than leading to sexual bliss, it actually turns into an outpouring of repressed conversation, covering every subject ‘from the world to the weather’. John and Yoko gave each other the confidence they each needed to free themselves, this song seems to be saying, and a huge emotional journey for them both (‘so many places they travelled’ sighs Yoko at one point). What’s most noticeable and most moving about this track, though, is that it’s all sung in the past tense. For Yoko at least, the dream seems to be over at this point in the LP (things look more hopeful by the end) and the pair really have split for good. The track is also clearly about John and Yoko, even if they are just a ‘boy’ and a ‘girl’ in this song (common imagery for the pair in Yoko’s songs, especially on ‘Milk and Honey’). An astonishingly brave and powerful song, then, its a double shame that a) this song is one of the few from this LP that wasn’t resurrected for later, better selling LPs and b) that here it’s just a sketch, a slender two-minute dialogue that could have run for oh so much longer. Still, it’s a brave and quite astonishing start for the album and one of the two clear highlights of the record.

‘Loneliness’ takes the ‘story’ up to the present day, with an ominous bass rumble and a rather dissonant piano riff sounding like the world splitting apart. Metaphorically, in many ways the world is in this song, with Yoko at her most worn down and vulnerable vocally, opening with the line ‘there are many things in life I can endure’, before telling us that a simple case of being left alone is not one of them. This song switches gears several times throughout the song, including a bluesy guitar part from Yoko’s most sympathetic musical collaborator Wayne Gabriel (who is a major reason for ‘Approximately’s success) and a punchy chorus where Yoko seems to be trying to fight her way out of her own trap, punching the lines of ‘lo-o-o-o-o-oneli-ness’ over and over like some deranged boxer. Vocally, this is Yoko’s most hysterical performance on the record, while the performers play everything calm and tidy behind her (a kind of reverse version of one of Yoko’s better songs ‘Death Of Samantha’, where she’s the cool chick with a band trying it’s best to make her melt). Yet on ‘It’s Alright (I See Rainbows)’, where this short sketchy song sounds much more powerful and heartfelt, its Yoko whose calm while the band fight out the apocalypse behind her. Hearing both versions back to back, I have to say I prefer the 1983 version of this song, where the loneliness seems to stretch out forever, but in either version this is a strong song that again is pretty close to the bone in terms of its words (even though, yet again, adding an extra verse or two would have made it better still).

‘Will You Touch Me?’ started out life as long ago as 1971, where you can hear a sweet little demo by Yoko with John whistling as an extra on the ‘Fly’ album. This re-recorded band version from 1974 can’t match up to the innocence of that original and sounds badly out of place here, more the sort of thing Yoko was including on the back of Lennon singles such as the B-sides ‘Who Has Seen The Wind?’ and ‘Listen, The Snow Is Falling’. Not that’s it all bad – Yoko always had a direct way with words, perhaps because English was always her second language and this song works in the same way a haiku poem does, letting the listener fill in the gaps in the words and sentence construction. The most moving part of the song is the third verse where (I think, because as I write I’m desperately searching for my copy of ‘Fly’ and haven’t heard it in a while, curse you you stealing CD pixies!) Yoko has added a bit to her original song, with lines about ‘doors closing on me’ and how only kindness can open her heart. Heard as a track on its own, these lines are cloying in the extreme, especially when sung in such a soppy voice, and yet coming on from the last two tracks the message of this song is quite moving, another excellent musical metaphor for the hole Yoko feels in her heart now that John has gone. I could have done without the ball-room piano, though, or the way Yoko raises her voice to sound like a little girl, a trick she’ll try again in the even more toe-curling ‘Yes, I’m Your Angel’.    

Amazingly there’s a fourth strong song in a row – Yoko really did save all her best songs for this album’s first side (barring one, anyway, as we’ll see in a minute).  ‘Dogtown’ really split reviewers down the middle when it came out on ‘Seasons of Glass’ – to some, it’s a repetitive not-much-happening song about the dog-eat-dog system that has been heard many times before and yet to others it’s a masterpiece in miniature, a very Yoko track that says more in three minutes than most double-album prog rock LPs. Personally, I side more with the latter crowd, as this latest song about Yoko as victim is full of some of her classiest lines and a breathless tune that neatly mirrors Yoko’s words about her ongoing life and works. Yoko’s narrator can’t sleep, there’s too much buzzing around her head and she feels she needs to get on in a town where hard work and application are everything, with the fast patter lyrics and ever restless tune more like a Gilbert and Sullivan patter song than a rock and pop anthem. Like many tracks on ‘A Story’, it sounds as if Yoko knows she is being cut off before her time, that this album will never see the light of day and she is unlikely to get anyone else to hear her story (she can’t have known for certain the Lennons would get back together mere months after these recordings). There’s several mentions of things left unsaid, of letters never sent and songs ‘I meant to finish all my life’. Admittedly the nagging chorus (‘dog dog dog dog dog dog dog dogtown!’) lets the song down badly, especially when it seems to be repeated endlessly and this latest use of Western nursery rhyme as a substitute for haiku poetry pales badly when compared to the songs on ‘Approximately’ (‘peas porridge in the pot nine years old!’) But there’s another excellent song at work here, you just have to dig for it. ‘Dogtown’ is yet another song better known by a re-recording (from ‘Season Of Glass’ once again) which loses out on a sparser backing but gains by having a much more focussed performance from Yoko, who clearly knows the song much better than she did in 1974. ‘Dogtown’ sounds badly out of place on the later record, though, amongst the heavier, more reflective works although strangely it suits the downbeat mood of this album rather well.

‘Tomorrow May Never Come’ sounds like a much more hopeful song, opening with a snatch of birdsong suggesting the dawn breaking through a dark night and this track seemingly takes the same upbeat role on the album as Approximately’s ‘Have You Seen A Horizon Lately?’ It even has a sort of jaunty vaudeville feel about it, which makes it pretty much unique in Yoko’s canon. But the lyrics are again quite lost and lonely, with Yoko making reference to her passing age (she was 41 when these songs were recording – Lennon was 34), all the great memories she’s had in her life and her acceptance that they will probably never pass her way again. ‘Tomorrow May Never Come’ is just a snappy line for the title here – Yoko is actually afraid of tomorrow happening too soon for comfort. The chorus bears some resemblance to The Who’s ‘Tommy’ or perhaps that album’s starting point ‘You Really Got A Hold On Me’ with its chorus of ‘Reach me! Touch me! Hold me!’ searching for a human connection from someone, anyone. Yoko’s pulled off this ‘double-layered feeling’ trick several times in her career – again ‘Death Of Samantha’ is the obvious starting point – but somehow this song never quite gels, perhaps because for once Yoko is enthusiastic and upbeat in her vocal, leaving her, the band and the melody at odds with the words. Not for the first or the last time on this album, it’s also frustratingly short, more like a demo than a finished product (even as an 11 track album with three bonus tracks, the CD only lasts a skimpy 42 minutes!)

‘Yes, I’m A Witch’ is a witty riposte from Yoko who takes all the criticism she’s been given over the years for marrying a Beatle and somehow ending the world’s favourite group of moptops and telling us that – yes, actually, you’re right. In many ways this song is a continuation of the feminist anthems of Yoko’s last two albums, with Yoko addressing her unseen male partner in a whole range of condescending ways usually reserved by backwards men from the first half of the 20th century (‘honey ball’ ‘sugar cane’ ‘baby doll’ etc) and claiming how she and her sisters can tell them what to do. This song sounds badly out of place on the album (it’s moved to the last track on the OnoBox set, where it works better), sounding more like the confident strutting Yoko of old, convinced that her mission is right and that changes will be around the corner, sometime somewhere. I prefer it to frankly all the songs from ‘Feeling The Space’ which cover the same ground as at least this song has wit and knowingness on its side, but Yoko’s already covered this ground much better on ‘Approximately Infinite Universe’ and this song quickly runs out of things to say. It’s still fun to hear Yoko agreeing with all her critics and adding ‘I don’t care what you say’, as if she’s so used to people disagreeing with her over everything else, she assumes they’ll take an opposite view even when she’s on their side! There is a good chorus line here with the very JohnandYoko idea that every time you cut yourself off from your feelings a part of you ‘dies’, but alas its not developed fully and ‘Yes I’m A Witch’ is ultimately a song that casts less of a spell than the other songs here.  The song was later used for a Yoko ‘remix’/’covers’ album, a weird hybrid that shows Yoko being reclaimed for their own by the 1990s’ young and eccentric scene, although ironically the new version of the title track is about the worst thing there.

‘She Gets Down On Her Knees’ is an intriguing, angst-ridden song that instead of finding Yoko as the victim finds her all but berating herself for causing all her own problems. Yoko may have taken a leaf out of her ex-partner’s book here, writing this self-flagellation song in the third person (as in ‘Hey Bulldog’ and ‘Steel and Glass’ and possibly even ‘How Do You Sleep?’, the great trilogy of songs where Lennon vents his anger at his own failings). The narrator has so over-indulged on everything life has to offer (including her own misery) that her body can’t handle it, leaving her on her knees being sick as her body pays her mind back for one bad experience too many. Whatever the character does, though, she can’t rid the feeling of guilt and misery, finding herself automatically wandering from room to room, looking for things to clean to escape the smell and memories of her old lover. Like many a song on this album, this track is given a jolly, almost jaunty melody that jars even more for combining with a set of such harsh and sarcastic lyrics and the dispassionate way with which Yoko sings the words makes this track sound totally detached and uncaring – and thus very powerful. There’s quite a few segments to this song apart from the nagging chorus line which add great drama to the song, with Yoko slowing the song down completely as the melody mechanically follows her thoughts ‘up up up’ or ‘down down down’ as she gets on with her household tasks. For once the re-recorded version of this song (on ‘Season Of Glass’) sounds better, with an anger and power this earlier version is missing and a much more natural flow between the many parts.

‘It Happened’ is another song better known from a re-recording and this time around its the re-recording that works best, a haunting ballad that again doubles for Lennon’s spiritual absence in 1974 and his physical absence in 1981. This beautiful song about unexpected changes in your life and how they knock you backwards at a time when you are ‘least expecting’ is best heard on the back of Yoko’s ‘Walking In Thin Ice’ single – the song she and John were working on the day he was killed – and can bring a tear to even a Yoko-hating Beatle fan’s heart. This earlier version doesn’t have the same poignancy, but it’s a strong recording nonetheless, with some more gorgeous Wayne Gabriel guitar and an impressive riff that seems to know where it’s going until the end of each verse, when it vainly tinkles around the song’s key, as if trying to find a way back home. Like many songs on ‘A Story’ this song is very short and would have really benefitted from more than just the one verse and two choruses (the haiku poetry being Yoko’s link to the basics of rock and roll thing again, as this happens with much of Yoko’s work – see review no 54), but it is very moving nonetheless, with Yoko at her most vulnerable and lost on this song’s few simple lines.

Magical as that song is, however, it’s ‘Winter Friend’ that’s my personal favourite on the album. I could, literally, write the whole of this article around this song there’s so much in it –so feel lucky you’re only getting two paragraphs! The opening suggests that for the first time in her career Yoko is going to actively embrace the Japanese culture of her childhood (she came to New York as a teenager). The sound of four or five Yokos singing at once in harmony is lovely and a trick I wish Yoko had used more, all held together by some more excellent guitar work and some synthesiser tricks that really do sound like some ancient Japanese ballad. But this is no folk song Yoko’s singing, not a ‘story’ but yet another autobiographical song. Like many reviewers I’m tempted to see the ‘winter friend’ in this song, the one in pain that Yoko befriends at the start of the song and enjoys spending time with, as John (simply because the pair wrote about each other so often and so blatantly) but as the song gets going it’s made clear that this is an earlier event, albeit one that mirrors closely Yoko’s relationship with Lennon  (possibly it’s about Yoko’s first husband Tony Cox – the line ‘I had never seen his soul’ reflects some of Yoko’s comments in interviews on their relationship, as the pair were more artist and patron than husband and wife). The relationship ends suddenly, though, in dramatic fashion, with the narrator’s partner cutting himself and using the blood to tell her a note that things are finally ‘over’ (again, this is another Yoko songs about the difficulties of communication, with the man finding it harder to tell her that he is leaving than physically cutting himself). However, this is only the sudden abrupt end to a relationship that’s been heading that way for some time, with Yoko telling us that the man was dead inside his eyes, even when he was trying to pretend things were alright.

Yoko then shifts to the present day, sighing as she asks why she remembers such unhappy times now and seems to suggest that this song was written at a stage of Yoko’s life when she feared that past events like this one were happening to her again. In which case it makes it all the more strange when the chorus line cuts in that ‘he was a winter friend to me...’ – the whole image of that line conjures up someone who’ll stay with you through thick and thin, through the cold hard days of Winter when things go wrong. Yoko seems to be suggesting that both of her ‘husbands’ (if that’s who this song really is about) are really the opposite: that her relationships thrive on pulling together through difficulties and fall apart through boredom and happier times, because the narrator is so unused to them she doesn’t know how to act or behave. The song then takes an abrupt left turn halfway through the song, with Yoko in the present using the album’s ‘journey’ metaphor again for a scene of her in a car, driving off a cliff as she helplessly looks to ‘reach for the brakes’. This whole ending passage is exceptional, cutting through the jaunty feel of the song to seemingly speak from the heart as Yoko half sings half cries the best line of her career on ‘I’m not ready to die – or live a living death’. As the other songs on this album  make clear, Yoko doesn’t cope well with loneliness or loss and the thought of going through such an upheaval in her life so soon after the last one finds her ending this song pleading with the future not to mimic her past. The song ends the only way it can on an unresolved minor key question (on the line ‘I’m not ready to die...’) without the resolution both the narrator and us are clearly looking for. So ends one of Yoko’s best ever songs (it wins the ‘silver’ award on our forum of Yoko Ono best songs for instance), one that’s ambitious but easy to follow, sad but not too caught up in itself and with  wandering melody line that’s so haunting and fragile you wonder how it ever got to the end of the song without breaking. In short, fabulous and its a disgrace that this is one of only three songs from this record that Yoko never re-recorded when this album got shelved. 

‘Heartburn Stew’ can’t compete with the last track, but it does follow the same trick of looking back to the past to work out how to cope with your present. Yoko’s narrator is forever disappointed in this song, which can best be thought of as Yoko’s equivalent of Lennon’s primal scream song ‘Mother’ without the screaming. As a child Yoko’s exuberance is slowly eroded away by her parent’s lack of care or love and as an adult, too, she never gets what she expects from her partners, forever disappointed by life. The bitterness she feels manifests itself as ‘heartburn’  - not the physical, I’ve-eaten-too-much-and-my-insides-are-on-fire kind of heartburn, but a cold and clinical I’ve-not-had-enough kind of pain. This song would be truly self-indulgent had Yoko written a tune to match her thoughts, but no – ‘Heartburn’ sports the jolliest tune on the record, with Yoko addressing us as if we’re a younger sibling ‘what can I do with a heartburn, I ask you?’, all the while keeping her face straight and her voice polite, as if afraid of being told off for making a fuss. Listen  out for the reference to having indigestible ‘apple jam’, a witty reference to the fallout from The Beatles and the business shenanigans getting this record made – Yoko ends up taking her gift and ‘feeding it to the birds’ before poisoning the family cat. This is another track that Yoko never went back to from this album, which is a shame because while the song is strong enough the arrangement here is all rather cold and clinical, with a voice choir that really does fit the personal vulnerable angst in the song. The backing players also seem to think this song is a jazzy jaunt like the songs on ‘Feeling The Space’ – and did I ever tell you how irritating that record is?!

The album ends with its best known track, ‘Hard Times Are Over’, the song that ended John and Yoko’s ‘comeback’ album ‘Double Fantasy’. On the one hand, you have to ask why probably Yoko’s weakest song on the album was re-used when so many better songs were passed over – and yet, in the context of 1980, this songs makes the perfect sense as a kind of making-up-for-lost time kind of a track. I’ve never been that keen on the 1980 version – like many on ‘Double Fantasy’ it seems to have lost its sparkle after one take too many, although last year’s ‘stripped down’ version suits it rather better – although the 1974 version doesn’t sound awfully better, being more of a demo than a full-blown song. A sweet little optimistic number, this song is a close cousin of Yoko’s ‘Waiting For The Sunrise’, a track about wanting to start over again and get right back into the fight of things. In fact, it sounds like the perfect musical metaphor for sinking back into a comfy armchair after a long and difficult journey – one that presumably started with the train in the tunnel at the beginning of the record which has now pulled into a more inhabitable siding. As a result, like most of the songs on Yoko’s ‘lesser’ records it runs out of things to say very quickly, as if the narrator is unsure how to cope with writing about happiness as she has spent so long pondering over sorrow. ‘Hard Times’ doesn’t have the emotional impact of the other songs on ‘A Story’ and the tune, too, rambles and coasts as if it has all the time in the world – apt for the song but something of an irritant after so many short snappy songs on the trot. ‘Hard Times’ is exactly the sort of song this album needs to end, though, rounding off Yoko’s 1970s output in a much happier and uplifting mood than the vast majority of the tracks before it.

So, against all odds, ‘A Story’ ends up not as one of the most miserable or negative albums of her career but as a comparatively uplifting work, one where Yoko’s analysis of mistakes in her past means she won’t make the same mistakes in the future. How inconceivably sad, then, that after five years of musical silence and parenthood Yoko will find herself back in this state for her next album, the terrifying ‘Seasons Of Glass’, where many of these songs are re-recorded and sound all the more futile and sad for Lennon’s death. Yoko understandably spends most of that album in a dark and heavy place, with backing musicians doing their best punk impressions and a sheen of noise quite unlike anything else in her back catalogue. But on ‘A Story’ she possesses a lightness of touch that enables her to make the most out of her multi-surfaced songs, adding a depth and a debate that songs this fragmented and short shouldn’t possibly have. Along with ‘Glass’ and our AAA favourite ‘Approximately’, ‘A Story is one of the three Yoko albums you really need to own, light years above the rest of her output, marvellously tuneful, lyrically insightful and  as hard-hitting yet accessible as they come. Not every track works and even the best of these songs sounds somewhat undeveloped compared side by side to the best on this list, but overall ‘A Story’ is a towering achievement and it’s a great shame this forgotten album has gone neglected for oh so long. If only every ‘story’ in Yoko’s ‘journey’ could be as good as this and the other two classic records – ah but then I wouldn’t wish the circumstances of Yoko’s recording of all three of them on anybody. The fact that she wrote anything of worth at all in this turbulent period is remarkable – as is the ongoing dismissal of her work as a bunch of talentless trash. Listen to this work with open ears, marvel at the naked autobiography that even the greatest Western writers can’t bring themselves to write, hum along to the perfectly crafted tunes and then tell me which reading of this album is the ‘story’ and which one the truth. 



'Imagine' (1971)

'Sometime In New York City' (1972)

'Mind Games'(1973)

'Walls and Bridges' (1974)

'Double Fantasy' (1980)

'Milk and Honey' (1982)

Non-Album Recordings 1969-1980

Live/Compilation/Unfinished Music Albums 1968-2010

The Best Unreleased Lennon Recordings

Surviving TV Clips 1968-1980

Essay: Power To The Beatle – Why Lennon’s Authenticity Was So Special

Landmark concerts and key cover versions

Yoko: 'Approximately Infinite Universe' (1972)

Yoko: 'A Story' (1974/1998)

Yoko Complete Solo Album Guide 1971-2014

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