You can buy 'Remember - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of John Lennon and Yoko Ono' in e-book form by clicking here!
"Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band"
(Apple, December 11th 1970)
Why?/Why Not?/Greenfield Morning I Pushed An Empty Baby Carriage All Over The City// AOS/Touch Me/Paper Shoes
CD Bonus Tracks: Open Your Box/Something More Abstract/The South Wind
Recorded alongside Lennon's 'Plastic Ono Band' masterpiece with the same band along for the ride (Klaus and Ringo, with Lennon playing some of the snarliest and wild guitar of his career) 'Yoko/Plastic Ono Band' comes with the same cover, the same mindset, the same primal screaming - but it doesn't possess the words. This is probably the only solo album of Yoko's canon that sounds the way people assume all her records do - later records will either return to her love of the avant garde (Fly') or show a sudden grasp of the potentials of rock and roll (especially the 1950s sound she probably discovered through her husband's record collection - it's worth remembering that Yoko had little interest in music till meeting Lennon and had had very little exposure in her Japanese childhood - most of what she's done in her career had been 'conceptual art'). This record however is pure screaming at different speeds and in different moods, with Yoko clearly responding to Professor Janov's 'primal scream' therapy in a much more instinctive, guttural way than her husband's more thoughtful processing.
Like many a Yoko record some of this works really well and some of it doesn't, this time with all the better tracks at the start. The frenetic six minute 'Why?' is pronounced 'WWWHHHYYYYY?????!!!!!' and features one of the most OTT performances of Yoko's career as her vocals and Lennon's unhinged guitar make a far better case for the pair's unity than 'Two Virgins'. The song acted as a rather good accompaniment to John's single 'Mother' (the two probably have a lot in common as regards their source, with Yoko left feeling every bit as hurt and abandoned by her parents as John was by his). Yoko then cleverly slows this jam down to a crawl for the slower ten minute 'Why Not?' which features Lennon fooling round with a slide guitar part as Ringo and Klaus keep the beat hard and funky. So far so playful, but 'Greenfield Morning' is one of the scariest and deepest avant garde songs in Yoko's portfolio, a worrying ride through madness and grief across six wailed minutes that sound like a CSN choral record playing at the wrong speed and was clearly inspired by her 1969 miscarriage. The idea was lifted by Yoko from a tape of a George-and-Ringo jam that no one's been able to identify yet but seems to involve a sped-up sitar and some powerful drumming played backwards (was it a home tape?) Overall side one is perhaps the most convincing audio verite release bearing either John or Yoko's name and proves to be remarkably powerful considering it's simply made up of screaming and badly played guitar, full of the energy of punk with the concept of something a tad deeper.
Over on side two, however, things don't look so good. 'AOS' is awful, Yoko simply repeating her 'Don't Worry Kyoko' scream as Ornette Colman tries to ignore what's happening and improvise his own licks on trumpet. Recorded live in February 1968, just at the point when the Lennons were going out, it shows how much Yoko still had to learn at the time and seems an awful lot longer than the seven minute running time! 'Touch Me' (not the rather pleasant pop song Yoko will record in 1981) is just a lesser woman's 'Why?' and features far more random screaming which suddenly ends for no apparent reason with the sound of a tree falling over (or perhaps it's meant to be the listener after all this noise?!) Americans apparently needing to be protected from Yoko's line 'open your legs!' in case it corrupted them got this track on the back of John's 'Power To The People' single instead of 'Open Your Box'. The seven minute 'Paper Shoes' is better, but doesn't involve much imagination from Yoko as she simply mixes together various sound effects of trains passing by in all sorts of directions (the train will go on to be a major symbol in Yoko's work, becoming either handmade or mechanical depending on her mood, as they transport things cerebrally as well as physically; here though it just sounds like a modern sound effects recording all jumbled up and badly stitched back together again). Yoko possibly intended the rather odd title to reflect her memories of travelling from Japan to America penniless, without even affording proper shoes, though without any lyrics or any message on the LP it's all just conjecture on our part (though ;let's be honest that's never stopped us before!) Side two ends up being the worst example of audio verite released under John or Yoko's name, making even 'The Wedding Album' look interesting and 'Two Virgins' look like fun.
What on earth do you make of an album like that? Well, one thing you can do is ignore the second half of the album entirely and instead buy the CD which offers three far more convincing outtakes from the sessions as a sort of 'alternate ending'. Our old friend 'Open Your Box' (the B-side of 'Power To The People' and re-recorded for 'Fly') is turned from a three minute rocker into an edgier and creepier seven minute version where Lennon hits a rich guitar groove. The 47 second 'Something More Abstract' is just a bit of humming between takes, with Lennon quickly trying to play it on guitar, but largely failing as Ringo admits defeat in a heavy peal of cymbals. Finally the sixteen minute 'South Wind' points the way forward to 'Fly' as Yoko screams, barks, purrs and meows here way through an improvisation with only an unusual sound John's just discovered on his guitar for company. It's more interesting than half the record, though it goes on at least fourteen minutes too long! Overall, though, the CD of 'Yoko/Plastic Ono Band' really embellishes the original album and proves that there's some thought gone into Yoko's creativity along with the instinctive screaming. If you already hate Yoko then this album probably won't change your opinion (though 'Approximately Infinite Universe' just might), but if you have an open enough mind and don't mind ending up with a rather deaf ear then this album has a lot to offer, in its opening trilogy at least. Hopefully not all the people who bought this album by accident thinking it was the 'John/Plastic Ono Band' album were too disappointed (the records have very similar covers, the only difference being Yoko having her head in John's lap not the other way around and there is no title given on the sleeve, just the spine!) Like Lennon's set this record also features Yoko aged five on the back cover, with her worried wide brown eyes already hinting at her inner turmoil though the rest of her is smiling.
Yoko Ono "Fly"
(Apple, September 20th 1971)
Midsummer New York/Mind Train//Mind Holes/Don't Worry Kyoko (Mummy's Only Looking For Her Hand In The Snow)/Mrs Lennon/Hirake/Toilet Piece-Unknown/O'Wind (Body Is The Scar Of Your Mind)//Airmale/Don't Count The Waves/You//Fly/Telephone Piece
CD Bonus Tracks: Between The Takes/Will You Touch Me?
"Checking the sky to see if there's no clouds - if there's no crowds then it must be alright"
Though again recorded back to back with a Lennon LP ('Imagine'), this time around the pair were heading into very different creative territory, though both are loosely linked with the theme of 'imagination'. Whereas Lennon tries to work out his remaining issues while throwing in some reflections on life in the outer world, Yoko is more interested in journeying inside the mind, exploring all sorts of different musical avenues as they take her fancy. The curious title and many of the songs comes from the side of Yoko's art that was taking up much of her time across 1971 - films - with Yoko the director of all sorts of unlikely avant garde oddities in this period such as the memorable 'Up Your Legs Forever' (featuring several guest stars' behinds), Apothesis (in which lots of balloons are dropped from one big hot air balloon), 'Smile' (in which Lennon does just that, slowed from fifteen seconds to some 75 minutes) 'Rape' (in which a terrified girl who quite genuinely doesn't know why she'd being filmed gets pursued by a cameraman who just won't stop), 'Erection' (not what you think - it's a building demolition shown backwards in slow motion) and 'Self Portrait' (exactly what you think, which despite the name was shot by Yoko and features more of Lennon that you will ever need to see - before you go looking for it we advise you to book your counselling sessions in first, you'll need them!) Perhaps Yoko's weirdest project though was 'Fly' - nothing rude or provocative there you might think but you'd be wrong for the 'fly' (actually around 200 of them) explores the nude body of a sleeping woman - pretty fly for an avant garde girl and guy. 'Fifty Shades Of Fly' anyone? The title track, in which Yoko imagines she is the fly, provided the soundtrack for that film and indeed many of the songs here were either used in or intended for Yoko's other projects.
The result is something of a mess, with many of the lengthy songs needing a good edit and many of the superior shorter songs sounding like they should have gone on for longer, but many of Yoko's most famous solo moments come from this album for a reason and as usual there are a few tracks that really stand out. 'Midsummer New York' for instance is a terrific rock song that makes good use of a funky rock and roll groove and is one of her greatest songs. Perhaps not realising the Lennons will soon be making New York their permanent home Yoko is struck on a holiday visit there about how overwhelming her old home city now seems - her heart beats in terror as the sidewalks seem to tremble and soon everything is shaking. The backing band have clearly got 'Shake Rattle and Roll' in mind and they conjure up a nasty relentless hard rock groove that Yoko desperately coos, wails and screams her way past without success. The seventeen minute 'Mind Train' is even better, as Yoko again uses the train as a metaphor for a relentlessly moving object exploring the unknown. There aren't many lyrics to this one, as two Yokos criss-cross each other with the line 'mind train running through my mind' as if holding a conversation with each other as Lennon's slide guitar and some funky Klaus Voormann bass get increasingly carried away.
On side two 'Mind Holes' is an atmospheric but ultimately rather dull bit of psychedelic singing over a strummed acoustic guitar that would have fitted right in on the similarly spacey 'Yellow Submarine' film soundtrack (Sea Of Mind Holes?) The definitive version of Yoko's mantra 'Don't Worry Kyoko' comes next as Yoko borrows one of Lennons' favourite phrases for a more personal use as she tells her missing daughter ('abducted' by her dad Anthony Cox - Yoko won't meet her again until the 1990s) from afar not to 'worry' and that her mum will come and find her somehow, to the sound of a demented Chuck Berry-style riff. Next up is the gorgeous, fragile piano ballad 'Mrs Lennon' in which Yoko borrows her husband's 'Imagine' sound and feels sorry for herself as she laments how she lost her 'silver spoon' (her family used to be rich back in Japan before the second world war) and speaks out against the Vietnam War ('Half our children are always killed you know'). The track is impressively solemn and Yoko is an impressive pianist- thankfully of all the many sounds Yoko tries out across this album it's this one she'll return to most often across her next record and masterpiece 'Approximately Infinite Universe'. 'Hirake' (loose translation 'a collection of power across various societies') is effectively another re-recording of 'Open Your Box' (already released as B-side to 'Power To The People') with the 'censored' verse added back in ('Open your trousers, open your skirt, open your legs, open your thighs!' which becomes open your houses, open your church, open your lakes and open your eyes' on the single!) The track then ends suddenly with the flushing of 'Toilet Piece' for thirty seconds which isn't one of Yoko's more inventive ideas. Nor is 'O Wind (Body Is The Scar Of The Mind)' which is more Yoko wailing, this time over session drummer Jim Keltner playing tabla.
Side three is one of the longest twenty minutes of my life and is by far the least convincing quarter of the record. It starts with the wobbly atonal noise of 'Airmale' which lasts for a full eleven minutes of garbled nonsense, with picked guitar and piano strings making for a most unsettling noise underneath Yoko's vocal din. The song is the only soundtrack to Yoko's film 'Erection', though what it has to do with a house magically ending upright again after being demolished I'm not quite sure. The creepy 'Don't Count The Waves' features Yoko having fun in the echo chamber and sound effects cupboard at Abbey Roads and though the opening is striking it goes on far too long. The nine minute 'You' is just a continuation of the last track but performed slightly faster, with a curious rattled electronic effect that sounds like a time portal is being conjured up or something.
Meanwhile over on side four Yoko is pretending to be a fly - for a whole 22 minutes. 'Fly' isn't bad actually even if Yoko does seem to think that a fly sounds very like a horse but she keeps your interest more than some of her avant garde works (though compared to side three anything would sound good!) The record ends with 'Telephone Piece' is a surprisingly old-fashioned phone ringing for a full 37 seconds before Ono picks up and says 'hello this is Yoko!' (was this planned and especially recorded? I have a wonderful image of Yoko sitting round with her engineers back in the Lennon's Scot house waiting for the phone to ring!) This CD adds a couple of bits of ephemera - the brief 'Between The Takes' (which is just an improvised scream over an even rougher sounding jam than usual) and the rather lovely demo of 'Will You Touch Me?', a song that sounds all sweetness and light here with Lennon charmingly whistling along which will be transformed beyond all recognition for the sinister re-reading on 'Season Of Glass' in 1981.
Overall 'Fly' is an inventive and playful LP although inevitably given the piecemeal way it was made it's a very inconsistent one, with very little worth listening to across side three or four at all. Yoko is clearly looking round for inspiration now that she's used rock and roll in an avant garde setting and is preparing to match Lennon at his own game ('Mrs Lennon' especially sounds like Yoko trying to reach out to her husband's natural style). Yoko isn't quite there yet, although 'Fly' is a highly fascinating stepping stone towards making the most of that style and will prove to be a valuable step forward to the discovery of 'songwriting' as opposed to 'idea writing' on 'Universe'. However in many ways it's a shame that Yoko will never be quite this adventurous again, with the slow funky groove of 'Mind Train' especially welcome and quite unlike anything else any other artist would ever think of putting together. Unfortunately though no one else but Yoko would spend 22 minutes of their life being a fly or warbling uncomfortably over an unlistenable backing as she does for the entire side three. Our solution is to find this record cheap and get rid of the second disc altogether and then 'Fly' really does fly, rather than plummet.
Yoko Ono "Approximately Infinite Universe"
(Apple, January 8th 1973)
(First published as 'AAA 'Core' Review #54' in July 2008)
Yang Yang/Death Of Samantha/I Want My Love To Rest Tonight/ What Did I Do?!?/Have You Seen A Horizon Lately?// Approximately Infinite Universe/Peter The Dealer/Song For John/Catman (The Rosies Are Coming)/What A Bastard The World Is/Waiting For The Sunrise//I Felt Like Smashing My Face In A Clear Glass Window/Winter Song/Kite Song/What A Mess/ Shirinkatta (I Didn’t Know)/Air Talk//I Have A Woman Inside My Soul/Move On Fast/Now Or Never/Is Winter Here To Stay?/Looking Over From My Hotel Window
"Nothing's gonnna last, so take a bit of grass and move on - fast!"
ONE of the Ono-Lennons spent most of 1972 crafting away on a cracking double album, chock-full of staggering pioneering songs that covered a ridiculous array of styles the performer had been painstakingly learning over the past four or so years after being cast into the deep end of an alien art world, forsaking their amateur status to drill a bunch of session musos at the top of their game and end up, a few months later, with the best release of their career. For once in the pair’s career, that someone wasn’t Beatle John. While Mind Games revealed a tired, drained performer going through the motions (in Lennon’s own dismissive words that year ‘it’s just another record, going round like any other record does’), Yoko was working on easily the best songs of her career, a staggeringly brave yet undeniably beautiful and listenable album that’s actually a better best-of than any of the Yoko compilations out on the market, featuring nearly all of the best songs of the misunderstood avent gardist’s career. And yes, I do mean songs. Yoko’s early sound-effects-and-squawking experiments like Fly and the Yoko/Plastic Ono Band album are badly under-rated and have their share of good ideas if you’re in the right mood for them, but in truth their off-the-wall subject matters and guttural screams were only ever going to be enjoyed by a minority audience. Universe really is an ‘album’ though, to be enjoyed by approximately everybody – true it has an underlying feminist theme that shapes nearly all of the songs and makes this record an uncomfortable listen for some, but even these are challenging anthems written in the rock idiom rather than the rather empty sloganeering you might remember from Yoko’s contributions to John’s B-sides of the period (not Listen The Snow Is Falling, though, that’s just class). This album even has cohesion on it’s side, with a similar but not-so-similar-they-sound-the-same atmosphere running through most of the songs, a bunch of America’s best session musicians fully devoted (for once) to making Yoko sound good and a glorious production sheen that finishes the job.
It really is all Yoko’s work too – every song is hers and there are no co-writes, although Lennon naturally features on a couple of tracks (As an interesting note, Yoko dedicates this album to ‘John – my favourite member of the second sex’ and that’s sums up their relationship at the time pretty well – if this album can be read as genuine comment on their marriage (and Yoko drops enough hints that these songs are at least partly autobiographical) then Mrs Lennon seems unable to decide whether to strangle John or give him a great big hug half the time. The ‘lost weekend’ separation is only 18 months away and you can hear quite a bit of that growing tension on this record – although Yoko still admires and respects Lennon enough to use him as a producer (you can hear him talk at the end of Kite Song for instance), as a guitarist (Move On Fast), as a pianist (What A Mess, with Lennon’s goonish cry of ‘boogie woogie’ at the beginning) and as a harmony singer (I Want My Love To Rest Tonight). Lennon always reckoned that Yoko’s Japanese background was a good preparation for rock music (Japan’s most traditional art-form, the haiku, is a short and fractured poem and is in a sense the three-minute rock song of the poetry world) and the two fully-fledged rock-adrenalin basic bursts where Yoko really lets herself go are two of the album’s best songs. But it’s the glorious ballads, unwinding tunes and complex lyrics that make this album the great little masterpiece that it is, a staggering achievement from someone who had never actually made a ‘proper’ album of songs before and this double-set reveals more attention-to-detail and sophistication on each listening. Indeed, has there ever been two stranger back-to-back albums than Fly and Universe? Sacrificing weird sound effects, bizarre screaming and confrontational backing tracks, Universe gains by delivering tight, concise songs, detailed lyrics that tell us of how Yoko is screaming inside but can’t get anybody to listen and confrontational songs played to tight backing tracks that pack a punch now, never mind back in 1973 when female performers just weren’t meant to be able to do this sort of thing (grace Slick and a few others aside). Not a bad swap, and unlike many experimenters who ’find’ ’proper’ music from Frank Zappa to Tiny Tim, any accusations of Yoko ‘going soft’ simply go out the window when you read almost any of the lyrics from this album.
This double set is, you see, pretty revealing about Yoko’s personal feelings, reflecting not only on her growing unease at her marriage to John but also her troubled childhood growing up in Japan, her confused relationships with the parents she hardly knew, her regret at losing custody of her daughter Kyoko to her former husband Anthony Cox, her own feelings of outsiderness cut off from her avent garde world during her time with Lennon and her confusion at being a figure of hate or at least suspicion for many Beatles fans (Prejudiced Beatles fans still struggle to take in the idea that John had his choice of just about any female he wanted in the 60s and yet he still fell in love with a member of a different ‘race’. This idea is quite palpably nonsense to our hopefully slightly more modern and forward thinking age (but then again…), especially as Lennon wasn’t singing about freedom and equality for nothing in his lyrics of the day. There were however two more, often overlooked obstacles in the couple’s relationship. The first is that – despite assumptions to the contrary – Yoko is Lennon’s elder by seven years and this in a day when split-age romances were even less common than they are today. The second is that Yoko, like Lennon, was married when they met (albeit separated from her husband) – in fact she had been married twice before she met John, which was enough of a stigma to create a hoo-hah in the late 60s even if she hadn’t fallen in love with one of the most famous men on the planet. While most fans know about John’s son Julian (and presumably anybody interested enough to read this detailed a website knows about John-and-Yoko’s son Sean), many Lennoniacs forget that for a while John was also an adoptive father to Yoko’s daughter Kyoko from her second marriage to Tony Cox. However, the couple were going through their most harrowing period at the time they were meant to be ‘looking after’ her– ie drugs, broken up Beatles, primal scream therapy and Cold Turkey – and after a well-publicised car crash that injured the extended Lennon family of 1969 (was Lennon on drugs at the time he was driving? Probably not, but something that’s been hinted at in the years since too) Yoko’s former husband, naturally afraid for his daughter’s safety, got a court to decree that the Lennons were ‘unfit’ to look after Kyoko.
So far so natural, but Cox was so afraid that Lennon would come looking for him that he promptly fled, in the eyes of the law ‘kidnapping’ his daughter and starting a new life for them both in mysterious circumstances. This turn of events must have been hard on Yoko who never saw her daughter again during her childhood years (Lennon saw equally little of his son Julian in this period, possibly out of sympathy to Yoko or more probably guilt and shame at the end of his first marriage) and this fact only added to the misery felt when Yoko mis-carried the couple’s first baby together, also in 1969 (the pair recorded the baby’s heartbeat for particularly harrowing listening on the second of their Unfinished Music Series – Life With The Lions). Many fans have wondered if Yoko lost her baby because of the couple’s escalating drug use – if so, what with the events surrounding Kyoko as well, its no wonder that Yoko seems to be opening a bottomless well of guilt and despair on parts of this album. Thankfully her personal story—which seems to have only a miniscule chance of happiness on this album— had two happy endings; the birth of son Sean in 1975 and a sudden contact from her daughter Kyoko sometime in the 1990s - rumour has it the pair are much closer nowadays after an edgy start.
Good songwriters need stress and anxiety in their lives to shake them up and make them question what is important to them – Yoko was unlucky enough to have more problems than most during the 70s and in many ways this album is like a two-year-delayed outpouring of grief in the Lennon/Plastic Ono Band mould, albeit with more melody and layered production. Yet Yoko is content to show off her warmer side too, engaging in a couple of delightful upbeat and optimistic songs that could easily pass as fun-sun-surf period-Beach Boys or the Monkees at their most care-free.
All that personal angst and hummable pop songs only accounts for half of this double album though: sprinkled throughout both discs are several pioneering and brave feminist anthems. Many of Yoko’s attacks on the male species before and after this album are simply embarrassing (Women Power on Feeling The Space springs to mind, which almost rivals the godawful empty ‘girl power’ of the Spice Girls in its sheer pointlesness . Has anybody else ever come up with a debut single so stupid and so brazenly artistically bankrupt that they get away with the chorus line ‘I really really really wanna zig-a-zig-ah’ repeated no less than four times in a song? And what is it with the promo video for this debut single—the ‘girls’ manage to insult a homeless person before even singing a note of their first song?!? (One of them actually aims a kung fu kick at the tramp while another goes ’ha ha’ - before the spice girls finally get on with it, walk into a nightclub and sing. Well, do something that vaguely equates to singing in the loosest sense of the word, anyway). And did you know the Spice Girls are now knocking on the doors of the top 150 most successful artists ever (in UK sales terms at least?!?!?!) How the hell did that happen? That’s nearly the same success rate as the Kinks for goodness sake!! (And they took 40 years to reach that point). Talk about Wannabees… (Rant over, now back to the article).* see note 3 - but not quite, thank God) and like Lennon at his worst Yoko’s sloganeering often makes her songs feel like hard work rather than showing off her fine feel for melody and production. On this album, however, there are no such worries – whether being cute, intelligent, dramatic or downright rude, Yoko backs up her ideas with some clever arguments and is more than a mite brave in putting such controversial thoughts in front of an already-dismissive male-dominated rock audience in the comparatively narrow-minded 1970s. Yoko even burned her bridges with the few supporters she had in the name of art and her feelings – the feminist movement dropped her like a brick after hearing Mrs Lennon express sympathy for her tired-looking husband on I Want My Love To Rest Tonight. Most Beatles fans who are none the wiser assume that Yoko doesn’t react to their provocations in public because she’s stupid and none the wiser about their attacks on her character. In fact Yoko proves her intelligence, bravery and occasionally her humour several times on this album which – had this album developed slightly more of a cult following – might have shut them up a bit quicker (this album is by far Yoko’s best-loved record among her fans but unfairly she seems to have precious few of those). It’s worth noting her too that Lennon never addressed anybody else except Yoko as his ‘intellectual equal’, even McCartney and he wasn’t exactly cowardly or stupid himself.
If Yoko still seems to be having a surprising struggle with the English language in places (she’d been living in America quite a while by the time of this record) you can take nothing away from her vocals on this album – spirited yet accurate, feisty yet warm, most musicians would give their two front tea-chest basses to sound like this. As for the backing musicians—Elephants Memory sounded like a mess on the sprawling Lennon epic Sometime In New York City; here they sound disciplined, clever and—more than anything else—inspired. Best of all, however, is session guitarist Wayne Gabriel—Yoko’s most sympathetic of her many musicians throughout her long career, whose liquid guitar runs do a fair mimic of Yoko’s reserved but deeply deeply passionate vocals. However, its Yoko herself who is the star of this record—singing in a second language, writing in an idiom that was alien to her for most of her life and writing deeply personal songs in the knowledge that anything she said was going to come in for attack during this uncomfortable phase of her life, her vision still shines out from this record loud and clear.
I write this review in the full knowledge that this double-disc set is quite hard to get hold of by the way – so please don’t complain that they don’t have the CD on the shelves at Asda or Morrisons. The only copy I’ve been able to track down formed CD two of Yoko’s Onobox career history set (luckily the album is near-complete – but only near so apologies for the two songs that are missing from this review) – so I write no 54 on this list either for the people who are privileged enough to have heard it already or in the hope that the album will get a decent CD release of its own one day soon and albums archives fanatics won’t have to mortgage their houses to hear what I’m raving on about.
Yang Yang is a powerful opener with a gradual build-up of tension, setting out most of this album’s plus points from the word go. This song’s Eastern philosophy shares much in common with George Harrison’s I, Me, Mine in the way it explores the imbalance of ego without humility for the greater whole (or ‘yang’ without the ‘yin’). Yoko builds the song to a great height in the second half, reaching an early wrath of indignation about narrow-minded people who wouldn’t notice the world changing if it happened right under their noses, which it is—or so she hints. The song’s military-like precision and pace is counterbalanced by guitarist Wayne Gabriel’s glorious liquid runs in the right speaker, setting out much of Universe’s beauty and anger with aplomb and discipline.
Death Of Samantha quickly shows us the other side of Yoko, a slow melodic and ethereal low-key ballad which just oozes melancholy. Yoko may hide behind a character in this song, but this tale about gradually realising you’ve given up your own identity to live up to someone else’s opinion of yourself is obviously about Yoko herself. Sung as if in a dream throughout, Yoko’s narrator can no longer tell the real from the unreal, outwardly thanking and agreeing with the few people around her who say she is still a ‘cool chick baby’ while inwardly full of self-doubt and suffering a lack of confidence. Trying to remember how her smile used to ‘light up’ her mother’s face, she reflects where all that hope and magic went – deciding that even back in her childhood her smile disappeared when she was alone and she no longer had to pretend to be someone else for other people. By the last verse Yoko lets her guard drop, telling us that her whole demeanour was ‘an accident – a part of growing up’ and an effort not to get hurt - the drum rolls that build up after this last admission just before Yoko has to go back to ‘acting’ her cool, calm self is particularly clever. A great song about facades that would do even Justin Hayward or Paul Simon proud, Yoko’s vocal is icy-cool in this song, portraying the strong silent adult she likes to portray herself as in the press, even while the lyrics point towards the vulnerable helpless child underneath it all. No wonder Lennon fell head over heels with her – he himself sang of hiding his true feelings several times in his career and of putting on a front to ‘help’ cover up the vulnerability he felt in private, despite his outward toughness. The detached manner of the song, especially the cocktail lounge laidback jazz feel, works in contrast to Gabriel’s power guitar work, which pierces the song with razor-blades of sharp emotion throughout., even while the rest of the band seem to be innocuously laying down this song between drinks at the bar. Yoko finally drops her icy demeanour for her heartfelt cry at the song’s end: ‘what to do? What can you do?’, with the feeling of helplessness that lies at the core of many of the tracks on this album.
I Want My Love To Rest Tonight is genuinely warm, however, one of several gorgeous ballads Yoko dedicated to her husband in the 70s. Even this early into the album, when Yoko’s feminist oeuvre hasn’t properly been laid out yet, she’s already questioning her attacks on male society to some extent- or at least the times when she should use her attacks. Yoko sees her tired and worn-out husband needs care and to some extent is undermining her previous stance, reflecting here how her ‘man’ at least cannot help the way he acts: he’s been programmed down the years by women as to act in a particular way (As discussed, more than one commentator has pointed out that Yoko provided the domineering spirit of his carer Aunt Mimi with the warmth and unconventionality of his real mother. Forgotten by nearly every Lennon commentator however is the fact that Yoko too always dreamed of a strong but freedom-loving soul-mate in her early work – a ‘father figure’ who still retained his childlike innocence throughout his life and far from being disapproving of Yoko’s craziest, most off-the-wall ideas, positively encouraged her. Say what you will about Yoko’s talent or Lennon’s for that matter - these two were well-matched and seemed, at least on the surface, to be exactly the sort of persons the other had been dreaming about for most of their early life). Nothing is safe from falling apart on this album, with Yoko painting all the things she believes in as having flaws—notably, she undermines her own feminist songs coming up later on this album by giving us this opposite argument first. It’s interesting to note how similar this song is to several Linda McCartney records, starting off with solo piano before gradually being joined by an orchestra and with lyrics showing a toughness behind their sweetness; polar opposites in other ways they may have been but both songwriting Beatles were well matched by their chosen partners. If Tonight is strong on ideas, however, it falls down in the recording: Yoko’s vocals wobble off the note a few too many times for comfort and her angular melody isn’t quite up to her other efforts on this album. Still, the song picks up for the group performance when Lennon joins in the vocals – although the lyric about males being ‘frustrated would-be presidents of the united states’ seems a bit harsh; after George W Bush I don’t think many males would care to imagine themselves in that role ever again.
The tempo picks up again with What Did I Do?, the only instance on this album of Yoko returning to her 60s screaming, albeit with a song attached somewhere too. Yoko’s guttural squawks can be hard going over a whole album it’s true, but Yoko can squeal like no other singer and her wordless piercing wails are the nearest a singer has ever got to expressing vocally the out-of-control feedback drone of musicians reaching for the very edge of what is possible in music. The song, where Elephants Memory do their usual scary magic by making an innocent 50s rock and roll beat sound scarily unhinged, is punk three years early, with a primitive but great drum pattern, spiky guitar-work and a basic lyric about things going wrong. Yoko might start out talking about how something as trivial as losing belongings has caused her frantic anxious mood – she herself admits after a few minutes she can’t remember what she was looking for anyway – but the song takes a sinister turn in the second verse where her ‘closet’ becomes a place of filed-away memories, fears and doubts from her past, each with a story she’d rather hide. ‘Closing the door real fast’, Yoko sets out on a journey across the world looking for answers, accusing her partner of not helping her along the way, while the angry rattled out chorus exclaiming variously ‘where is it? where can it be?’ and ‘what did I do?, making for a typical Yoko postscript, half self-questioning and half accusing.
Have You Seen A Horizon Recently? is a slow bluesy song with yet more saxophones dreamily skating across a background of rhetorical questions similar in style to Yoko’s book Grapefruit (extracts of which she sent everyday to Lennon while he was with the other Beatles and the Maharishi in India, the point where most commentators believe their relationship became more than just friends or fellow artists). The song is interesting without being as ear-catching as it’s more boisterous cousins on the album, although these lyrics – about the self-induced limits of human potential and how we keep telling ourselves we’ll never amount to nothing, so we don’t try – are impressive when you study them in detail.
The title track 'Approximately Infinite Universe' kicks off the second side with an atmospheric song on the same lines: with an approximately infinite universe out there to study why does the ‘window of now’ and all its problems keep blocking out eyes to the real questions of life? These next batch of poetic lyrics also possibly touch on Yoko’s drug addictions, of how the hundreds of holes in her arms from her injections are there out of desperation to cover up the ‘hundreds of holes in her head’ and later ‘the holes in her dreams’. Again, though, Yoko sings these seemingly autobiographical statements in the third person, as if unable or unwilling to face up to them being about her true self (many beginning songwriters use this trick actually, as it’s an easy way of feeling less self-conscious about your work). The song is again sung by Yoko in a detached monologue-sort-of-way while the backing band cook up a storm behind her, with wailing saxophones meeting another exemplary Wayne Gabriel solo, layered with lots of echo as if the guitarist is having a conversation with himself. The tight drama of the song is impressive, as is Yoko’s elliptical lyrics which seem to suggest that - despite the isolation she feels - she takes some comfort from the thought that she is just one of many millions of beings across the galaxy suffering the same self-questioning self-destructive fate.
Peter The Dealer is another half-edgy, half-playful song about Yoko’s drug problems, with Yoko getting annoyed first at her dealer for not getting to her quickly enough and then at herself for her dependency on him. The song doesn’t take itself too seriously, especially the arrangement which lightens the tone by handing the main lick over to a honky-tonk piano, but it’s more than simple comic parody: the relentless march of the song and its military tempo gives the song a sinister vibe that suffocates us long before it reaches the end of it’s relentless march. The lyrics also show Yoko’s frustration behind some genuinely funny lyrics: the single-line chorus of ‘this life is a hell of a lot of wasting time’ makes it clear that she can’t function any more before taking her daily ‘fix’, a sorry state of affairs considering that it was to ‘fix’ or at least hide from these daily problems that made her take up the drug in the first place. The song does it’s best to distract us with its ear-catching swagger and jokey comedic gait, but the bleakness of the recording as a whole makes it clear that for the ‘inner’ Yoko, this is no laughing matter. The lyrics feature a third take on the emptiness and smallness of Yoko’s characters’ lives, juxtaposed against the equally empty but infinitely bigger universe as a whole: “We count the stars and tell ourselves this life is a hell of lot of wasting time’. A forgotten, impressive song that makes a fine riposte to Lennon’s song Dr Robert .
Song For John is another sweet slow ballad without the irony or biting kick of the other songs on the album, heavy on atmosphere (Yoko playing the piano with the ‘loud’ or echo pedal full on, with crashing cymbals and added percussion makes for a very moving sound), but not much in the way of composition. As the title makes perfectly clear, this funeral-paced ballad is written directly for Lennon and makes for quite a moving epitaph to the first part of their marriage together, reflecting first on their shared dreams and desires together and ending with a rather uncomfortable head-shaking over what they can possibly do together now they no longer seem to be working as one. There are plenty of Ono-friendly lyrics in this song, from the images of bare trees blowing sadly in the wind after being so full of blossom so shortly before to Yoko’s final pause over the line ’piled up like grapefruits’ - the book that Yoko published in 1968 and sent several extracts from to Lennon during his stay with the Beatles in India. (What is it with the Beatles and fruit? They gave us the Apple record label too of course). Chances are you have to be either John or Yoko to understand most of the images in this song and unusually for the personal-universal balancing act the listener is more likely to feel excluded from this track than involved.
Catman (The Rosies Are Coming) goes through some very strange territory indeed, being Yoko’s biggest feminist anthem on the record, albeit one that mixes a claws-out chorus, obscene nursery rhymes in the middle eight and seductive cat-like purrs throughout. The song starts off as a sarcastic re-write of a typical male-chat-up line, with the female in the assertive role before telling us that ‘the Rosies are coming to town’ – yet another of this website’s references to the idea of the ‘rose’ as a modern female rising out of the dirt of centuries of oppression (see Nuclear Furniture, review no 88, for a fuller exploration of this theme). A sudden flurry of drums just as the song seems to be about to fold in on itself leads us back into more teasing-but-angry territory and onto some lurid sexual imagery as Yoko recasts the traditional song ‘pattacake, pattacake’ from her own peculiar perspective (you’ll never hear this rhyme the same way again). An angular, scratchy brass riff then joins Yoko’s squeals on the song’s fade, although she’s having a ball with her double-tracked vocals on the rest of the song. Never mind the fears of selling out, Yoko makes the sentiments of Lennon’s Woman Is The Nigger Of The World sound positively tame with this cut. My friend Rosie is back again thinking this song is about her (Lizzie too for her name-check on the middle-eight) – I give up, this is meant to be a website not a phone book!
What A Bastard The World Is marks the return of the heartfelt feminist ballad; this character’s drunken husband goes off partying without her and although she wants to remonstrate with him she is so afraid of losing him completely that she fakes being asleep and plays innocent to all that has happened. Married to one of the album’s greatest tunes – so lovely is the melody line that this song would have been a huge hit with more mainstream words attached, but that’s not really the point of the song – this is Yoko, alone at the piano, playing out a whole role-play in her head of which her partner is completely unaware, thinking she is still asleep. The song undermines itself with a rather unnecessary coda (telling us how Joan of Arc could act how she wanted but females of the 1970s had too much to lose if they kicked up a fuss – a subject already covered perfectly well by the role-play here) but is otherwise one of the biggest successes of the record, reflecting first Yoko’s pain and misery, her no holds-barred anger (‘You jerk! You pig! You scum of the earth! You good for nothing!’) and eventually her remorse. This song may well be another made-up tale but, like much of the material on this album, it rings too true to seem fictional, especially given that Yoko like John in this period believed in ‘art’ reflecting ‘truth’. If so, then this is a scathing attack on Mr Lennon indeed – pre-facing the known incident that led to the Lost Weekend where a drunken Lennon ran off with another woman at a Yoko-hosted party, leaving his wife to gaze wistfully at the floorboards, unwilling to interrupt and chastise her husband, much to the surprise of her friends who seemed more angry with her than with John. This song is almost that scenario played out in a song, with the reserved Yoko wishing that she could raise her temper and get angry for real—but she’s too scared by this sudden insight into being lonely again to risk losing her husband completely. Forget the wish-washy songs about family life that filled up most of Double Fantasy – this is the sound of a real relationship being played out here, with the Lennon character not coming off at all well by the song’s end.
Waiting For The Sunrise is another beauty, but one in sharp contrast to the worries of the last song or indeed most of this album as a whole. Another elliptical set of lyrics attached to a winning pop tune, this is suddenly Yoko glad to be alive and eager to experience as much of life as possible, enjoying the time she is spending with her partner. Perhaps not coincidentally, it also sounds rather like one of Lennon’s early Beatles songs in its unbridled optimism and enthusiasm and makes a fine companion also to John’s later-period song about escaping problems and enjoying life, I’m Steppin’ Out. Yoko ends this first album on an impressively bouncy note, unable to wait the whole night before experiencing the gorgeous sunlight filtering into her window from outside. (More worryingly, given that this jolly track seems to appear out of absolutely nowhere on this record, is this Yoko waiting for her long dark ‘night’ of problems to be over, dreaming of a time of ’sunrise’ when her difficulties might have disappeared?)
It’s all gone wrong by side three however. The second album of the double starts with the memorably titled I Felt Like Smashing My Face In A Clear Glass Window. Like most of Yoko’s tracks on the Lennons’ collaboration Sometime In New York City, it shows Yoko had a great gift for writing 1950s-style rock songs with a sinister edge. Like that other album, it’s probably Elephants Memory playing here again and they cook up a great Johnny B Goode-type storm complete with brass backing for Yoko’s song of teenager-ish frustration at life, trying to get attention from a world of parents, friends and partners that don’t seem to care if she exists or not. The song makes it clear that if no-one will take any notice of Yoko’s narrator she will take up vandalism – venting her anger by smashing up a phone-booth round the corner and hoping that it will bring her some attention, with even the wrong sort of attention better for her than being ignored. Most of this song is obviously fictional – you can’t imagine Yoko smashing up pillar boxes somehow – yet the pictures of her distant parents who hardly saw her growing up (in the song her mother is dressed up like an old movie star and her father smells of alcohol) ring at least partly true and her feelings of having nothing in common with her peers is probably fairly true as well given the other autobiographical clues we get in Yoko’s songs and her early work as a foreign left-field artist scratching out a living in America with works that make even the ‘Tate modern’ prizes sound conservative in their approach. The song is played tongue-in-cheek for the most part, but in common with most of this album Yoko lets down her guard in the second half, suddenly singing straight about how alone and isolated she feels. ‘Is it me that’s going crazy or just the world?’ she sings at one point – telling how her hopes of receiving love from her parents are always cruelly dashed and her tale of feeding her birthday cake to her dog when nobody turns up to her party to share it with her would be hilarious if it wasn’t sung in such a lonely and hurt way. Like many of the songs on this album, the impressive backing suggests that Yoko has been borrowing her husband’s Chuck Berry and early Elvis records, but the spirit is punk rock three years early.
Winter Song is back to Yoko’s prettier style, with a gorgeously delicate not-really-there melody and some wistful lyrics hoping that, like the seasons, her bad times will finally pass even if she feels the ice ‘spreading rapidly’ and the clock representing her patience gradually ‘ticking away’. This song shares much in common with George Harrison’s early solo work, especially that covered already on this list, being equally quietly optimistic and full of images of nature always moving on and changing, but there are two important differences. The first is the lack of religious references in the song: Yoko’s world is very much man-made and she feels spiritual debts to no one. The other is the idea that, instead of George’s live-and-let-live nature, Yoko wishes that all of her fellow human beings will one day disappear and leave her and John alone to appreciate the world, because from what she feels from the world at large, only she and John deserve to see the world as it truly is.
Kite Song is my favourite track on the album, with typically Ono-ish imagery about trying to hold on to our dreams through life’s obstacles, using the metaphor of a children’s kite and telling us about when Yoko was forced to grow up and let it go. The lyrics might be poetic but the backing track is pure rock and roll, cooking up a terrific storm with a riff that Lennon himself would have been proud to have written (that’s John on the overdubbed edgy, spiky guitar by the way). Reflecting on our missed chances in life, Yoko recounts certain moments in her life when she realised the ‘kite’ was slipping from her grasp, including the time she was in a restaurant trying to keep up with an impressive crowd despite never understanding the words they were saying. Yoko’s vocal is at it’s best here, especially at the end of the track - which has remained impressively together and cohesive for all of this time - only to suddenly dissolve into near-chaos at the end, with squealing saxophones, twirling keyboards, rattled drums and screaming guitar all heading into feedback mode. There’s a stunning alternate take of this song on the six CD Onobox that might well be superior to the finished version here. Yoko misses a trick at the end of this slightly different version though – you can hear her berating her co-producer John in the control room for letting the band get carried away and messing up a potential take by having the whole band descend into chaos a bit too early. Lennon’s reply, that it sounded alright to him, must be the understatement of the year; all in all this is one of this album’s most stunningly inventive, swinging and original tracks on a stunningly original album.
What A Mess takes us back to the playful-sinister Yoko, with an out-of-control piano lick from Lennon (who was never a natural player of the instrument - there’s quite a few wrong notes at the end of the song!) and a towering feminist lyric rubbishing the anti-abortion brigade. In truth this spoof honky-tonk song sounds more than a little bit of a come-down after the last song and for once Yoko sings the song as if she doesn’t fully believe what she’s saying, rattling off her complex lyrics at a pace so fast she’s struggle to imbue pathos into them whatever they were. Yet lyrically this piece is the cornerstone of the entire album, with Yoko seeking to re-claim back ‘women’s bodies’ from the male domination she sees in the world and this is one of the bravest, most obscene and at times witty set of words she ever put together. Yet compared to the personal tale of What A Bastard The World Is and the sheer glee with which Yoko sings The Rosies Are Coming, this song feels strangely hollow when heard as a performance rather than read. Yoko’s feminist anthems always sound much more impressive when related to her personal story - here telling us that ‘equal is not equal enough’ without telling us why she feels so strongly or what made her think these thoughts in the first place is a bit of a lost opportunity. The lyrics about dealing with ‘phonies’ point the way to Yoko’s later Double Fantasy song I’m Moving On, suggesting that she might be talking about Lennon again here (if so, then this description by his wife would seem to make a mockery of his song Gimme Some Truth and the whole of the Lennon/Plastic Ono Band LP.
Shirinkatta (I Didn’t Know) is another classy song, most memorable for its beautiful repetitive piano lick which seems to sleepwalk its way through Yoko’s head, as if she’s muttering words in her sleep. This song’s lyrics about miscommunication and not realising the extent of another person’s (John’s?) hardship is the perfect match for the tune. To drive home the point about not being able to understand her partner or realise how ‘in pain’ he was, the song’s only verse is sung in French, Japanese and some other language (help!) before we finally hear it in English. We don’t understand what Yoko is saying at first (well, not unless you’re extremely well versed in European languages at any rate) and by the time we finally realised what Yoko is saying— I didn’t understand you— we know exactly how the narrator feels. Yoko sounds tired and weary again here, but still tries to rise to the occasion by showing support, musically kicking herself for not noticing her partner’s sorrows by repeating ‘I didn’t know’ several times over.
Air Talk comes next and is one of the lesser spots on the album. With Yoko again narrating rather than singing over a sprightly Elephants Memory backing, this is a curious mix of a very retro 50s and rock and roll groove with some of Yoko’s most obscure and fragmented lyrics. The basic theme of this song is that two people can never be perfectly in synch with each other and will always have some part of their make-up that makes them different from their partner—which is what makes us unique. ‘There is always air between us’ sings Yoko, no matter how close we are in spirit, with a few interesting verses about the Lennon’s being brought up in different cultures and speaking different languages and yet they still seemed very compatible when Yoko wrote this song, implying that some things about human nature exist across geographical boundary lines.
Lennon provides one of the best backing harmonies of his life on the side four opener I Have A Woman Inside My Soul, a decision you’d think rather strange given this song’s title but no matter. In stark contrast to the picture of two lovers heading their own sweet ways, the two Ono-Lennons have rarely sounded as harmonious or as close as they do on this track. Another slow and dreamy song, this is peculiarly relaxed for an Ono epic. It doesn’t quite have the beauty or the attack of the other songs on the album, but the jazzy accompaniment is pretty good even so and Yoko’s latest feminist statement – trying to understand what her sexes’ place in the world really is, now that they have more freedom and a little bit more power – is impressive. With more metaphors taken from nature, Yoko feels as if she is getting a ‘message’ from the things she is seeing – but can’t work out what that message is. On another level, this song is Yoko growing up, trying to remember when she became a ‘woman’ rather than a child and when it exactly it was that boys were no longer with girls. This song is the second-longest track on the album but, far from overstaying its welcome, its quiet beauty makes you wish it would carry on for a lot longer than it does.
Move On Fast is the album’s second classic rocker, with Yoko racing a rasping saxophone to a quick-tempoed finish and putting her squealing rock voice to it’s best ever use. The song’s punchy lyrics, detailing how life is best lived in the here and now, are also perfect for a rock song and the riff itself is a gem, perfectly moulded to Yoko’s vocals at her most basic. Sounding more punk than punk rockers, Yoko’s screams were never more suited to a backing track and the saxophones of Elephants Memory and more of Lennon’s impressive guitar improvisations back her up well. Listen out for yet more lyrical references to ’infinity’. As the album title implies, time hangs heavy over this album, with Yoko worried that her problems will carry on forever—and at the same time aware that all the things that made her happy seem to have eroded away, willing time to speed up and get this horrible portion of her life over with. The range of styles on this album is breath-taking and this song’s juxtaposition after the last track is a masterstroke, being full of punchy aggressive assertion and confidence in contrast to the last song’s worries and self-doubt. Another feather in Universe’s multi-coloured hat.
I could go on about that song all day – but the lyrics have told me to ‘move on fast’ so I will. Now Or Never is yet another song in contrast, showing off Yoko at her most lyrical with a very Dylan-like protest folk number about how mankind has to act now if it wants to solve problems for future generations. The lyrics are among Yoko’s cleverest, repeating the mantra of several period Lennon songs with their assertion that ‘dreams we dream alone are only dreams, but dreams we dream together is reality’. Yoko is also spot-on in her assertion that the 20th century will go down in history as ‘the century that killed’ – sadly Yoko and her contemporaries’ efforts to turn it into a ‘century of hope’ never quite came off, though the Ono-Lennons worked harder for that end and were more successful than most. Sadly the song has a rather weak tune to go with the clever lyrics and the recording places rather too much emphasis on Yoko’s voice (she’s really struggling with her tricky wording here and her efforts at double-tracking aren’t in the same league as most of her sterling work on this album). This song is no Give Peace A Chance admittedly, having none of that song’s gee-this-all-sounds-so-wonderful-I-want-to-join-in spirit, but then again it’s not as pointless and empty as Lennon’s Power To The People either.
Is Winter Here To Stay? doesn’t quite fit on the album somehow, having more in common musically with Universe’s follow-up Feeling The Space’s jazzy flourishes or Yoko/Plastic Ono Band in the unwelcome return to Yoko’s wordless wails. This is surprising given that the song’s title could pretty much be the sub-heading for this album, with fears of darkness hanging around unwanted forever, with the characters totally helpless in their attempts to shoo their troubles away. In truth this is even less of an excuse for a song than Yoko’s previous experimental material, such as flushing toilets or Yoko chanting ‘don’t count da waves’ for 20 minutes over a backing that sounds as if its been lifted from the soundtrack of a Dr Who episode. The only song on this album to approach ‘filler’ status, it’s a shame Winter wasn’t booted off the album altogether – goodness knows this double-album is long and varied enough!
The album then rounds off, uncomfortably, on its most depressing note with 'Looking Over From My Hotel Window'. Yoko, aged 39, looks from her hotel window at the seemingly fulfilled and happy people below, wondering why she isn’t allowed to be like them and, in her own words, ‘wondering whether to jump off or go to sleep’. Yoko sounds like she’s fed up of the ‘world’s clowns’ image the Lennons had at the time and her spirit has been truly broken by all her problems. Yoko also feels that stardom – or at least her partner’s stardom - has cost her dearly, robbing her of her privacy without even giving her the rock star’s aid of an audience that will listen to what she has to say – if ever there was a ‘cult’ artist who should never had her work thrust into the spotlight but should have had it adored by a small core audience built on word-of-mouth then it was Yoko. The fact that all the attention she craves comes because of who she married—a big no no for any practicing feminist—and that most of that attention is critical, full of attacks from people who felt Yoko was ‘using’ John at a time when probably the opposite was true, and you begin to see why this is such a depressing song, with Yoko wondering why life has led her into such a dead-end. Yoko’s couplet focussing on her missing daughter, then in the hands of her former husband despite many years of fighting to win her custody back, is particularly moving when you know of Yoko’s story and it’s easy to imagine her walking to the piano and, unable to sleep through her grief and guilt, coming up with this simple song. Like much of the album, though, Yoko sings her lyrics as if she is detached (an effect helped by the electronics on her voice which make her sound ‘alien’ and incomprehensible to the world around her), even singing ‘no trace of resentment, no trace of regret’ in one line although the rest of her paranoid, agonising lyrics make it clear that she is full of both of these feelings. The only saving grace for Yoko is the closeness she feels with Lennon – ‘show me your blood John and I’ll show you mine’ – but even as she sings these words you can tell Yoko is worried that he too is slipping though her fingers. The sudden end of the song, with the last words floating away into the ether, makes for a haunting close to an album that sounds very much like it was Yoko bringing us up to date with her thoughts come 1973, when Yoko was standing at her crossroads of her life, wondering what on earth can come out of the gloom to spur her on. So mournful is this closing song that you half feel like jumping off the window-ledge with her.
Luckily, her next batch of albums find Yoko in a comparatively happy state of mind – even the soliloquy over Lennon’s assassination that dominates Broken Glass (1980) is comparatively upbeat and at peace with life, thankful for the happy times if dreading the sad ones to come. Unfortunately for her, Yoko - like many artists, her husband included - only writes her best material when she is unhappy and sadly she never approached Approximately Infinite Universe’s casual brilliance even partly again, happily because life got much better for her. Yoko gets melancholy again many times over the course of her career but, generally speaking, its because she’s remembering and re-living the awful events in this troubled period. Maybe too Yoko’s melancholy fades because she knows with this album that she’s finally put together a work of art that any writer or singer would be proud of—Yoko was never going to get the whole world to love her music, but with this fine album she came as close as she needed to to prove to her talent to herself. Back in 1973 many cruel commentators said that John Lennon’s Mind Games album was a so-so record that finally had Lennon seeing the light by not giving over half the record to Yoko’s warblings as had happened on Sometime In New York City and various singles. Actually, the lack of Yoko’s songs on that album were hardly because Lennon has ‘finally come to his senses’ as many critics thought – surely it’s far more likely that Yoko would have overshadowed her spouse if even the worst of these songs had been placed on Mind Games. Even if Yoko has never approached again the best of this record, well, that’s OK; most artists haven’t touched the depth, wit, melody and ideas of this album either. A forgotten treat for listeners with open minds and open ears Approximately Infinite Universe covers nearly as much varied ground as the universe itself.
One of the most obscure albums on this list, your best bet of finding this album is to get hold of the superlative 6CD Onobox (if you’re feeling committed that is – this set actually well worth the price and despite its 8 hours running time has too little, not too much of Yoko’s work, although you might not play the first ‘screaming’ disc too many times). A note will be added to the website when (or if!) this album is ever given a proper CD release. STOP PRESS: Did I really see an advert for this album on CD via Tesco.net the other day?! I might have been hallucinating (writing websites like this one will do that to you) but, just in case I wasn’t, keep your eyes peeled. STOP PRESS YET AGAIN: I’ve managed to track down a new ‘limited edition’ release of this album on 2 CDs from 1998. Worryingly, it’s not even reached half of it’s 20,000 release yet in 10 years (mine’s numbered 9000 and something) so it’s not actually as obscure as first thought (bet you won’t find it in the shops though).
Yoko Ono "Feeling The Space"
(Apple, November 23rd 1973)
Growing Pain/Yellow Girl (Stand For Life)/Coffin Car/Woman Of Salem/Run Run Run/If Only//A Thousand Times Yes/Straight Talk/Angry Young Women/She Hits Back/Woman Power/Men Men Men
CD Bonus Tracks: I Learned To Stutter-Coffin Car (Live)/Mildred Mildred
"I came out of the darkness and into my house - the lights were left on but there was nobody home"
Though the subtitle credits 'The Plastic Ono Band and Something Entirely Different', sadly that proves not to be the case. Yoko's follow-up to her best album 'Approximately Infinite Universe' is rushed, misguided and bludgeons the same points she's just made so subtly on her last LP. This album was the first to be recorded without John as a key part of her band (although his guitar cameos on 'Woman Power' and 'She Hits Back') although Lennon - as an example of all male-kind hangs over this record like a ghost. Yoko has already tried to work out her differences intelligently across 'Universe' but she's clearly still feeling the rage of betrayal here on a set of angry songs that are given strangely dispassionate performances (though the couple are apart by this time, this record sounds as if Yoko has been doing a lot of listening to the recent 'Mind Games' which features similarly dispassionate performances of sad and guilty songs). Yoko has clearly worked hard to sound more conventional on this album, working with 'proper' session musicians rather than Lennon's friends for the first time and even adding strings and lush backing tracks. But this just highlights her strangeness: Yoko's always had a slight problem with natural pronunciation as anyone born to a foreign tongue will always have but usually that adds to rather than detracts from the songs. Here, though, presented to us as just another lush balladeer it's notable just how much Yoko struggles to fit the role she's created for herself. Her songs appear to come with conventional verse-chorus-middle eight structures - but again hearing Yoko's revolutionary ideas in this setting makes them sound more odd than they would in a musically revolutionary setting. Impressive as the feminist anthems on 'Universe' were, hearing a whole album with nothing but that point to make (without even the half-retraction of 'I Want My Love To Rest Tonight' to sound more 'human') is also terribly tiring, as we lose Yoko's past eclecticism for a series of songs that all say more or less the same thing (woman = good, man = bad). On 'Universe' those comments came with examples and motives and several thousand years of injustice behind what Yoko sings- this album just sounds like Yoko going 'grrrr men!' for about half an hour. The dedication, for instance, is 'the sisters who died in pain and sorrow for being unable to survive in a male society'.
It's as if Yoko has been listening to the feminist movement's 'other' big female star of the early 1970s (Helen Reddy) who'd just scored a massive hit in 1972 with 'I Am Woman', a track which sounds as if it could have slotted nicely onto 'Universe' and takes the usual 'pretty girl singing a sensitive ballad' format and turned it on its head. Yoko, after all, is an expert at taking things that shouldn't work for her and turning them on their head. Only this is a stretch too far - she's gone so deep into 'mainstream territory' this time that there are less for fans like me who love her more fringe-based rock to love. By walking into the lion's den to make her point, Yoko just sounds like all the other lions, even if she's roaring against not with the pack. Like the sphinx on the front cover, she's at her best when she's mysterious and unknowable, not trying to sound like everyone else. The result is probably Yoko's least convincing album and a surprise after such a strong rise up till now.
'Growing Pain' is the album's strengths and weaknesses together - the melody is quite lovely, the backing is tighter than usual and the mellotron is a nice touch - but Yoko doesn't belong in this world as she returns to the theme of childhood with Yoko a 'battleship frozen by my mother's anger'. 'Yellow Girl' is an ugly jazzy song about racism and of an oriental girl always on 'stand by' until something better comes along. 'Coffin Car' is about the best song on the album, a sneering power rocker that sighs 'half the world is dead anyway - the other is asleep!' However this band of session musicians have never been near a rock song in their loves and though strong as a song this lacks the performance of 'Midsummer New York' or 'Move On Fast'. 'Woman Of Salem' is the start of a favourite Yoko theme of identifying with witches, specifically those burnt in the middle ages as 'people rush, waiting for the kill'. Yoko sings most of the song oblivious to the people's anger but the song ends in an abrupt 'Why why why? Help Help Help!' answered by 'Must Kill, Must Hang, Must Die!' Again the performance doesn't make the most of another of the better songs on the album. 'Run Run Run' is a sleepy ballad that features some truly awful singing and a chorus that sounds as if it was lifted from Flanagan and Allen song 'Run Rabbit Run'. 'If Only' adds a touch of blues to Yoko's style bag and seemingly returns to the party where Lennon betrayed her. Yoko cut her finger the same day and wonders why her mind won't heal like her body, while remembering how she stuttered when trying to make casual conversation while her husband was upstairs making love to a stranger and reflecting that all this time on it's still stuttering. It's a pleasant but not very memorable song whose melody isn't up to its powerful lyrics.
'A Thousand Times Yes' is a curiously noisy jazz song with another full-on production where Yoko's best vocal on the album goes unrewarded thanks to the clinical feel of her surroundings. In the sing Yoko grows up asking 'why?' over and over but she didn't realise that no one really knew how the world worked and that the 'aware world' she imagined existed for grown-ups was really one guided by fear. 'Straight Talk' is a 'Sometime In New York City' style song with some sloppy jazz playing mixed with rockabilly as Yoko pleads with the world to communicate with each other more. 'Angry Young Woman' is actually quite a philosophical soppy ballad in which Yoko identifies with a young housewife leaving her children behind for a new life. 'She Hits Back' is a rather cheesy song with a big grinning musical teeth as Yoko runs through a list of body parts that don't work any more ('My ears are getting tired of listening all the time...') 'Woman Power' is the epic on the album and features some great noisy Lennon guitar but the lyrics are curiously clichéd and sloganeering compared to the multi-layered beauty of 'Universe' and the song soon drags under the weight of its own musical body armour as a full on gospel choir join in too. Yoko then rounds off with the sarcastic Marilyn Monroe style feminist coo 'Men Men Men' in which she tells us that 'Johnny is God's little gift, cream and pie' and how she wants her men 'clever - but not too clever and bad - but not too bad'. A few more rhymes in the chorus ('I want you to try your rightful position' doesn't even scan) and a less arch backing would have improved this song immensely.
The feeling from that song and indeed from the rest of the album is 'don't make Yoko angry', but ironically 'Feeling The Space' would have been a lot better if Yoko had allowed more of her anger to come over in the music. Instead it all sounds rather contrived and it's a pity so many good ideas get lost because the backing band are telling things 'straight' without the sarcasm or bitterness of Yoko's work. The result is a curious and rather ugly LP that will remain a rather ugly blot on Yoko's solo discography until after Lennon's death. Before we go, though, the CD adds a couple of interesting tracks - a live version of 'Coffin Car' that's a lot more powerful than it ever was on record and a demo of 'Mildred Mildred' that will be recorded for 'Season Of Glass' but be left on the shelf until the 'Onobox' in 1992, which is a shame given the sheer fun of this simple waltz, with Lennon guesting on guitar and as Mildred's distant husband Alfred ('Hiya!' he says when Alfred arrives!)
Yoko Ono "A Story"
(Originally Unreleased, Recorded 1974, Released As Part Of 'Onobox' in 1992)
(First published as part of 'News, Views and Music Issue #89' on January 31st 2010)
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
"Now I see my car heading for the cliff and I'm desperately looking for the brake, please don't let it happen to me, I'm not ready to die or live a living death"
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 'A Story' 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.
Yoko Ono "Season Of Glass"
(Geffen, June 8th 1981)
Goodbye Sadness/Mindweaver/Even When You're Far Away/No One Sees Me Like You Do/Turn Of The Wheel/Dogtown/Silver Horse//I Don't Know Why/Extension 33/No No No/Will You Touch Me?/She Gets Down On Her Knees/Toyboat/Mother Of The Universe
CD Bonus Tracks: Walking On Thin Ice/I Don't Know Why (Demo)
"I never want to cry or hold my breath in fear again"
Until now Yoko's reserve, leftover from her 'posh' Japanese upbringing, has been a source of irritation and the barrier that prevents shy Yoko from connecting with others. However on this painful album her reserve is Yoko's greatest strength, as she both taps into the sheer tragedy of her husband's sudden death without going over the top or being sensational. Recorded in something of a daze in the months after Lennon's death, many people around Yoko and many critics considered that hitting the 'Double Fantasy' studios so soon after Lennon's death was madness - but Yoko had always used her art to come to terms with colossal turning points in her life and this was no exception. 'Season Of Glass' makes good use of a handful of 'Double Fantasy' leftovers and several songs intended for the unreleased 1974 album 'A Story' with newer songs, so that in a sense we're getting the same mix of feelings that Yoko must have been feeling, switching from the past to the present to the future with every wave of grief. The old songs, still written partly as love songs to Lennon ('A Story' would have been to Ono what 'Walls and Bridges' was to Lennon - half still playing around but mainly tearful 'why did we ever say goodbye?' songs) are delivered in a mocking tone, songs that were once about separation and physically betrayal turned into songs about absence and death.
The outtakes such as the 'Yes I'm Your Angel' style 'Turn Of The Wheel' are almost painful as Yoko returns to 'Hard Times Are Over' by sighing that even after all this time there are 'still more heartaches to learn'. And the new songs are powerful stuff: 'I Don't Know Why' was written in grief and shock the day after Lennon's death - a demo recorded at the time appears on the CD re-issue and is perhaps the most harrowing moment of a harrowing album, with Yoko close to tears. 'No No No' doesn't refer to the death itself but it begins with three gunshots and Yoko crying before in a musical version of her film 'Rape' she gets taunted by 'herself' into facing something she can't cope with just yet. Other songs reflect sadly on the life of old age that wasn't to be, referring to Lennon in the past tense for the first time on 'Mindweaver' (close to Lennon's description of himself as a 'dream weaver') and sighing that for all their disagreements 'No One Can See Me Like You Do'. The result is deliberately raw and performed understandably with less care and attention than usual by Yoko (who sleep-sings her way through the entire record, still audibly in shock) but it's undeniably powerful. A bit too powerful for most fans in places, who lack Yoko's life-saving reserve - especially the cover featuring Lennon's blood-stained glasses set in the window of the Dakota apartment and a glass of water Lennon had left there mere hours earlier when he had been photographed for the last time by Playboy magazine. Yoko was ticked off something awful by the press for being 'sensationalist' - but it was a mere glimpse at how harrowing the experience must have been for Yoko and makes sense within this album's theme of 'show it as it is'. Lennon, keen on authenticity no matter the cost, would almost certainly have approved. Though released quietly, with as little fanfare as possible, a grieving public took Yoko to their hearts for one solitary time and made this by far her best-selling album, peaking at a US chart high of #49.
'Goodbye Sadness' clearly picks up where 'Hard Times Are Over' left off, but though Yoko's lyrics are upbeat the one time on the album we hear her voice quiver and the funeral tone of the sparse backing make it clear that sadness is in fact here to stay. 'Mindweaver' is a stunning song and the clear album highlight, as a sad synth lick sighs mournfully under a cracking Hugh McCracken flamenco guitar part. Lennon was by turns a 'mindweaver' 'mindbeater' and 'mindbender' as Yoko tries to remember her husband in all his many facets before her memories are wiped out by the 'sainted' portrayals by the media. Yoko remembers him 'always on the phone' discussing some big plan, selling 'dreams', talijg through his 'hurt' or 'telling me what I did wrong'. The melody to this track is one of Yoko's best, sad and desperate, but sung detached as if the grief hasn't hit her yet. Five-year-old Sean introduces 'Even When You're Far Away', another clear highlight, by telling us of a joke his dad told him of how 'once upon there was an old old story in which once upon a time there was an old old story' adding like his dad 'you see - the story can begin and end anywhere!' Mum Yoko hopes he's right and following the as-yet unreleased 'Milk and Honey' songs about how John and Yoko were the re-incarnations of previous lovers Yoko looks forward to a time when they'll be together again. Thinking of Mark Chapman she sighs 'I wonder why I could never hate you' though the anger in her voice nearly gives her away before Yoko almost crumples before us, trying to take away what she learnt from Lennon's 'gonna be alright mantra' that 'this is just the way it happens to be'. Reflecting on the murder she blames herself and her fellow artists for not doing more to make the world a nicer place quicker, sighing that 'we don't know how to love without fear'. Addressing Lennon directly she tells him 'part of me will always be with you - part of you is growing with me...I saw your soul and you saw mine'. Together with the beautiful haunting melody and the powerful dramatic performance (in which Earl Slick dazzles on guitar) Yoko creates a response that Lennon would have been proud of, painfully trying to replace fear and anger with love.
'Nobody Sees Me Like You Do' is another special song, with Yoko looking over at her son's troubled face and asking the fates 'why did it have to be like this? I wanted us to be happy!' Yoko remembers seeing her husband slipping away but still with a 'touch of life', apologises for everything she did wrong and adding 'please remember - I only wanted you to be happy'. A final verse has Yoko longing for it all to be over, to 'quit moving, quit running, I wanna relax and be tender' and hoping against hope that it's all been a bad dream and even yet she and Lennon can be together in old age 'rocking away in our walnut chairs'. Another lovely melody, sighing but still keeping going, makes for another classic heartbreaking track. 'Turn Of The Wheel', leftover from 'Double Fantasy' sounds very out of place with Yoko singing up-front with a smile on her face - the contrast is surely deliberate as we're reminded of the chasm between the two records recorded just a few months apart. It's not that great as a song though sadly and was probably the ';right' song to get the push from the 'Fantasy' album. 'Dogtown' was originally an upbeat chatty song from 'A Story' as Yoko walks her dog round the local neighbourhood and reflects on all the things she keeps meaning to do, before the 'dogtown' becomes a metaphor for the nastier side of life as Yoko gets told off for trying to be like Europeans. This time round Yoko sings through gritted teeth and the mood is much gloomier all round, with horror movie style backing vocal swoops, though the overall effect is underdone by Yoko returning to the 'peas porridge hot' nursery rhyme over and over for no apparent reason.
The shaky ballad 'Silver Horse' sounds more like a demo than a finished recording but is pleasant enough, with Yoko remembering a recurring dream that she's trained herself to escape from the moment she sees it coming, with something she doesn't want to face. Yoko feels like a 'frightened deer' but she learns to trust her fear one day when instead of the evil monster in walks a silver horse to take her on glorious adventures (she moans to us in conversation that he had 'no wings' the way she'd always imagined - 'but he wasn't so bad you know!') The angry 'I Don't Know Why' is understandably unhinged as Yoko wonders why things had to go so badly wrong just when things seemed to be going so right, opening with a lovely passage of bird song that's cut cold. Her mantra is 'I don't know why' accompanied by an excellent Earl Slick guitar part that could strip paint, stalking Yoko throughout the song as if her nightmare has just become real as she laments a world 'so empty without you'. By the end Yoko's reserve slips and still in her immediate grief she screams 'You Bastards!', blaming a whole body of people rather than just her husband's murderer, 'Hate us, hate me...We had everything you...' but Yoko composes herself before she loses her hold on the song anymore. It's an incredibly moving moment, the one place on the album where the 'real' Yoko of 1981 slips through and it was a brave move allowing this song out at all when it was all still so raw. Another album highlight. 'Extension 33' is a rather histrionic remake of the rather more placid demo from the 'A Story' era. Trapped away from Lennon during the 'lost weekend' phase (and now of course more permanently) Yoko imagines herself 33 times removed from him - the number of her telephone and chants 'freedom!' Richie Havens style in the chorus, first out of pure unbridled enjoyment, but then in mocking tones as if her 'freedom' away from Lennon has only trapped her more.
'No No No' starts with three gunshots and Yoko howling 'no!' as if she's reliving the moment before she kick-starts a mocking, bitter song in which a spoilt brat persona goes head to head with her more troubled self. However the lyrics make no mention of the murder and instead seems to refer to a night of love-making Yoko never wanted and which haunts her now ('I can't do it - I keep seeing broken glass when we do it!' one half of her sighs while the other orders 'do it!') Yoko seems to be imagining herself with someone else in the future, the wedding ring falling off her finger, but while her lust seems to get the better of her she can't bring herself to do it. The song then crashes into a turbulent 'nee-naw'ing siren that recalls the main riff of 'I Am The Walrus' and no doubt the ambulance that rushed her and John to the hospital. 'Will You Touch Me?' is one final love song for Lennon, written back in the 'A Story' era originally song coquettishly by Yoko but now sung with a sadness. What used to be the comedy line 'all my life the doors kept on closing on me' now sounds terribly sad. 'She Gets Down On her Knees' has Yoko reviving her scream for one last time as she returns to another song about missing John from 'A Story', vomiting a bit more of the painful life away to go along with her hangover (the original version was rather better). The playful 'Toyboat' dreamily drifts past, Yoko dreaming of an escape from her life that will take her to shore - and wondering why she ever got inside a 'toy boat' and trusted it to keep her safe. The song is apparently a new recording, but it sounds very different to all the other 'new' performances on the album, with Yoko back to her old twinkling self, suggesting this may in fact be another 'A Story' leftover that never made the final submitted album (it's childlike feel is certainly more akin to that album than this decidedly grown up record). Finally 'Mother Of The Universe' is a slow hymnal song that re-writes The Lord's Prayer and pleads for 'wisdom and power'. Again Yoko sounds strangely 'together' compared to most of the album, suggesting this too is an older song. It's a rather odd and average way to end a compelling, powerful album.
Overall though 'Season Of Glass' is as hard-hitting an album as you can wish to hear. Many artists would have chosen to wait before releasing such songs of upset and anger into the world, but Yoko instinctively understands how important this album was to the world to mourn and for her in particular to work through her grief. Any fan who ever cared for Lennon and has a tough enough skin to listen to her widow turning her pain into high conceptual art with a few rough edges thrown in needs to hear this album, which is one of the most powerful AAA-related records of them all, even close to a 'Yoko Plastic Ono Band' album than the real thing. It could have been better - there are far superior and fitting songs from 'A Story' to revive, including the gorgeous 'Winter Friend' and this should perhaps have been a really strong ten-song set than an inconsistent fourteen-track one. But 'Season Of Glass' gets every important decision 'right', facing Lennon's death head on without glamorising or sensationalising it and though nobody wanted an end to the JohnandYoko story at all, this is a powerful and fitting coda to one of the greatest relationships in all of rock music.
Yoko Ono "It's Alright (I See Rainbows)"
(Polygram, November 1982)
My Man/Never Say Goodbye/Spec Of Dust/Loneliness/Tomorrow May Never Come//It's Alright/Wake Up/Let The Tears Dry/Dream Love/I See Rainbows
CD Bonus Tracks: Beautiful Boys (Demo)/You're The One (Alternate Take)
"There are many things in life I can endure"
Yoko's next album was a more commercial attempt to launch Yoko as a commercial star in her own right. Taking to period technology in a way neither her nor John ever had before, it sounded very modern and contemporary at the time although nowadays it's considered one of her most dated, more ordinary works. The mood couldn't be more different to 'Season Of Glass' - though not quite joyful there's a hope and optimism across this record which comes as a surprise and it's a mood that rather wrong-footed the public who were still very much in mourning for their lost hero. Not that Yoko's forgotten Lennon at all - he's the source of many of the songs and is pictured on the very moving back cover, a 'ghost' whose returned to look after his family, spotted by a now seven-year-old Sean in 'our' world while walking through Central Park. However Yoko seems to have moved on through her stages of grief rather quickly and is now thankful for their times together rather then distraught that they're over. 'My Man' for instance boasts that no other wife ever had a husband as special as John, 'Tomorrow May Never Come' is a pop-fuelled song about denial from 1974 and the two title tracks dream of a happier future in true JohnandYoko fashion, while the effects-filled album highlight 'Never Say Goodbye' (which sounds more like Duran Duran) is about how the pair will be together again someday. Interestingly Yoko revives her final 'A Story' leftover in the form of 'Loneliness', written for her 'lost weekend' in 1974, but which takes on a whole new meaning after Lennon's murder; it sounds very out of place amongst the other largely happy songs although this version is far less depressed sounding than the original. Unfortunately the backing makes this one of the most 1980s albums in my collection and rather detracts from the worth of the songs, making the lyrics hard to hear and ultimately this is easily Yoko's weakest album outside 'Feeling The Space'. If Yoko ever decides to revisit it 'Double Fantasy stripped down' style, however, I'll be first in the queue as there's definitely something here worth listening to and Yoko's decision to try and show the way by making the world a happier rather than sadder place for Lennon's passing is surely something of which her husband would have approved.
Yoko Ono "Starpeace"
(Polygram/Rykodisk, February 18th 1985)
Hell In Paradise/I Love All Of Me/Children Power/Rainbow Revelation/King Of The Zoo/Remember Raven//Cape Clear/Sky People/You and I/It's Gonna Rain (Livin' On Tiptoe)/Starpeace/I Love You Earth
"The world as our reflection will regain it's circulation, our life span will meet our star plan of starpeace"
In 1985 the world needed Lennon more than ever. The cold war was hotting up, Regan and Gorbachov were both threatening to blow the world up and here, right in the middle of the decade that proved to be the polar opposite of the 1960s values, the hippie dream looked over. Cue Yoko doing the sort of thing her husband would have done, releasing a sci-fi concept album that sought to repeal the 'star wars' defence system with pure human thought, kindness and love. Had this record been released in 1965 (with period technology) it might have been fabulous - but once again the 1980s excesses rather mire what should have been a timeless album and turn it into something of a museum piece for modern listeners and the critics, used to tough records full of three-minute pop singles savaged it even more than usual. Yoko's honeymoon period with the critics and fans was clearly over and she wouldn't release a new album for eleven years. Even without the technology, though, there's the feeling that this is flimsy and clichéd by Yoko's standards, brave in the unfashionable stance that the material took rather than because it actually had much of import to say. The best known song is the minor hit single 'Hell In Paradise', which does have a certain breathless manic quality about it that's highly apt and once again proves Yoko's love affair between her voice and angry snarling guitars (with Eddie Martinez excellent in the Lennon/Slick/McCracken role). Other guest stars fare less well: Robbie Shakespeare and Sly Dunbar, stars from the reggae world, are badly under-used. The epic ballad 'Rainbow Revelation' has a lovely melody despite the all-too sappy words and even features a sitar part, while the bonkers closing track 'I Love You Earth' is deeply catchy in a charity single kind of a way. Most of the rest of the album, though, is forgettable and bland melding a unique mix of reggae and nursery rhyme that doesn't really come off (much of this material sounds too childish for a ten-year-old Sean, never mind his now fifty-two-year-old mother - Sean does appear on the title track by the way, 'on the line' to some celestial entity Yoko calls on for help). Yoko went on a rare solo tour to promote the album, but sales were slow and attendance was poor, leaving her to withdraw to the Dakota and spend more time as Lennon's archivist than a creator in her own right. On the evidence of her past successes, that's a great shame - although 'Starpeace' suggests that Yoko may have been running out of ideas.
Yoko Ono "Ono Box"
CD One ('London Jam'): No Bed For Beatle John/Mind Holes/O'Wind (Body Is The Scar Of Your Mind)/Why?/Why Not?/Greenfield Morning I Pushed An Empty baby Carriage All Over The City/Touch Me/Paper Shoes/Mind Train/Open Your Box/Toilet Piece (Unknown)/Don't Worry Kyoko (Mummy's Only Looking For Her Hand In The Snow)/Telephone Piece/Midsummer New York/The Path/Don't Count The Waves/Head Play (You-Airmale-Fly)/Is Winter Here To Stay?
CD Two ('New York Rock'): Yang Yang/Death Of Samantha/What Did I Do?!/Approximately Infinite Universe/What A Bastard The World Is/Catman (The Rosies Are Coming)/I Want My Love To Rest Tonight/Shirinkatta (I Didn't Know)/Peter The Dealer/I Felt Like Smashing My Face In A Clear Glass Window/Winter Song/Kite Song (Alternate Version)/Now Or Never/What A Mess/I Have A Woman Inside My Soul/Move On Fast/Looking Over From My Hotel Window/Waiting For The Sunrise
CD Three ('Run Run Run'): Growing Pain/Yellow Girl (Standby For Life)/Coffin Car/Warrior Woman/Women Of Salem/Run Run Run/If Only/A Thousand Times Yes/Straight Talk/Angry Young Woman/Potbelly Rocker/She Hits Back/Men Men Men/Woman Power/It's Been Very Hard/Mildred Mildred/Let's Turn The Right Turn
CD Four ('Kiss Kiss Kiss'): Walking On Thin Ice/Kiss Kiss Kiss/Give Me Something/I'm Moving On/Yes I'm Your Angel/Beautiful Boys/Open Your Soul To Me/Every Man Has A Woman Who Loves Him/Hard Times Are Over/Don't Be Scared/Sleepless Night/O'Sanity/Anatano Ye (Your Hands)/Let Me Count The Ways/Forgive Me My Love/You're The One/There's No Goodbye/Have You Seen A Horizon Lately?
CD Five ('No No No'): I Don't Know Why/Mindweaver/Even When You're Far Away/Nobody Sees Me Like You Do/Silver Horse/No No No/Toyboat/She Gets Down On Her Knees/Extension 33/Never Say Goodbye/Spec Of Dust/My Man/It's Alright (I See Rainbows)/Let The Tears Dry/Dream Love/Hell In Paradise/I Love You Earth/cape Clear/Goodbye Sadness
CD Six ('A Story'): A Story/Loneliness/Will You Touch Me?/Dogtown/It Happened/Tomorrow May Never Come/Winter Friend/Heartburn Stew/Yes I'm A Witch/Yume O Moto/O'oh/Namyohorengekyo/We're All Water/Josejoi Banzai/Sisters O Sisters
"If we don't open our souls to each other there's just nothing in between"
Two years after the 'Lennon' box Yoko got one of her own. Though at first the response was quite negative (Yoko got an extra two discs compared to her husband - but then she did record more!) in time this big heavy box has come to be seen as one of the best examples of the art. Yoko has a good ear for her own material, with almost all her best work here and thankfully the lesser 80s material is reduced to the bare minimum. The set's eclecticness is the box's most impressive strength - as well as it's bigger weakness. Each CD manages to be both chronological and 'themed' all at the same time, which means that we really get five different Yokos on offer here (with the bonus sixth disc a whole 'other story') - which means there's a little something for everybody but liking one disc won't necessarily mean you'll like any of the rest of it.
The first disc, titled 'London Jam', is what fans may be expecting: squawking, caterwauling jamming sessions and avant garde experimentation. Some of this works only too well (the three best songs from the 'Yoko/Plastic Ono Band' LP and most of the best of 'Fly') while some of it frankly doesn't (the rest of 'Yoko/Plastic Ono Band' and the unreleased material from 'Fly'). Any disc with 'Mind Train' 'Midsummer New York' and 'Greenfield Morning' all in one place is pretty special though, even if you have to keep the 'skip' button handy. Oddly there's only one 'unfinished music' track here ('No Bed For Beatle John' from 'Life With The Lions') and none of Yoko's performances with the Plastic Ono Band from 'Lice Peace In Toronto' or 'Sometime In New York City'. The second disc, titled 'New York Rock', is superb - it's all taken from 'Approximately Infinite Universe' (with a few curious such as a rawer outtake of 'Kite Song' thrown in) and is in effect an 80 minute highlights of the original 100 minute set with all the weaker tracks removed. Already Yoko's masterpiece, this work now sounds even better, switching from emotional confessional to joyful pop to raw rockers to lush ballads with every throw of the dice. It remains possibly the greatest single disc of Yoko of them all.
Disc three is less essential, featuring the whole of the lesser album 'Feeling The Space', although the longer running time gives Yoko the space to deliver the album as she originally intended for the first time, with five extra songs cut from the final version (which made it a long-running single album instead of a short-running double LP). The record still doesn't sound great but it makes a lot more sense heard like this with the poetic 'Warrior Woman', the wicked comedy 'Mildred Mildred' and the philosophy-funk of 'Left Turn's The Right Turn' all superior to anything that made the original album. Disc four mops up most of the excellent 'Season Of Glass' album along with choice cuts from 'Double Fantasy' and 'Milk and Honey' - many of them in significantly different mixes and alternate versions (a trippier 'Kiss Kiss Kiss' more like the version on 'Stripped Down', a tweaked vocal for 'Beautiful Boys', a very different elongated mix of 'Don't Be Scared', a much longer electronicy start to 'Sleepless Night', plus the lovely 'Fantasy' outtake 'Open Your Soul' that would have been one of Yoko's best tracks on that album and 'Forgive Me My Love', a nice if noisy outtake from 'Season Of Glass' which bids another tearful goodbye to Lennon).
Disc five is perhaps the lesser disc on the set, mixing more from 'Season Glass' (though admittedly the highlights: the opening quartet of 'I Don't Know Why' 'Mindweaver' 'Even When You're Far Away' and 'Nobody Sees Me Like You Do' makes for one heck of a powerful beginning) and a few highlights from 'IT's Alright' and 'Starpeace' which still aren't up to the average level throughout the rest of the set. Disc six, however, is excellent: Yoko's entire nine-track unfinished album 'A Story' which was recorded in 1974 for release on Apple but got lost in the troubles that company were having and suffered from not having Lennon interested or involved enough to push it through. We've already reviewed this classic record elsewhere on our site - suffice to say it's probably Yoko's best work after 'Universe', with a playful child-like quality that hints at some overwhelming emotions under the surface - the lonely and desperate 'Winter Friend', Yoko's own take on the 'lost weekend', may well be the best thing in the entire set. Added on the end are another six oddities - old friends from 'Sometime In New York City' that seem rather out of place here (note the shorter edit of 'We're All Water' compared to the version on the 'NYC' CDs these days) along with a mixed bag of largely Japanese language tracks with the cute O'oh (about an Independence Day celebration in New York) and Yoko's most overtly psychedelic track based on the Buddhist chant 'Namyohorengekyo' the most interesting.
Overall, there's perhaps a little bit too much here for all but the most passionate Yoko convert - and even the most passionate convert will tend to like one of these discs a lot without playing the others that much (for me it's disc two, though other fans have claimed disc one, three or four as their must-hears). However 'Onobox' is a lot more melodic than newcomers might expect and a lot more playful than even fans of the record s might imagine, offering a welcome chance to buy pretty much all of Yoko's essential releases up until this point in her career in one handy go. A best-of was released at the same time with twenty tracks trying to pick and choose from all these songs, but to be honest bigger really is better in this case, with Yoko showing off five sides to her personality one after the other, with a generous helping of largely strong unreleased tracks thrown in too. The only things that work against this set are the packaging (though there's a booklet it's not as informative as it might be - there are some fascinating stories behind these songs that Yoko simply chose not to tell), the ugly block white cover and the lost opportunity to give this volume the best name for a set of this size ever: 'Open Your Box!' Badly in need of a re-issue.
Yoko Ono "Walking On Thin Ice"
(Rykodisc, May 7th 1992)
Walking On Thin Ice/Even When You're Far Away/Kiss Kiss Kiss/Nobody Sees Me Like You Do/Yang Yang/No No No/Death Of Samantha/Mindweaver/You're The One/Spec Of Dust/Midsummer New York/Don't Be Scared/Sleepless Night/Kite Song/She Gets Down On Her Knees/Give Me Something/Hell In Paradise/Women Power/O'oh
"It was like an accident...part of growing up!"
Released as a single disc 'sampler' for those unwilling to fork out for the big box set, Yoko's first best and to date only best-of is a pretty god reflection of all the more 'normal' side to her career. Many of the highlights from her back catalogue are here - 'Midsummer New York' from 'Fly' is here, 'Death Of Samantha' and 'Kite Song' from 'Approximately Infinite Universe', 'Walking On Thin Ice' from 1980 and 'Mindweaver' from 'Season Of Glass'. There's even the addition of a charming 'new' Yoko song (actually an outtake from the 'A Story' period in 1974) 'O'Oh', with Yoko at her prettiest as her home state comes together to celebrate 'July 4th in New York City'. Of course like many a compilation the set could have been better yet - the songs from 'Feeling The Space' sound as bad as ever and there are far too many repeats from 'Double Fantasy' and 'Milk and Honey' (albums that every curious fan buying this album would have owned in multiple versions you would imagine). The decision to include these recordings in a 'jumbled' manner means that you also jump from some of the most 70-sopunding recordings to some of the most 80s-sounding, which is disconcerting (though the songs themselves flow together rather well - Yoko's good at this sort of thing). This is also very much an 'easy' way in for fans - you don't get any real sense of who Yoko 'is' from this record the way you would from some best-ofs and there's none of the harder, braver stuff from her albums here (particularly the 'Yoko/Plastic Ono Band' and 'Fly'). This is instead the 'catchier' side of Yoko's art - and feels ever so slightly like selling out, especially with so many songs from Yoko's less artistic 1980s records. You wouldn't, for instance, necessarily agree with the glowing sleevenotes from David Bowie, Eric Clapton or Cyndi Lauper - all included in the CD booklet - that Yoko is a brave pioneer simply based on what we have here. However the advertising slogan for this record and the box set ('It's not as bad as you might think!') is ungenerous: at her best as with the four highlights above Yoko had an instinctive grasp of rock and roll and a keen ear for what worked well, releasing a handful of records that were every bit as good as her husband's (who wasn't exactly the most consistent of the solo Beatles himself). Had this record added a few more gems - 'Move On Fast' 'Now Or Never' and 'Winter Friend' - then this record might yet have been so good the wider world would have been forced to reckon with how good she was. Instead this album won the usual grudgingly nice reviews and a few comments on how badly Yoko lost her way after John died.
Yoko Ono "New York Rock"
(Capitol, May 4th 1994)
It Happened/I'll Always Be With You/Spec Of Dust/Midsummer New York/What A Bastard The World Is/Loneliness/Give Me Something/Light On The Other Side/Tomorrow May Never Come/Don't Be Scared/Growing Pain/Warzone/Never Say Goodbye/O'Sanity/I Want My Love To Rest Tonight/I Felt Like Smashing My Face In A Clear Glass Window/Now Or Never/We're All Water/Yes, I'm Your Angel/It Happened/Where Do We Go From Here?/Sleepless Night/No No No/Even When You're Far Away/Hell In Paradise/Toyboat/Story Of An Oak Tree/Goodbye Sadness/(Hidden Track) Never Say Goodbye (Reprise)
"I don't even remember how it happened, I don't even remember the day it happened - but it happened and I know there's no return"
About ten years ahead of current trends - as per usual it has to be said - 'New York Rock' was Yoko's attempt to write a musical about her life with Lennon and the 'Ballad of John and Yoko' story from her eyes for a change. However the public didn't really take to two hours of sitting down with echo and ten years before 'Mamma Mia' made having a musical de rigour Yoko was releasing this to the 'wrong' type of fanbase who'd move on from the Beatles and weren't nostalgic just yet. Now, I've never seen this as a musical and only know the soundtrack, but on the basis of this CD I can't say it was much of a lost opportunity. Yoko hasn't chosen her best material or even her material that tells a story about Lennon and the thinly veiled attept to give the couple in the musical different names seems pointless when everyone knows who this is really about (Yoko, usually so good at telling the 'truth', would have been better just putting her life up on screen instead of blurring the edges between fantasy and reality). The cast frankly don't understand her songs and the cast list of characters ('Mother' 'Little Boy' 'Ignorance' 'Violence' 'Streetkid') doesn't bode well for this being a deep yet emotionally involved work of any great insight. All that said the handful of new songs - later revised and re-recorded by Yoko herself for 'Rising' and her first new material in nine years - are promising.
Yoko Ono "Rising"
(Capitol, January 18th 1996)
Warzone/Wouldnit?/Ask The Dragon/New York Woman/Talking To The Universe/Turned The Corner/I'm Dying/Where Do We Go From Here?/Kurushi/Will I?/Rising/Goodbye My Love/Revelations
"I look in the mirror where there used to be a smile, but all I see now is a stranger"
'Rising' won Yoko's best reviews for decades, as Yoko returned to her gritty angst driven screaming on a series of hard hitting songs backed by Japanese rock band IMA (which means 'Now' in translation) and Sean, now a twenty-one-year old guitarist. At last, after so many years away, the musical world had caught up with Yoko and she was finally 'current' with grunge and garage clearly having much in common with her early style. While an extraordinary record for a sixty-three-year-old, with an intense no holds-barred performance that would put singers a third of her age to shame for passion and energy, to some extent it's still Yoko's laziest album. The songs are as one-note as any of the songs she was getting ticked off for writing in the 1980s and actually less effective than her earlier avant garde records when this sort of thing was genuinely 'shocking' not 'in the charts'. Much of the album comes across as just a noise, which is a shame because no previous Yoko record however odd or confrontational was 'just' a noise. After a full eleven years away this record was a disappointment, however welcome it was to see the music reviewers finally understanding Yoko's art. However some songs - the most 'normal' - do shine through the murk. The funky hiphop 'Wouldn'tit?' adds a whole new string to Yoko's bow of musical styles more convincingly than most musicians her age, her tribute to local artists 'New York Woman' could have come straight out of her more lyrical 19760s material and the bluesy 'Where Do We Go From Here?' which sounds like a revised chapter from her book of sayings 'Grapefruit' and even throws in another old nursery rhyme just like the old days ('Ding Dong Bell').Best of all is 'Turned A Corner', one last attempt to make sense of Lennon's murder which is almost too hard to bear, two lovebirds giggling as they turned the corner without knowing what would come next - and the corner that Yoko had to turn in her life to be able to deal with it. However much of the rest is just a sea of nothing from an artist that we're used to giving us so much more than we can usually cope with. Rising isn't quite risible, but it's one of Yoko's weaker albums despite the critical plaudits.
Yoko Ono "Blueprint For A Sunrise"
(Capitol, November 9th 2001)
I Want You To Remember Me (A) (B)/Is This What We Do?/Wouldnt It Swing?/Soul Got Of The Box/Rising II/It's Time For Action!/I'm Not Getting Enough/Mulberry/I Got Everything/Are You Looking For Me?
"Found guilty and robbed of my dignity, my tears are now the river
s, my flesh your earth"
'Blueprint For A Sunrise' both looks and sounds like a Bjork album. The album came with a striking full-on cover of Yoko dressed as a fortune teller, staring out the camera, and the music is more concept art and theatrical than Yoko's usual style, though she does return to her favourite theme of women's lib. The result is an album that's much more challenging than 'Rising' , one that isn't as confrontational as the avant garde works or as musical as most of Yoko's albums since 'Universe' in 1972 but somewhere win the middle. While it's nice to hear Yoko exploring her more dangerous and eccentric style, the songs that work best on this album tend to be the most traditional: 'Is This What We Do?' is a lovely self-questioning ballad with pop overtones that would have fitted nicely onto 'Double Fantasy' or 'Milk and Honey' , 'It's Time For Action!' is a 'Power To The People' for the modern era and the lovely 'I Remember Everything' is a lovely nostalgic ramble through Yoko's life. Much of the rest of the album, though, sounds as if it's trying so hard to shock it's forgotten how to rock, with twelve minutes taken up by the spoken word 'Rising II' and all sorts of live and collage recordings thrown into the mix that disrupts the flow of the album. The opening two songs - with Yoko arguing amongst herselves - are particularly poor and a surprisingly cheap trick for someone whose usual such a cerebral, thinking artist. The album's hidden star is probably son Sean, who plays most of the guitar across the record and is right there wherever his mother is prepared to go no matter how 'normal' or 'weird'. Promising, with many highlights, but not quite up to where Yoko was at her peak.
Yoko Ono "Yes, I'm A Witch!"
(Apple/Astralweeks, February 6th 2007)
Hank Shocklee/Peaches (Kiss Kiss Kiss)/Shitlake Monkey (O'Oh)/Blow Up (Everyman Everywhere)/Le Tigre (Sisters O Sisters)/Porcupine Tree (Death Of Samantha)/D J Spooky (Rising)/The Apples In Stereo (No One Can See Me Like You Do)/The Brother Brothers (Yes I'm A Witch!)/Cat Power (Revelations)/The Polyphonic Spree (You and I)/Jason Pierce (Walkin' On Thin Ice)/Antony and Hahn Roe (Toyboat)/The Flaming Lips (Cambridge 1969)/The Sleepy Jackson (I'm Moving On)/Hank Shocklee (Witch Shocktrina Outro)/Craig Armstrong (Shirinkatta)
"My voice is real, my voice is truth - I don't fit in your ways"
Figuring that it was too soon for another solo best-of, but keen to make the most of the new interest in her work, Yoko decided to put together a remix album which revisited her back catalogue with the assistance of several hip young practitioners. The album again got good reviews and impressed all the sort of people who'd once written Yoko off. However like 'Rising' there's the sense that Yoko is actually taking the 'soft' option again - these songs worked so well the first time round (and many of Yoko's best songs are here) because they're timeless - making them sound so mid-2000s they already sound slightly dated is an odd move in retrospect. The parts that reviewers fell over themselves to praise weren't the revised mixes anyway but the strength of Yoko's original songs, most of which are fairly obscure - what might have been better was to release a sort of secondary best-of featuring Yoko's more forgotten tracks as they were. I dare say some fans will like this sort of thing, but for me remixes don't often work because they feature a different artist's vision to the original creator - and unless you know you like the work of every re-mixer it's a gamble whether they're on your wavelength or not (as least with an artist you know whether you like the bulk of their work or not - and even if you don't like a record you can at least appreciate it for filling in a bit more of their 'journey' with you). The result is rather a hodepodge of old songs judges by modern standards, not unlike sticking antique furniture in a modern house - the two don't really go. Some tracks work better than others though - the choir that sing along with an electronic freakbeat 'O'Oh' , an uptempo disco beat version of 'Every Man Has A Woman Who Loves Him', a spacier 'Death Of Samantha' and best of all a sparse, tinny 'Walking On Thin Ice' which turns one of Yoko's noisier punkier songs into a vulnerable ballad (at least until a nasty wall of noise crawls in for the second half). However nothing here improves on the originals and I find it hard to forgive what the remixers did to classic songs like 'I'm Moving On' 'Kiss Kiss Kiss' and especially a hip hop version of 'Sisters O Sisters' which feel like the desecration of old friends. Amazingly there'll be a second version along just a couple of months later...
Yoko Ono "Open Your Box"
(House, April 24th 2007)
You're The One/Everyman Everywhere/Walkin' On Thin Ice/Hell In Paradise/Give Me Something/Walkin' On Thin Ice/I Don't Know Why/Yang Yang/Will I/Everyman Everywoman/Kiss Kiss Kiss/Open Your Box/Walkin' On Thin Ice #2/Give Peace A Chance
"This is hell - in paradise!"
Everything that applied to the last review goes for this one too with yet more remixers given the job of revising a lesser set of Yoko originals. Opener 'You're The One' is about as good as this set gets, turning what was meant to be a cutting edge 80s song into a cutting edge 2000s song but far too many of the other remixes insist on simply adding a drum beat to the song and a few twiddly synthesisers that are going to sound every bit as dated as the originals and more so in years to come. 'Open Your Box' itself is appalling, completely mis-reading the coquettish inventiveness of the original , a Pet Shop Boys go at 'Walking On Thin Ice' has too much them and not enough Yoko and the glorious 'Yang Yang' has been turned into a flimsy excuse for the same blooming drum beat that runs through everything released in the past ten years. I'm also considering pressing criminal charges on DJ Dan for taking an institution like 'Give Peace A Chance' and turning it into a frightful nightclub song - in the word of Lennon himself How do you sleep at night? What worries me is that I'm of precisely the age and generation that should love this sort of thing - but anything that things that the drum beat is the most important part of the song and delays the vocals coming in for a three minute drum solo that sounds like every other three minute drum solo from every other song out there is an appalling waste of music and of Yoko's talent. Don't open this box whatever you do - throw it away and get the originals!
Yoko Ono "Between My Head and The Sky"
(Chimera Music, September 21st 2009)
Waiting For The D Train/The Sun Is Down!/Ask The Elephant/Memory Of Footsteps/Moving Mountains/CALLING/Healing/Hashire Hashire/Between My Head and The Sky/Feel The Sand/Watching The Rain/Unun To/I'm Going Away Smiling/Higa Noboru/I'm Alive
CD Bonus Track: Hanako
"Water evaporates - it comes back as rain"
At long last, the real Yoko - sassy, witty and completely at home with whatever music has moved on to make at the age of 76. More upbeat than most Yoko albums both musically and emotionally, using several of the techniques that ruined the remix albums, this is an album best heard in parts rather than in one go where it's all rather too much. The most impressive thing about this album is it's eclecticism: it sounds like a sampler, as if Yoko has taken tracks at random from all tracks of her six-disc 'Onobox' and added in her modern sounds too. As usual, it's the ballads about Lennon that impress: the mournful 'Memory Of Footsteps' is a gorgeous song about her memories of seeing her husband wave her off from the 'seventh floor' (no doubt intended metaphorically as well as physically). Elsewhere highlights include a bit of an Indian vibe on the a capella 'CALLING', the gentle folk of 'Healing', the new age 'Feel The Sand' that's strangely moving seeing as it's just Yoko reading out random Grapefruit-style phrases and the Japanese language Higa Nobooru (translation: 'Transcend Falsehood') which features Yoko playing piano in the classical style in which she was trained (but which has only now come in useful, in her seventies!) The more modern, noisier songs aren't quite as inventive or as expressive, but even they are far more convincing than on Yoko's last two records and her two remix albums, with musicians who seem to understand Yoko this time. Once again Sean is Yoko's wing-man, playing some very interesting guitarwork that like his dad's breaks all the rules and offers Yoko the tough backing she needs to draw on, with his own band Chimera backing his mum on most tracks. The result is a very impressive comeback record, still not quite up to Yoko's very best but certainly her strongest work since 'Season Of Glass' and more than worth tracking down for those who loved her earlier work.
(Chimera Music, September 25th 2012)
I Missed You Listening/Running The Risk/I Never Told You Did I?/Mirror Mirror/Let's Get There/Early In The Morning
"I never - I never told you - did I?"
The Yoko equivalent of Paul McCartney's 'Fireman' albums, where Macca got pushed outside his comfort zone by a younger producer ('Youth') keen on experimentation and improvisation, this is an intriguing collaboration between a now 79-year-old Yoko, and fifty something Sonic Youth bassist Jim Gordon and guitarist Thurston Moore. How odd that Yoko should be working with 'Sonic Youth' about the same time her husband's 'ex' was working with 'Youth' on such a similar project! It's an odd and not altogether successful album this, as the Sonic Youth pair create all sorts of avant garde surroundings for Yoko to do her famous squeal to. Yoko's most out-there release since 'Fly' in 1971, it has its moments - the whispered 'I Never Told You Did I?' (where we never find out the secret and where Yoko sounds very like Lennon's beloved Spike Milligan) and the laidback playfulness of 'Early In The Morning' where Yoko seems to develop a nasty cough while washing some dishes - or something like that. Too much of this album is just pure noise, though, with Yoko's ugliest most OTT wailing moment coming not on any of her live appearances or work with Lennon but here on the ten minute 'Let's Get There' (if you ever need an instant migraine for any reason, this should be your first port of call). The collaboration doesn't seem an entirely natural pairing - the trio are audibly sounding each other out rather than working telepathically as John and Yoko (eventually) did - but it's good to hear Yoko pushing herself outside even her comfort zone (which must be huge the things she'd one over the years) and this is the sort of album you're glad Yoko's up to making, right up to the point where you actually find yourself listening to it.
Yoko Ono "Take Me To The Land Of Hell"
(Chimera Music, September 17th 2013)
Moonbeams/Cheshire Cat Cry/Tabetai/Bad Dancer/Little Boy Blue Your Daddy's Gone/There's No Goodbye Between Us/7th Floor/NY Noodle Town/Take Me To The Land Of Hell/Watching The Dawn/Leaving Tim/Shine Shine/Hawk's Call
CD Bonus Tracks: Story Of An Oak Tree/Ai
"If one day we slip away - and that may be in the cards - we will know deep in our hearts that there's no goodbye between us"
Yoko's most recent record at the time of writing, 'Hell' is nicely upbeat and positive despite the title. The record opens with new age style sound effects that 's only missing the whale to become the sort of thing that plays when you're getting a massage and much of the record feels like unwinding in a hot bath, far calmer and gentler than Yoko usually is. Overall it's another strong album that shows off Yoko's range and features a 'revival' of the Plastic Ono Band name for the first time since 1971 (with Sean again on guitar). 'Cheshire Cat Cry' is Yoko's best song in decades, a witty surreal song with Yoko returning to her theme of her reserve holding her strong emotions in check with some cracking guitar, bass and drum work. Other highlights include the playful 'Tabetai' (translation: 'excuse') and the title track which is another strong Yoko piano ballad. Lennon is still Yoko's favourite subject though and her songs for her husband are truly moving: the indescribable contemporary dance track 'Little Boy Blue Your Daddy's Gone' about trying to tell Sean his dad had died (which starts with a long sigh that speaks volumes), the sweet 'There's No Goodbye Between Us' about their last walk through Central Park together which sounds very much at one with the gritted-teeth-strength of Yoko's 'Season Of Glass' album and the powerful 'Watch The Dawn' in which Yoko asks John to wait for her because she's still got a bit more to do back on Earth first. Admittedly there isn't much happening on the rest of the LP, but considering how quickly Yoko released this album after her last and how often she's gone down these roads before this is still an impressively inventive and moving listen. Yoko seems to be getting better with age, returning to the promising career that got cut short by the 'lost weekend' era and the poor reception to her lesser 1980s work. Lennon would have been very proud and it will be fascinating to see where Yoko might go from here.
'Lennon/Plastic Ono Band' (1970) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-43-john-lennonplastic-ono-band.html
A NOW COMPLETE LIST OF JOHN AND YOKO ARTICLES TO READ AT ALAN’S ALBUM ARCHIVES:
'Lennon/Plastic Ono Band' (1970) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-43-john-lennonplastic-ono-band.html
'Imagine' (1971) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/john-lennon-imagine-1971-album-review.html
'Sometime In New York City' (1972) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/07/news-views-and-music-issue-35-john.html
'Mind Games'(1973) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010/10/news-views-and-music-issue-77-john.html
'Walls and Bridges' (1974) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-63-john-lennon-walls-and-bridges.html
'Sometime In New York City' (1972) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/07/news-views-and-music-issue-35-john.html
'Mind Games'(1973) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010/10/news-views-and-music-issue-77-john.html
'Walls and Bridges' (1974) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-63-john-lennon-walls-and-bridges.html
'Double Fantasy' (1980) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/john-lennon-and-yoko-ono-double-fantasy.html
'Milk and Honey' (1982) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/news-views-and-music-issue-135-john.html
'Milk and Honey' (1982) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/news-views-and-music-issue-135-john.html
Non-Album Recordings 1969-1980 http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/john-lennon-and-yoko-ono-non-album.html
Live/Compilation/Unfinished Music Albums 1968-2010 http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/john-lennon-livecompilationraritiesunfi.html
The Best Unreleased Lennon Recordings http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/john-lennon-best-unreleased-recordings.html
Surviving TV Clips 1968-1980 http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/john-lennon-surviving-tv-clips-1968-1980.html
Essay: Power To The Beatle – Why Lennon’s Authenticity Was So Special https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2018/03/john-lennon-essay-power-to-beatle-why.html
Landmark concerts and key cover versions https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2018/04/john-lennon-five-landmark-concerts-and.html
Essay: Power To The Beatle – Why Lennon’s Authenticity Was So Special https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2018/03/john-lennon-essay-power-to-beatle-why.html
Landmark concerts and key cover versions https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2018/04/john-lennon-five-landmark-concerts-and.html
Yoko: 'Approximately Infinite Universe' (1972) https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2008/07/review-54-yoko-ono-approximately.html
Yoko: 'A Story' (1974/1998)http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/01/news-views-and-music-issue-89-yoko-ono.html
Yoko: 'A Story' (1974/1998)http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/01/news-views-and-music-issue-89-yoko-ono.html
Yoko Complete Solo Album Guide 1971-2014 http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/yoko-ono-complete-solo-albums-guide.html