Yoko Songs: Why
By Madeline Bocaro©
‘Why’ is one of my favorite songs of all time. My first hearing of Yoko’s incredible song was on a jukebox in a department store in 1970. John’s single ‘Mother’ was there, but I chose to play the b-side. The jukebox shook, rumbled and came alive, as did my whole body, due to Ringo’s incredible drumming and to Klaus Voormann’s thumping bassline! John Lennon’s screeching free-form guitar is outstanding! ‘Why’ was recorded in September 1970 for Yoko’s solo album, Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band, produced by John and Yoko and Phil Spector.
On the Secretly Canadian/Chimera reissue (November 2016) we get an almost 9-minute extended version of this precious gem that almost was not recorded. After a false start with ‘no power’ John had told the engineer to stop recording. Luckily, the tape was rolling!
Yoko always tells the story of how the recording engineers would stop recording when she started to sing. This is apparent at the end of ‘Why’ when you can hear John say, “Were you gettin’ that?”
‘I thought my music was beautiful all along…When I say beautiful … well, the maximum beauty can be ugly to some people.” – Yoko, The Guardian – Feb. 22, 2016
‘Why’ was John’s favorite piece of Yoko’s music. You cannot distinguish his guitar sound from her anguished vocal at the start. Her vocals are influenced by hetai, a highly expressive kabuki theater technique, and also by primal scream after John and Yoko’s recent experience with Arthur Janov’s Primal Therapy.
Yoko explained to The Guardian in February 2016:
“…My mother said: ‘Don’t you ever go to the servants’ rooms, it’s very bad, because they’re talking about things you don’t want to know.’ And sure enough, I just sneaked up and listened to it. And these two teenage girls, they were combing their hair and talking. ‘My aunt had a baby yesterday.’ ‘Oh, really?’ ‘Yes, and she was making noises. And I just thought: ‘Oh my god, a woman does that when she has a baby?’ There was a totally sanitised image about a woman, you know, they were supposed to be just pretty and make pretty noises. … So I was scared, and I sneaked back to my room, but that really stayed with me. And years later, I started to create all sorts of sounds.”
…” John is turning on the radio to hear Alex Bennett’s WMCA phone-in program on which tonight he’s playing tracks from Yoko’s album – the first time Yoko’s music has been featured on AM radio.
“There are people who are going to love it and people who are going to hate it,” Bennett says enthusiastically. “I think that in 1980 music will probably sound like this. Here’s a track called “Why,” so phone in and tell us what you think of it.”
“It’s Today’s Tutti Frutti,” John writes on a note pad…”
– Yoko Ono and Her Sixteen-Track Voice – Rolling Stone March 18, 1971
By Jonathan Cott
I love the way the lyrics appear on paper!
(John) Hey! Hey!
(Yoko) Why? etc…
Yoko Ono: Vocals
John Lennon: Guitar
Ringo Starr: Drums
Klaus Voormann: Bass