By Madeline Bocaro ©
© Madeline Bocaro, 2020. No part of this site may be reproduced in whole or in part in any manner without permission of the copyright owner.
After her debut album Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band (1970) Yoko released two double albums; Fly (1971) and Approximately Infinite Universe (1973). Yoko’s next recording, her feminist manifesto Feeling The Space was also intended to be a double album called Half a Windsong. Leftover songs from this 1974 project languished for decades until some were released on the first Yoko CD anthology, Onobox (Rykodisc 1992). A Story was later digitally re-mastered by Yoko and released in its entirety by Ryko on CD in 1997.
Most of the songs that became A Story were recorded during and after the sessions for Feeling The Space in June 1973 through spring of 1974. In the meantime, John and Yoko separated. Yoko performed at Kenny’s Castaways in New York City (October 10-23, 1973) in support of Feeling The Space. Recording sessions for A Story began after those live shows, in November.
The musicians (from John’s Mind Games album also played on FTS and continued on A Story. Newly recorded songs included ‘Winter Friend’, ‘It Happened’, ‘Loneliness’ and ‘Tomorrow May Never Come’. Sessions continued for many months – through spring 1974 with more recordings; ‘Hard Times Are Over’, ‘Dogtown’, ‘Yes, I’m a Witch’, ‘Will You Touch Me’ and ‘Oh’ O’*. Co-production and mastering were still being done by Yoko and guitarist David Spinozza in May 1974.
There are several reasons why A Story was never released at the time. Shortly after Yoko’s return from her tour of Japan promoting Feeling The Space, John returned from Los Angeles (after their separation and his 18-months ‘lost weekend’) where he was recording his album Walls and Bridges. The Lennons reunited at an Elton John gig in NYC in November ‘74. In January 1975 the Beatles’ legal ties were severed. By February, Yoko was pregnant with John’s son. All of Yoko’s albums had been released on Apple Records, which was virtually dissolved in March 1975 (continuing only to manage the Beatles business). Apple ceased operations in May. In addition to these distractions and obstacles, the Lennons were in the midst of a long, intensely frightening and exhausting deportation battle in the U.S. courts.
Yoko held her timeless songs from this time fondly in her memory.
She resurrected all of them many years later to be re-worked on future albums.
The album’s final song, ‘Hard Times Are Over’ was later re-recorded for Double Fantasy in 1980.
Many of the songs from A Story were newly recorded in 1981 for Yoko’s album Season of Glass recorded immediately after John’s death in December 1980. These include ‘Dogtown’, ‘Will You Touch Me’, ‘She Gets Down on Her Knees’ and ‘It Happened’ (which became a b-side to ‘Walking on Thin Ice’). Another song from 1974 which appears (fully reworked) on Season of Glass, ‘Extension 33’ appears as a bonus track (a piano/vocal cassette demo) on the Ryko issue of A Story.
Two of the older tracks, ‘Loneliness’ and ‘Tomorrow May Never Come’ were newly recorded for Yoko’s 1982 album It’s Alright (I See Rainbows).
The avant-garde excursions of Yoko’s 1970 debut continued on her second album Fly. But beginning with AIU, Feeling The Space and A Story, her songs were more traditionally structured and arranged. They are all beautiful, emotive and melodic, with delicate vocals – although an occasional guttural noise emerges. Thankfully, Yoko never abandoned her unbridled wordless vocalizations. which resurfaced when she resumed recording Double Fantasy with John in 1980 (and to a larger extent later on).
A Story was made at Record Plant in NYC with The Plastic Ono Super Band. The album was produced by Yoko Ono and David Spinozza, whose guitar work (along with that of Hugh McCracken) is a true highlight. Other musicians include The Brecker Brothers (Michael and Randy) on sax and trumpet.
The title track ‘A Story’ is sweet, delicate and romantic. It is classical piano based, augmented by a flute and sounds of the beach. Two quiet misunderstood souls from faraway places meet and find love; the dream lovers – John and Yoko!
So many cities he walked
So many countries she travelled
And in their dreams they would listen
To the sound of the sea they heard together
Yoko’s laid-back imploring vocals and choruses on ‘Loneliness’ are accompanied by stellar guitar lines. A slightly faster version with varied percussive sounds was re-recorded in 1982 for It’s Alright (I See Rainbows).
Loneliness 1974 – A Story https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ajCUVjkMjjg
Loneliness 12” version https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vj88RGWxzuY
Loneliness 1982 – It’s Alright (I See Rainbows) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-SZCslHX7A
The album’s stylistic range includes the 1940s feel evoked by a clarinet on ‘Will You Touch Me’. Yoko also used this old-fashioned style on previous songs (‘Men, Men, Men’ on FTS and future tracks such as ‘Yes, I’m Your Angel’ in 1980 and ‘Leaving Tim’ on Take Me to the Land of Hell in 2013). ‘Will You Touch Me’ was considered for Double Fantasy. The version on Season of Glass has the vintage feeling of an old self-playing piano and a nice horn solo. There is a sweet demo of Yoko singing this with John on guitar (included as a Fly CD bonus track).
Season Of Glass: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kC3q2TBZX3Q
Demo with John 1980: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRJR3ktuVgA
‘Dogtown’ was written when John and Yoko lived in their Bank Street apartment in New York City (1971/72). Yoko had Gogol’s story Diary of a Madman in mind. At dawn while the city is still asleep, she imagines becoming a little stone with emotions, a tree with a history… She also invokes an old nursery rhyme with a twist on the words; Peas porridge luck, peas porridge stuck…
The lyrics also speak of unfinished business; letters I never mailed, stories I never finished telling anyone.
Unfinished art and music is a long-recurring theme in all of Yoko’s work.
“I have always believed in unfinished work.
I got that from Schubert, you know, the ‘Unfinished Symphony’.”
– Twitter September 6, 2018
Someday I’ll be remembered
For the fine words I meant to keep
A warm smile I meant to leave
And a true song I meant to finish writing all my life.
Listen: ‘ Dogtown’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_wxSfGp2v4
A Story 1974 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOlIOVu0Tq4
Season of Glass 1981 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_wxSfGp2v4
‘Tomorrow May Never Come’ is an upbeat tune in a throwback 1940s style. The lyrics foretell a devastating future, which unfortunately comes true. ‘Tomorrow…’ features the female backup singers Something Different who also appear on FTS.
This was later recorded in 1982 for Yoko’s album It’s Alright (I See Rainbows).
Listen: A Story – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c69pZ3tjHiM
It’s Alright (I See Rainbows) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3N32FAm2vEU
The funky feminist song ‘Yes, I’m a Witch’ was performed live during Yoko’s 1974 tour of Japan. ‘Yes, I’m a Witch’ also appeared on the 2007 remix album Yes, I’m a Witch Too.
Read more and listen:
When you discovered your earlier songs to be about today, did you feel like a soothsayer, a doomsayer, a saint, a witch?
Many people think of me as a witch, and I hated it at first, but then I thought, it’s okay. A man is called a wizard, and a woman is called a witch. What a difference, isn’t it?
– Yoko, New York magazine, August 20, 2018
“The human race is a very, very magical race.
We have a magic power of witches and wizards.
We’re here on this earth to unravel the mystery of this planet.
The planet is asking for it.”
“She always turns a negative creativity. The word ‘witch’ in English is complicated because it could be an insult but I think my mother is a true, good witch. She’s a wizard. She’s a high level wizard. That’s why she has a song that goes, ‘I’m a witch/I’m a bitch’.
-Sean Ono Lennon, Nero magazine 2016
“I think that all women are witches, in the sense that a witch is a magical being. And a wizard, which is a male version of a witch, is kind of revered, and people respect wizards. But a witch, my god, we have to burn them.”
“I had to combat the negativity coming towards me. I felt like the world was trying to kill me spiritually for 40 years, so one day I just said, OK, I’m a witch. You are saying it, so am I. Don’t ever touch me as I am doing what I want to do. It is a song of rebellion. It didn’t seem to go anywhere at the time, but maybe it went everywhere spiritually. It certainly made me feel that I could go on.”
– Yoko, ‘I feel that I am starting a new life at 80‘ | The Observer. June 1, 2013
‘She Gets Down on Her Knees’ features a jazzy intro followed by one full minute of frenetic strings, reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho film score. The song also appears on Onobox (1992) again with the steamship horn intro. It was again re-recorded with the same foreboding start for Season of Glass (1981). It was also re-mixed for the 2016 Yes, I’m a Witch Too CD project. There is also a piano/voice demo.
Listen: A Story – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHStEhRp66g
Season of Glass 1981 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vYx8hanWTiI
Yes, I’m a Witch Too 2016 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Lm_Df3YVm0
In light of John’s sudden death in 1980, the lyrics of ‘It Happened’ which Yoko wrote in 1973 are eerily prescient and haunting. A sudden unexpected and monumental event is evoked but not named in the sparse lyrics. There is a strong suggestion of a tragedy. ‘It Happened’ bears a trace of gospel or a traditional folk song – in the vein of the old Scottish ballad ‘Auld Lang Syne’. The 1973 version has very high-pitched delicate vocals. The song’s beautifully nostalgic, melancholy tune is played in its entirety by David Spinozza’s guitar before Yoko starts singing. He repeats the melody an octave higher, later in the song. As stated in the last lines, there’s no return to the way things were.
“’It Happened’ was actually composed in 1973 and at the time it had to do with moving away from each other. But then, when John died, I thought, “Oh, that’s what it was about” [laughs] and I put it on the back of ‘Walking on Thin Ice’. I look at that period of separation like a rehearsal… for the big separation that I didn’t know would happen. It was very good that I had that rehearsal in terms of moving along. That helped me later.
– A Conversation with Yoko, American Songwriter 1992
The song became the b-side of her Japanese single ‘Yume O Motou (Let’s Have a Dream)’ released in the summer of 1974 during Yoko’s tour of Japan.
It was later remixed and released in January 1981 – one month after John’s death – as the B-side of ‘Walking on Thin Ice’ (with added sounds of John and Yoko talking while walking through Central Park at the beginning). In the second half of this incredible 1981 version, Spinozza’s guitar soars. The lyrics in this emotive song evolve into a sweeping anthem, pointing to an unnamed sudden happening – which Yoko could not have known would be John’s sudden death seven years later. Her most haunting line is, ‘And I know that there’s no return, no way.’ It’s unbelievable that the song had been written seven years prior.
It happened at a time of my life
When I least expected
It happened at a time of my life
When I least expected
I don’t even remember how it happened
I don’t even remember the day it happened
But it happened
Yes, it happened
Ooh, it happened
And I know there’s no return, no way
1974: A Story – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fV-FpjTMnQY
1974: B-side of ‘Yume O Motou’ (Let’s Have a Dream)”.
1981- ‘Walking On Thin Ice’ B-side: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGLBRJzjTUQ
‘Winter Friend’ is a light and airy song with a chorus of ‘la la las’. The lyrics are pretty heavy. Yoko’s winter friend had problems, but she hopes to remain alive, not dead inside like he is. It is the origin of ‘N.Y. Noodle Town’ (Take Me to the Land of Hell 2013 – Yoko’s anthem to her hometown, New York City. There is actually a restaurant called Great N.Y. Noodle Town in NYC. In ‘N.Y. Noodle Town’, Yoko and her depressed male companion ‘walk through the snow to Chinatown for noodles/to noodle’. Despite the tragic lyrics, their walk in the snow gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling!
The deceitfully upbeat jazz tune ‘Heartburn Stew’ indicates resentment that many women face, experiencing her split with John. “I threw my woman power in a pot of stew/ And waited for my love to come / But not a single word did I hear from him,”
‘Hard Times Are Over’ is the final song on A Story. It was later re-recorded in 1980 for Double Fantasy – A Heart Play.
My story about the song:
Yoko had written the song as a sort of mantra a few months prior to sending John off to Los Angeles in 1973, beginning what became infamously known as his 18-month long lost weekend. The 1973 recording is a simple arrangement with female backing vocals.
“It was a song inspired by the fact that John and I, after Approximately Infinite Universe – so that would be 1973, spring, around that time – went cross-country in a car to Ohio and then to LA. And the car stopped at Salt Lake City. And John and I were just standing on the corner of the street. And we just looked at each other. And that’s when the son came about! I think there’s something about that in the song, the lyrics. So that was another song floating around from the Feeling the Space era, though it didn’t fit FTS so I didn’t put it there. “The leaves are shining in the sun/And I’m smiling inside/You and I watching each other on a street corner… Hard times are over / Over for a while. You know what this hard time was? Drugs. And this cross-country trip was to shake it, we were going to withdraw. And we were withdrawing while we were going cross-country. Can you imagine that? It was a station wagon. Peter Bendry, our assistant was driving, and we were trying to get off drugs. And it was really frightening! So we’re standing on a corner looking at each other and saying, “Okay, we’re doing to get of drugs, it’s great! … I don’t think it’s a bad story, kicking drugs.”
– Yoko, Goldmine, November 7, 1987
The song resurfaced in 1980 during the Double Fantasy sessions. John and Yoko had been reunited for five years, living private lives while raising their child. They had just ventured out into the public again to make music. But shortly and suddenly after their joyful and creative emergence, John was taken from his family – and from us all.
On Double Fantasy, the song becomes a sacred prayer, with an organ and a gospel chorus sung by The Benny Cummings Singers and the Kings Temple choir backing Yoko’s lead vocal with John’s accompaniment.
John: “Here must be the first Japanese gospel song.”
Yoko: “But also notice I’m saying, ‘Hard times are over for awhile.’ I could simply say, ‘Hard times are over.’ But it’s a very delicate thing. It’s like weaving, which goes in and out slowly. You must do it slowly. Saying, ‘Hard times are over for awhile’ is sort of a delicate way of wishing. It’s not like saying, ‘I want to live forever. Make sure I live forever.” It’s not that sort of arrogance. It might happen, but there is a strong repercussion. So I want to be more delicate, to ride the wave which is yin/yang, breathing in and out. It’s not like I’m wishing for something arrogant. It is fair and it can happen.”
– The Playboy Interviews 1980 by David Sheff
John also mentions in the Playboy interview that Yoko broke out in tears after the backing vocals were recorded.
He heard the choir members praying before they started to sing – and called out for the engineers to capture the prayers on tape. This is heard at the start of the song on Double Fantasy.
After all that John and Yoko had been through, the lyrics reflect that all they really wanted was a simple life together.
The streams are twinkling in the sun
And I’m smiling inside
You and I walking together ’round the street corner
On the beautiful Double Fantasy: Stripped Down version (2010) John mimics a preacher in his banter. “Collection will be taken / it’s an offer you can’t refuse!” He also references The Beatles’ song ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’ – “When I hold you in my arms, yeah…”
‘Hard Times Are Over’:
A Story 1973:
Double Fantasy 1980:
Stripped Down 2010:
Yoko Ono – vocals, backing vocals
Ann E. Sutton, Erin Dickins, Gail Kantor, Louise Messina – backing vocals
David Spinozza, Hugh McCracken – guitar
Gordon Edwards – bass guitar
Kenneth Ascher, Leon Pendarvis – keyboards
Arthur Jenkins – percussion
Michael Brecker – tenor saxophone
Alan Rubin, Randy Brecker – trumpet
Lew Delgatto – baritone saxophone, bass clarinet
George Young – flute, clarinet
Rick Marotta – drums
David Spinozza, Rob Stevens, Yoko Ono – producers
Ed Sprigg, Jack Douglas – recording
George Marino, Rob Stevens – remastering
Kevin Herron – engineer
Ed Sprigg, Roy Cicala – mixing
A Story – Rykodisc Bonus Tracks:
‘Anatano Te / Your Hands’
(recorded for Milk and Honey released in 1983)
(recorded for Season of Glass 1981)
‘Now Or Never’ a capella
(full version appears on Some Time in New York City 1972)
* ‘O’ Oh’ was an unfinished song from Yoko’s then unreleased album A Story 1973. The song first appeared on the Onobox CD compilation. The upbeat tune starts with chirping birds and ends with Yoko laughing and the sound of firecrackers. Her perfect day takes place on July 4th in New York City. This was a significant date, noting the USA’s independence, and the deliberate publishing on that same date of Yoko’s book Grapefruit in 1964.
John Cage had a piece title O’ OO” which he had dedicated to Yoko and her husband Toshi Ichiyanagi (his colleague) in 1962. Audio from Cage’s performance of 0’00” (a series of banging noises) is echoed in Yoko’s ‘I’m Alive’ (Between My Head and the Sky, 2009).
“I was creating similar work to John Cage, but I felt slightly different to him, too. We had arguments when we toured Japan together in 1962. He did a piece called 4’ 33” (a conceptual work consisting of purely ambient sounds with no contribution from musicians at all) and I didn’t know why it had to last a specific period of time. Why did it have to be four minutes and 33 seconds? He talked about how in the West you had to have a frame, so he dedicated a work to me called “0’ 00”.
– Yoko, to Martin O’ Gorman, Mojo – In The Beginning, July 2002
Yoko recorded new vocals for the song in 1991 at Quad Recording, classifying this as a ‘new’ Yoko song although it was released as archival.
A funky remix by Shitake Monkey appears on Yes, I’m A Witch (2015)
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See my story about Feeling The Space:
My story: Shattered – Season of Glass