By Madeline Bocaro
Although I love her all year round, my favorite time to listen to Yoko’s music is in the winter when it is snowing. Yoko’s songs comprise my entire Christmas playlist. As it is snowing this morning in New York City, I would like to share it with you. There are actually 250 Yoko songs on my list, but here are a few…
I love winter. I was born in February, the morning when the whole world around the hospital was covered in snow.
– Yoko, Twitter September 2016
YOKO ONO WINTER PLAY
Listen, The Snow is Falling – B-Side of Happy Xmas (War Is Over), 1971
Of course, Yoko is asking us to listen to ‘the sound of one hand clapping’. A meditation. This song shimmers like light on snow. It quiets our minds and bodies in a blanket of peacefulness. This was one of the first songs of her own that she shared with John. The lyrics come from ‘Snow Piece’ (1963) in Yoko’s book Grapefruit. An early vocal-only demo contains an outtake verse which is exactly ‘Snow Piece’.
When you talk to someone
Snow is falling between you and him
When you talk with someone
Go on talking until he’s covered with snow
The tape echo on Yoko’s voice makes the B-side sound magical. Her instruction to Nicky Hopkins for the piano intro was, “Pretend that it’s snowing…that snow is melting on your fingertips.” She desires the sound of a celeste, so the electric piano is doctored to sound like one. “Feet in the Snow” and “Strong Wind” from a sound effects record are layered atop each other.
Listen, the snow is falling all the time
Listen, the snow is everywhere
Between your bed and mine
Between your head and my mind
…between your god and mine
…snow of dream, snow of hope, snow of love
Listen – listen baby
Some words reflect where Yoko was living (NYC), and her Wrap Piece (wrapping the lion statues in Trafalgar Square).
Between Empire State Building and between Trafalgar Square
Snow is falling everywhere
Snow is falling all the time
The reverence to silence is reminiscent of John & Yoko’s ‘Two Minutes of Silence’ (1969) and preceded their ‘Nutopian National Anthem’ (1973), which quite possibly samples “4:33” by John Cage (1952)!
The best mashup ever:
John Cage “Silence” & John & Yoko’s “Two Minutes of Silence” – with lyrics!
Yoko & John & John Cage discussing vocalizing on Bank Street
Here are some wonderful versions of Yoko’s song by Stephen Emmer:
Walking on Thin Ice – Single, January 1981
John absolutely loved this track, recorded in 1980 during the Double Fantasy sessions. Just hours before he was murdered he played it repeatedly, predicting that it would be Yoko’s first No. 1 hit. In fact, a clip of him saying this is included at the start of the song in the Onobox collection (1992). Yoko completed and released the song just one month after John’s death. She didn’t think so, but his prediction came true in 2013 when a CD of ‘Walking on Thin Ice’ remixes became Yoko’s 11th No. 1 single on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Play chart.
On the groundbreaking original version, John and Earl Slick provide scathing guitar lines to this chilling, brittle song about risk, repercussion, fragility, life and death. One day later, the chilling lyrics became a sad reality.
Yoko’s vocals on this song eventually inspired countless artists in many genres. The most beautiful version is this remixed vocal/string arrangement. Yoko released a stunning new video for the song on her birthday in 2016:
ONO/Tenaglia – ‘Walking On Thin Ice’ (Maestro Version) – Yes, I’m a Witch Too 2016
Walking on thin ice
I’m paying the price
For throwing the dice in the air…
I gave you my knife
You gave me my life
Like a gush of wind in my hair
Why do we forget what’s been said
And play the game of life with our hearts?
I may cry some day
But the tears will dry whichever way
And when our hearts return to ashes
It’ll be just a story
It Happened – B-side of ‘Walking on Thin Ice’
Originally from A Story – also “Yume O Moto” B side, Japan 1974
The heart wrenching guitar on this ballad tugs at every emotion. Again, the lyrics from Yoko’s vault are eerily clairvoyant. She sings in a high desperate register which is sorrowful, yet exquisite.
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
Goodbye Sadness – Season of Glass 1981
In her most fragile cracking voice, Yoko stoically wards off sadness after the most tragic event of her life. Just six months after the loss of John, she gives us the album Season of Glass. There are some beautifully woeful yet hopeful saxophone breaks. In the video for the song, Yoko recites the lines:
spring passes and one remembers one’s innocence
summer passes and one remembers one’s exuberance
autumn passes and one remembers one’s reverence
winter passes and one remembers one’s perseverance
there is a season that never passes
and that is the Season of Glass
Mrs. Lennon – Fly 1971, also on Imagine film soundtrack
This is yet another of Yoko’s eerily prescient songs that somehow induces calm. John Lennon’s echoing piano, Klaus Voormann’s bass and delicate bells accompanying her somber vocals place Yoko in a ghostly realm as she contemplates her position as John’s wife and the sublimation of her own identity as an artist.
The single on Apple Records B/W ‘Midsummer New York’ (Yoko’s take on Elvis’ ‘Heartbreak Hotel’) was released 29 September 1971 (USA) and on 29 October 1971 (UK).
In a segment from the Imagine film, John and Yoko desperately search for each other through the morning mist. Through all the strife and hell that they have gone through so far as a couple (with much more to come) she relents, “I guess it must be alright”. The second half of the song predicts their separation. Although we all know this very well, she says, “neither of them ever left each other”.
And our children, o’ our children
Did they have to go to war?
Yes, my love, it’s okay
Half the world is always killed you know
Husband John extended his hand
Extended his hand to his wife
And he finds, and suddenly he finds
That he has no hands
They’ve lost their bodies
They’ve lost their bodies
Yes, they lost their bodies
Neither of them, o’ neither of them
Ever left each other
Yes, my love, it’s okay
Half the world is always dying you know
A gorgeous version of ‘Mrs. Lennon’ remixed by Peter Bjorn and John (Yes, I’m a Witch Too, Feb. 2016) highlights Yoko’s stunning vocals.
Listen to a sample here:
‘The song also inspired Alex Chilton’s band Big Star to write their song ‘Holocaust’ on which they lift the exact chord sequence and haunting ambiance. The demo is even more beautiful.
Big Star ‘Holocaust’
The next five songs are from Approximately Infinite Universe 1973
Winter Song (AIU)
This double Yoko album makes me want to throw all my other records out the window. Any of her songs is my favorite song of all time when I am listening to it. Especially ‘Winter Song’.
Yoko wrote ‘Winter Song’ while John was sleeping in her lap in the car on the way home from a farm in upstate NY. John wished that he had written this song himself. He plays guitar on the track, along with Mick Jagger. Again, there is a longing for an earthly future with John that was not to be. She seems to know this already, yet there is beautiful shimmer about this song in its gorgeous strings and especially in the sacred lyrics.
I know you now for a thousand years
Your body still feels nice and warm to me
The sun is old, the winter’s cold
The lake is shining like a drop of Buddha’s tears
Mountains lie in a distance
Like the future we’d never reach…
The bed is shining like an old scripture that’s never been opened before…
Here, Yoko performs “Winter Song” live in a studio on a TV show called Flipside in 1973.
Death of Samantha (AIU)
This beautifully poignant and prescient song was written about what was probably John’s first infidelity to Yoko in November 1972. (A photo by Bob Gruen for the AIU album jacket sessions shows John begging for forgiveness at Yoko’s feet.) But in December 1980, Yoko realized that her lyrics eerily foreshadowed and accurately described the snowy day of John’s vigil in New York City.
A friend lent me shades
So I could hide my eyes that day
Was a snowy day
The shades have seen a lot of things I didn’t want to know myself
Was like an accident, part of growing up , People tell me
But something inside me, something inside me died that day
Looking Over from My Hotel Window (AIU)
Yoko reflects on her life at age 39 from a window with a very simple piano accompaniment. Her heavily echoing voice recollects the past, feeling suicidal, haunted by the loss of her missing daughter. She is floating along, just like the snowflakes outside.
Age 39, looking over from my hotel window
Blue dots and red dots skating away in the park
I used to be there twenty years ago
Huffing over a mug hot chocolate drink
Age 39, looking over from my hotel window
Wondering if one should jump off or go to sleep
Is Winter Here to Stay? (AIU)
The line is repeated free form over a bluesy backing track. One of Yoko’s coolest vocal performances.
I Have a Woman Inside My Soul (AIU)
Another bluesy sax-laden tune, lamenting and sad. Why does this sound so wonderful on a snowy day? Maybe it’s because it is so quiet that we can hear what our souls are telling us.
I have a woman inside my soul, her eyes sombre and sad.
She waves her hand to try to reach me, but I can’t hear what she says.
I wish I knew what she says,
I wish I knew what she wants,
I wish I knew what she says to me,
I wish I knew what she means to me…
I feel snow covering inside my soul
It’s hard and shining in shades of gray
No footsteps ever made their marks, and I don’t know when it melts
I wish I knew when it melts
I wish I knew when it happens
I wish I knew if it happens at all
I wish I knew what it means to me
‘Don’t Worry Kyoko’ (Mummy’s only looking for a hand in the snow) – B-Side of ‘Cold Turkey’ 1969, Fly 1971 + many live versions…
Yoko starts off screaming the word, “SNOW!!!”
She is reaching out to her young daughter. It’s one of the greatest blues records ever made. Nobody sings the blues like Yoko. She makes Howlin’ Wolf sound like he’s just whining and complaining. So what if your baby done up and left you? Consider a childhood in a war-torn country, having your daughter kidnapped by her father, being misunderstood and hated by millions. Then sing the blues. Watch your soul-mate get shot down right before your eyes, then sing some more blues!
Paper Shoes – Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band 1970
The opening sound effects of a train, thunder and rain give way to the crunching of paper shoes, which sound like footprints in crisp snow. Moments of silence are punctuated by ghostly wailing and echoing vocals uttering only the words ‘paper shoes’. Yoko’s voice undulates like a cold wind.
Winter Friend – A Story 1974
This light and airy song with a chorus of ‘la la las’ is actually pretty heavy. Yoko’s winter friend had problems, and she hopes to remain alive, not dead inside like he is. Despite the tragic lyrics, their walk in the snow to Chinatown for noodles gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling!
He had talked and made love like an expert
But I had never seen his soul
And his eyes had a sort of dead smile
As if he wanted me to believe
That he was still alive
He was a winter friend to me
We walked in the snow to Chinatown for noodles
That was many years ago, in another life
Why do I remember it now?
When I’d heard his story
I’d heard it like a car accident
That I would never be in myself
Don’t let it happen to me
Please, don’t let it happen to me
I’m not ready to die or live a living death
I’m not ready to die or live a living death
I’m not ready to die..
Revelations – Rising 1996
This is a song for EVERY day. It is Yoko’s delicate gospel hymn, blessing us for all of our negative energies and showing us how to transform them in a positive light, illuminating exactly which rewards we will receive for each. Remember, even if you feel that nobody in your life loves you, Yoko loves you!
Count your blessings every day for they are your protection
Which stand between you and what you wish not
Count your curses and there will be a wall
Which stand between you and what you wish
The world has all that you need
You have the power to attract what you wish
Wish for health, wish for joy
Remember, you are loved
I love you!
Don’t Count the Waves – Fly 1971
As much as Yoko repeats ‘Don’t count the waves’ I can’t help envisioning waves and counting them! Joe Jones’ weird percussive instruments lend an earthy random ambient timbre, as Yoko’s voice reverberates and repeats.
Mind Holes – Fly 1971
An acoustic blues that blows through the holes in your mind like the wind, clearing out your head.
Moonbeams – Take Me to the Land of Hell
Ominous bird calls give way to cosmic club music, soundtracking the changing seasons.
Into my blood stream
The snow protected us
Covering our pain
Now I hear ice cracking
Slowly in my brain
Snow Falls Silent – Performed live in NYC in February 2005
Snow falls silent
The wind is violent
I really wanna…
I miss you
NY Noodle Town – Take Me to the Land of Hell 2015
In the soundscape of this gorgeous song, I still see Yoko trudging through the snow for noodles with her winter friend. Amidst the transgressions of our city…
We’re running to the horizon
Of our dreams
Other Yoko Songs for Winter:
Remember Love (B-side of ‘Give Peace a Chance’ single + Wedding Album 1969)
Who Has Seen the Wind? (B-side of ‘Instant Karma’ single 1970)
Happy Xmas/War Is Over (Single 1971)
Approximately Infinite Universe:
Waiting for the Sunrise
Shiranakatta – (Especially this Craig Armstrong remix on Yes, I’m a Witch, on which John excitedly utters, “That was BEAUTIFUL!” at the end.)
Feeling the Space:
Run Run Run
Season of Glass:
Even When You’re Far Away
I Don’t Know Why
Nobody Sees Me Like You Do
Never Say Goodbye
Spec of Dust
Let the Tears Dry
You’re the One
Milk & Honey:
Turned the Corner
Between My Head and the Sky:
Between My Head and the Sky
Take Me to the Land of Hell:
I’m Going Away Smiling
Take Me to the Land of Hell
There’s No Goodbye
Story of an Oak Tree – bonus track, Japan
‘Open Your Box’ – the 7+ minute version in which at one point, Yoko sounds like an entire flock of birds screaming! (There is NEVER a day that I don’t listen to this!)
I will end with two Snow Pieces from Grapefruit:
Think that snow is falling.
Think that snow is falling everywhere
All the time.
When you talk with a person, think
That snow is falling between you and
On the person.
Stop conversing when you think the
Person is covered by snow
TAPE PIECE III
Take a tape of the sound of the snow
This should be done in the evening.
Do not listen to the tape.
Cut it and use it as strings to tie
Make a gift wrapper, if you wish, using
The same process with a phonosheet
Look at life in nature. Budding branches, a shining river.
The light that shines on everything shines on you, too.
– Yoko Ono, Twitter October 2016