Yoko Ono: Re-imagining
By Madeline Bocaro ©
At age 85, Yoko has re-worked 13 of her past songs from 1970-2009 for a new album called Warzone (release date October 19).
On Warzone Yoko reiterates her messages, encouragement and warnings through the decades that we might unfortunately end up right where we are now. The wisdom of our wizened sage is always unpredictable, clairvoyant and irrepressible. If we were not heeding her warnings all this time, we had better start now.
The songs are stripped to their essence with the backing of a string quartet, guitar by Marc Ribot and effects by her co-producer Thomas Bartlett.
Yoko strongly feels that the messages in these songs need to be heard again.
“Because I think that each one makes a statement that’s very important to hear now. And when Beethoven wrote the 5th Symphony, he was not thinking that it would be the last time it would be played.”
– Yoko – Mojo, November 2018
The cover art, in Yoko’s pointillist style resembles a bee hive made of human skulls. New lyric videos feature beautiful animation of Yoko’s drawings. She is brilliantly accompanied on most tracks by the voices of animals and birds.
‘Warzone’ (Rising 1996)
‘Warzone’ – the powerful opener from Rising is riddled with percussive gunshots and punctuated by Yoko’s cries and dire warnings. Yoko implores, ‘If you hear me, if you hear me, please help us’ implying that she is calling out to something other than human. Woeful bellows of animals start the track. The animals are credited on the sleeve! (Baboon, Crows, Elephant, Monkeys, Panther, Whale, Wolf). The reason for including animal voices is, “Because we are animals too and we are not being good to our fellow animals.” (Yoko, Q&A August 2018)
The lyrics echo Yoko’s theme in ‘Higa Noboru’ (Between My Head and the Sky, 2009) – a delicate transcendent song in which Yoko communicates the wisdom divined via her telepathy with nature in which she hears fish calling from the ocean and birds warning in the sky.
‘Hell In Paradise’ Starpeace (1985)
Several songs on Warzoneare from Starpeace. The album (with its ‘Air Side’ and ‘Be Side’) sold poorly at the time. Yoko wants us to clearly hear these important messages.
This new version consists purely of Yoko’s echoing vocals warning us to wake up from our self-deception amidst gunshot effects and the calls of ‘elephant, baboon and panther’. ‘Hell In Paradise’ was Yoko’s biggest 1980s dance chart hit. The theme is the hell that we have created on this paradise called Earth. Several remixes were included the ONO remix project (2004). Another release of remixes in 2016 reached No. 1 on the Dance Club Songs chart.
‘Now or Never’ (Approximately Infinite Universe 1973)
This is Yoko’s ballad for America, admonishing our actions of greed and pleading with us to dream together. The new version is delicate with quietly atmospheric instrumentation and intimate vocals. The sadly prescient lyric, “Are we gonna keep shooting the ones that try to change?” has come to be true way too many times.
The line which sums up all that Yoko has been trying to tell us all along (I used this quote in my high school yearbook in 1976) is the most beautiful…
A dream you dream alone is only a dream
But a dream we dream together is reality.
Reading the lyrics after so many years made me choke up.
NOW OR NEVER!
It works now.
The lines “Are we gonna keep shooting the ones that try to change,
Are we gonna keep thinking it won’t happen to us” were hard to read.
When I wrote those lines, John and I were a proud and happy couple,
believing that it would make a difference to speak out.
And I think it did.
I didn’t know that John was the one who would be shot to death for trying to change…
But they couldn’t kill him.
His spirit is still alive and growing inside all of us.
– yoko (Memorial Day, 30 May 2011)
‘Where Do We Go from Here?’ (Rising 1996)
Yoko’s voice is raspy on this chilling song with a leading question, including words from a scary nursery rhyme. The melody and structure are very similar to ‘Coffin Car’ (1973).
‘Woman Power’ (Feeling the Space 1973)
The new version of Yoko’s manifesto retains its funky groove with her sung and spoken message loud and clear, and a nice guitar and vocal freak-out! The rocker is Yoko’s early feminist song stating the theme of her 4th solo album Feeling the Space. The lyrics illuminate society’s perpetual repression of women, and their gradual rise to power. FTS was the follow-up to Yoko’s double album, Approximately Infinite Universe. Originally, it was also to be a double set with the title Half a Windsong. John’s scathing guitar rips through the original, as he was in complete agreement with his wife about women’s rights and equality. Yoko’s lyrics are so prophetic that we recently had a very near miss of having a woman president. And her call for humanity to the president at the time (Richard Nixon) is still a relevant plea today…
Two thousand years of male society
Laying fear and tyranny
Seeking grades and money
Clinging to values vain and phony
Do you know that one day you lost your way, man
Do you know that some day you have to pay, man
Have you anything to say, man
Except, “Make no mistake about it, I’m the president, you hear
I wanna make one thing clear, I’m the president, you hear”
“Equality is a very strange word, because we are basically not equal, none of us are. We want justice, not equality. I myself, do not want to be equated with men, I want to always be me.”
– Yoko, refinery29.com – August 22, 2018
‘It’s Gonna Rain (Starpeace 1985)
Yoko’s lighthearted reggae romp becomes a seriously dire warning that a hard rain’s gonna fall.
‘Why’ (Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band 1970)
This is my favorite. There is absolutely no beat, just Yoko’s vocalization of the word ‘Why’ accompanied by animal cries and abstract instrumentation. The original version of ‘Why’ was John’s favorite piece of Yoko’s music. You cannot distinguish his guitar sound Yoko’s anguished vocal at the start – 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 Songs: Why
by Madeline Bocaro ©
Children Power (Starpeace 1985)
Yoko’s simple upbeat song empowers kids. It’s an ideal world with happy monkeys, whales and birds sharing the planet with us. I was a production assistant on the rarely seen video for this song, filmed at the Unisphere sculpture at the former 1964 World’s Fair site in Queens. My main job on the freezing cold day was keeping Yoko warm with hot chocolate, wrapping her in a blanket between takes and giving her lots of hugs!
I Love All of Me (Starpeace 1985)
This is so adorable. The two-chord structure recalls the beginning of ‘Imagine’. No matter who you are, love yourself and just be. Yoko needs to take a break from bearing the cross and decides to just burn it.
Teddy Bear (a version of ‘Cape Clear’, Starpeace 1985)
This is a somber spinoff using the lyrics of the dance track ‘Cape Clear’ which Yoko titled after a beautiful island in Ireland. The story is about Yoko’s young daughter Kyoko losing her irreplaceable toy during their travels. Yoko felt so badly about the incident which haunted her after she was separated from her daughter. When they eventually reunited decades later, Kyoko had become a woman. The minor key piano accompaniment accents the feelings of loss and sadness.
I’m Alive (Between my Head and the Sky 2009)
This replicates the original version with a hammering sound, adding the question, “Am I?”
I Love You Earth (Starpeace 1985)
Earth must be so happy that someone cares. This piano and vocal version of Yoko’s warm and fuzzy love song to our planet twinkles in her deep sincerity.
Imagine (Imagine 1971)
An interesting droning accompaniment dies down in the middle of the song, when the clarity and simplicity reign on this delicate anthem. It is compelling to hear Yoko singing the song that she conceptualized with John a lifetime ago, now at age 85. It is especially heart wrenching now that he is no longer with us.
Midsummer New York (Fly 1971)
/ミッドサマー・ニューヨーク (alternate version) 【日本のみのボーナストラック】
The Japan edition exclusively includes “Midsummer New York” (2018 alternate mix version). Features Blu-spec CD2 format. As I suspected, it is not a re-working of the song, but a 1971 alternate take from the Fly album sessions! On this take Yoko is not emulating Elvis as much. It’s a fantastic vocal, in her own inimitable style – but you can hear her say at the end, “OK, it was barely good.” You can also hear John chattering in the background at the end. The rocker ‘Midsummer New York’ was Yoko’s take on Elvis Presley’s ‘Heartbreak Hotel’.
“‘Midsummer New York’ is about the deep insecurity that I have in me that I associate with my life in New York before I met John…I always wanted to make a song that uses the word ‘shaking’ with a double meaning, as I discovered the use of the word in rock in 1968.”
– Yoko Ono
See my story all about Yoko’s Fly album here:
Yoko sees things that we can’t see, hears things that we can’t hear, and knows things that we can’t know. She knows that one day there will be peace on earth. She lives her life as if it is undoubtedly so. We would be foolish not to believe her. Like animals, who can sense danger before it happens, she knows. The universe has let her in on some profound secrets, and she is trying to share them with us all. She is trying to tell us something, and we should pay serious attention!
The very first form of music that existed must have been just like Yoko’s – millions of years ago – before language, before instruments…the first prehistoric bird call, the grunt of a cave man, the first vocal expression of joy or sadness. The music of the future will probably resemble hers as well (whether it be made by humans or aliens) pure and simple. It’s already starting to happen. The circle will eventually be complete.
I am proud to share my time on earth with Yoko Ono, and blessed to have been touched by her. I really hope there is an afterlife for one reason only – so that John Lennon can see all of Yoko’s triumphs, and know that his dream has finally come true. For all we know, he might be behind all of this, wherever he may be.
The best news is that Yoko is already planning her next album!
It is not too late to change the world. We need Yoko now more than ever.
Order Warzone from: Chimera Music https://www.chimeramusic.com/#/store/t/All
HELL IN PARADISE
NOW OR NEVER
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE
IT’S GONNA RAIN
I LOVE ALL OF ME
I LOVE YOU EARTH
Yoko Ono: Franklin Summer Drawings