Released December 11, 1970
By Madeline Bocaro
© Madeline Bocaro, 2018. No part of this site may be reproduced in whole or in part in any manner without the permission of the copyright owner.
Yoko’s first solo album (a companion to John’s post-Beatles debut) was recorded shortly after their recording of Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins. John’s original idea was to title his album Primal, and Yoko’s album Scream (as they were attending Arthur Janov’s Primal Scream therapy sessions at the time). They ultimately decided to self- title the albums by each of their names, followed by ‘Plastic Ono Band’.
The cover photo, taken by their assistant/friend Dan Richter with an Instamatic camera features Yoko leaning on John’s lap as he rests on the ground with his back against a tree at their home, Tittenhurst Park in Ascot. John’s POB album has a similar photo, with him leaning on Yoko. The back covers of their albums feature a childhood photo of John (on his album) and of Yoko on hers. The labels bear a white apple, with the instruction to ‘PLAY IN THE DARK’.
On these session, John introduced a beat to Yoko’s music. The vocals were especially raw during Primal Therapy. The album was recorded in September 1970 and titled Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band. It was produced by John and Yoko and Phil Spector.
The entire album was recorded in one afternoon at their home studio in Ascot, and at Abbey Road studios using the same musicians who played on John’s accompanying album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (on which Yoko is credited as ‘Wind’). It includes a live recording, ‘AOS’. This was recorded at a rehearsal for a live performance in which Yoko participated at the Royal Albert Hall (February 29,1968) with Ornette Coleman and his band; Charlie Haden, David Izenzon, Ed Blackwell.
An outtake, ‘Slow Blues’ sung in Japanese surfaced decades later.
Yoko’s raw, desperate primal avant-garde vocals are derivative of hetai, a highly expressive Japanese vocal technique in Kabuki theatre. Here is a grown woman desperately screaming in pain. We can hear her crying inside. Although Yoko speaks two languages fluently, why does she choose not to use words? BECAUSE THERE ARE NO WORDS!
Sean Lennon told Rolling Stone’s David Fricke (June 11, 1998):
“I don’t know when I realized that Plastic Ono Band was the greatest record ever. I don’t know if it was because it’s my mom or what. But I got it. Why do I like it? I don’t know why people don’t like it.
When I play “Greenfield Morning” or “Why” for anybody that I know my age who’s into rock, they are fucking floored. When that beat kicks in “Greenfield Morning” [does human-beatbox imitation of the drum pattern] – I would play it for my friends who were only into hip-hop. They’d be like, That’s fat. They want to hear Public Enemy rhyming over it.
My dad was saying to the world, “This is it, man. Yoko is it.”His inspiration came directly from her. And people didn’t get it. It’s intense how racist the world is. If she looked like Deborah Harry, I really think the reaction would have been different.”
“… We knew we’d created something that was neither jazz, nor rock, nor classical, but an incredible new experience. I was proud, excited, overjoyed. It compared with how Marie Curie and her husband must have felt when they discovered radium together… How would a regular journalist know about music! I knew it was a specialized thing.”
– Yoko Ono, Mojo, August 2007
The first track on Side One, ‘Why’ (originally called ‘Fast Rocker’) is one of my favorite songs of all time. My first hearing of Yoko’s incredible song was on a jukebox 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.
On the Secretly Canadian/Chimera reissue (November 2016) we get the nearly 9-minutes extended take of this precious gem that almost was not recorded. After a false start with ‘no power’ John had told the engineer to stop recording. Thankfully, the tape began rolling again and captured this for eternity.
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.
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.”
I love how the lyrics appear on paper!
(John) Hey! Hey!
(Yoko) Why? etc…
…” 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 StoneMarch 18, 1971
By Jonathan Cott
‘Why Not’ has a much slower groove, and a more subdued vocal.
‘Greenfield Morning I Pushed an Empty Baby Carriage All Over the City’
The concept is from a page in Yoko’s book Grapefruit (1964).
Walk all over the city with an empty baby carriage
The piece centers upon a sitar drone played by John which accompanies Yoko’s echoing ghostly vocal. An eerie echo was also added to Ringo Starr’s drums.
“She’s the one who produced it. She put all the delays on Ringo’s drums and when he heard the song ‘Greenfield Morning…’ he said, ‘Who’s playing drums on it?’ She put so much delay on tit that he didn’t recognize his own drums… It was more on the avant garde side but it connected to punk… It wasn’t like ‘fuck everybody’ it was like ‘let’s heal through expression’.”
– Sean Ono Lennon, Nero magazine 2016.
Yoko’s foreboding lyrics speak of several miscarriages and the kidnapping of her young daughter Kyoko by her ex-husband, both of whom she and John would spend many years trying to locate.
“Well, it is a song where I carefully collaged many live sounds and tapes and made it into a song that sounds like just natural sounds flowing. I could write a book about how I made it. But I was getting bored with just doing one, two, three, four, one two three four – four in the bar, so I went very far.
– Yoko Q&A 2017
The track was later sampled on the song ‘Ask The Dragon’ on Yoko’s album Rising (1995).
There is a really cool mix of ‘Greenfield Morning’ on the 2005 compilation CD, The Enochian Way presented by Super Numeri.
“Do I like sampling? Well, you should go back and listen to Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band. I sampled, I did a lot of electronic tricks. It was very much like dance music. I called it Unfinished music, which meant that you were supposed to put your own thing on, in the same way that remixers do today. Tracks like ‘Why’ or ‘Paper Shoes’ could be dance tracks. I don’t feel that any of these things are particularly new, because they were always there for me.”
– Yoko, To Martin O’ Gorman, Mojo – In the Beginning, July 2002
In 1968, jazz great Ornette Coleman invited Yoko to perform at Royal Albert Hall). ‘AOS’ is from a live rehearsal for this show with Coleman (on trumpet) and his band – one drummer and 2 standup bassists including Charlie Haden. Yoko titled her piece ‘AOS’ (from the Japanese word AO meaning blue(s) and OS from the English ‘chaos’). ‘Blue Chaos’ was possibly intended to deviate from Miles Davis’ album title, Kind of Blue (1959). When the performance appeared on the album, it was dedicated to David Tudor, an art critic from Art News who had given Yoko’s first exhibition (at George Maciunas’ AG Gallery, NYC in the summer of 1961) a good review.
Yoko’s conditions were that it be her piece – not the musicians’. Foregoing musical notation, she scored her piece with words to convey what the musicians should play.
…Think of the days when you had to suffer in silence for ten days of eternity before you could give, and yet you were afraid of giving because what you were giving was so true and so total, you knew that you would suffer a death after that.
Think of the days when you allowed silences in your life for dreaming…
This is no shit. No mood or whatever you call it. It’s real…
Forget about what you’ve learnt or heard in the music academy world…
(Yoko vocalizes on the soundtrack to a Yoji Kuri film called Aos made in 1964.)
‘TOUCH ME’was the B-side of ‘Power to the People’ in the USA, which replaced the censored ‘Open Your Box’). The breakdown in the middle of the track is fabulous!
On ‘Paper Shoes’ 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. During World War II, people actually wore shoes made of paper due to a shortage of leather and other materials. 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.
“A stutterer is someone who’s feeling something genuine. So in ‘Paper Shoes’ I say: ‘Pa-pa-pa-a-a-per sh-shooooooes!’”
– Yoko to Jonathan Cott, Rolling Stone – December 1970
…The older you get the more frustrated you feel. And it gets to a point where you don’t have time to utter a lot of intellectual bullshit. If you were drowning you wouldn’t say: ‘I’d like to be helped because I have just a moment to live.’ You’d say, ‘Help!’ but if you were more desperate you’d say, ‘Eiough-hhhhh,’ or something like that. And the desperation of life is really life itself, the core of life, what’s really driving us forth. When you’re really desperate it’s phony to use descriptive and decorative adjectives to express yourself.”
– Yoko to Jonathan Cott, Yoko Ono and Her Sixteen-Track Voice,
Rolling Stone March 18, 1971
An additional outtake, ‘Between the Takes’ finally surfaced on the 1998 CD reissue of Fly.
Yoko’s album was reissued on CD by Rykodisc in 1997 with bonus tracks; ‘Open Your Box’, ‘Something More Abstract’ and ‘The South Wind’. The album was remastered in 2016 by Secretly Canadian/Chimera Music with the same bonus tracks.
John requested the pressing of a single of ‘Open Your Box’ (OYN-1) / ‘Greenfield Morning’ (GM-1) labelled, ‘MADE SPECIALLY FOR YOKO ONO’. There are between ten and twenty copies known to exist, one of which sold on ebay this week for $1,000.
‘This outtake was called ‘Slow Blues’. ‘(Why’ had originally been called ‘Fast Rocker’). ‘Slow Blues’ is the prototype of ‘Midsummer New York’ which appeared on her following album, Fly in 1971.
Omaeno Okka wa kanashigatteiruyo
Omaeno Okka wa kanashigatteiruyo
Omaeno Okka wa Shinjimattoyo
Your mother is sad / Your mother is sad
Your mother is dead / Your mother has died
The song remains unreleased. Its first unofficial release was in 1999 on the bootleg album Odds & Ends. The recording is from Abbey Road engineer John Barrett’s direct cassette dubs.
Read my story about ‘Slow Blues’ here:
YOKO ONO / PLASTIC ONO BAND
Yoko Ono – vocals
John Lennon – guitar
Ringo Starr – drums
Klaus Voormann – bass
Additional musicians (on “AOS”)
Ornette Coleman – trumpet
Edward Blackwell – drums
David Izenzon – bassTechnical personnel
Phil McDonald, John Leckie & Eddie – engineering
Mal Evans – salad
YOKO ONO PLASTIC ONO BAND & RZA, Live at the Orpheum, Los Angeles, Oct 1, 2010