John & Yoko
Milk and Honey
Released January 9, 1984
by Madeline Bocaro
An excerpt from my book:
In Your Mind – The Infinite Universe of Yoko Ono
The true and complete story of the extraordinary woman whom John Lennon loved.
Now on several Best Books of 2022 lists and Gift Guides!
This was John and Yoko’s final album together.
It was compiled and released by Yoko three years after John’s death. The songs continue Double Fantasy’s dialogue between man and woman/ husband and wife. They were recorded during and after the Double Fantasy sessions in 1980.
The cover photo and session by Kishin Shinoyama are color shots, similar to the black and white photos taken for their previous album, Double Fantasy.
A tribute album titled Every Man Has a Woman was released in January 1984, featuring Ono songs performed by artists including Elvis Costello, Roberta Flack, Eddie Money, Rosanne Cash and Harry Nilsson. It was John’s unfinished project – a way to promote Yoko’s music.
Twenty years later in 2004, Yoko re-made her song “Everyman… Everywoman…” in support of same-sex marriage, releasing remixes that included ‘Every Man Has a Man Who Loves Him’ and ‘Every Woman Has a Woman Who Loves Her.’
Also in 1984, the final John and Yoko album Milk and Honey was compiled and released three years after John’s death.
Yoko titled the album after their journey as a couple to America – “the land of milk and honey.” The phrase has another connotation; the Scriptures designate “the land of milk and honey” as the promised land, where we all go in the afterlife. She felt that it was strange and almost scary that she had thought of this title, and that the idea perhaps came from above.
Yoko’s songs are mostly new recordings made in 1983. John’s recordings are mostly rough rehearsals and raw takes from the 1980 sessions. ‘Nobody Told Me’ (which John had written for Ringo) was released as a single and became a Top 10 hit worldwide. There were two other singles; ‘I’m Stepping Out’ and ‘Borrowed Time.’ Let Me Count the Ways’ and ‘Grow Old with Me’ are rough demos.
This one-minute tune is Yoko’s yearning for mental liberation. Most people long to be released from their own psychoses, but here Yoko is asking to be released – or perhaps excused – from sanity. Losing John was a devastating experience, yet she is still expected by society to be sane. In all aspects of her life-long work, the mind is the main component. On ‘O’ Sanity,’ she yearns for the freedom to completely let go, wondering what to do with her useless sanity while the world is falling apart.
‘Grow Old with Me’ / ‘Let Me Count the Ways’
This pair of beautiful songs are from the Double Fantasy sessions. In this couplet, John and Yoko declare their eternal love, intending a long life together. Sadly, their future was destroyed in an instant – just after these songs were written. In fact (although their story seems infinite) they only had less than twelve years together.
‘Grow Old with Me’ was John’s unfinished piano / drum machine cassette demo – one of the last songs that he ever recorded.
Both songs are inspired by poems by the Victorian era poets Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning. In her Milk and Honey liner notes, Yoko says that she and John believed that they might have been the reincarnation of Elizabeth and Robert. The Milk and Honey album includes verses by the Brownings printed next to lyrics by John and Yoko.
On December 25, 1980, Yoko received a posthumous Christmas present from John, which he had bought and held as a surprise. It was a portrait, and an original handwriting of Robert and Elizabeth Browning framed side by side.
An orchestral version of ‘Grow Old With Me’ produced by George Martin appears on the 1998 John Lennon Anthology box.
‘Let Me Count the Ways’ is her answer to John’s ‘Grow Old with Me.’ In each lyrical phrase enhanced by her simple piano accompaniment, Yoko in gratitude, illustrates and compares the way that she loves, misses, sees and touches John with imagery from nature (in the same touching way that John describes images of Yoko and of his mother in his song ‘Julia’). Although she wrote the song when he was alive, it seems as if it was written after John’s passing. He seems just out of reach. Yoko implements the Shinto principle of animism – John’s soul permeates intangible and timeless forms in nature that surround her, as he remains with her forever.
The 1992 Onobox extended version includes the most beautiful verse in which Yoko compares elements of nature to her love for John; a gentle wind, the first sun that hits the dew, a lake, mountain and air… and the most beautiful lines,
The first snow I made my wishes to
The moonlight that covers the world…
‘Your Hands’ (‘Anatano Te’) あなたの手
After John’s passing, it was incredibly difficult to hear Yoko’s words about her love for him, and how beautiful he was to her in every way. The emotions were so deep that Yoko sang this song in her native Japanese language, speaking the words in English after each verse.
In many lifetimes
No matter how many times we meet, it’s not enough
“I know I speak of his hands a lot. I loved his hands. He used to say he had wanted hands like Jean Cocteau – long and slim fingers. But I grew up surrounded by cousins with those aristocratic hands. I loved John’s, clean, strong, working-class hands that grabbed me whenever there was a chance.”
– Rolling Stone London, October 18, 2010
Yoko again speaks of John’s hands on her dance single ‘Hold Me’ released in February 2013. This track rocks so hard that we forget that the lyrics are heartbreaking tearjerkers. If only they could have one more dance together…
“I miss your hands / I miss your touch
Were you ever in my life / Or was it just a dream?”
Photo: Allan Tannenbaum
‘Don’t Be Scared’ again mentions the sun and moon in the east and west. Yoko and John are riding in a slow boat with no land in sight. Yet she fearlessly sings, “Away we go.” On this slow reggae tune, She sweetly encourages us to abolish our fears. It is Yoko’s answer to John’s ‘I Don’t Wanna Face It.’ An extended version was released on Onobox.
How do you get rid of a fear you’ve had your whole life and just can’t shake?
“You are a powerful being. You can get rid of anything you don’t like about yourself. The fact that you are sticking to that fear, may have a practical reason for it. May be if you got rid of that fear, you may walk right into the car coming at you. So keep anything you seem to want to keep. You never know.”
How do I stop fear from controlling my life and every choice I make?
“Fear is a protective measure we are given from the day we were born so we don’t stick our fingers in a burning fire, etc. Don’t be macho and be fearful of your emotion.”
Yoko QandA, August 17, 2015
‘Sleepless Night’ is a deceivingly playful track. Although Yoko mentions a sexual device and the many lonely people who use them, this is more than just a song about a quickie! A lonely woman is responding to her nagging bodily needs while her mind is filled with pain and nightmares. She is unsure exactly what, if anything will fulfill her cravings. She only knows that she wants it all.
‘You’re the One’ has a synthesized beat, propelling Yoko’s eerie yet romantic love song to John in the afterlife, not knowing that it would be this way. The Lennons realized that the world did not take them seriously. However, they thought of themselves as the poet lovers Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, or the wildly passionate couple in the Emily Bronte novel Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff and Cathy whose souls were united in eternity. They also compared themselves to comedians Laurel and Hardy, Don Quixote and Sancho, and to a wizard and a witch. But in the end, they realize that they were “just a boy and a girl who never looked back.”
There is a great electronica/dance remix of ‘You’re The One’ – a bonus track on Rykodisc’s 1997 release of Yoko’s 1982 album It’s Alright (I See Rainbows). This version begins with what would later become the opening musical phrase of the song ‘It’s Time for Action’ on her 2001 album Blueprint For A Sunrise. In June 2007 a digital download and a CD single of several remixes were released by Astralwerks / Mind Train / Twisted Records.
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This is an excerpt from my Yoko Ono biography
In Your Mind – The Infinite Universe of Yoko Ono
An all-embracing look at Yoko Ono’s life, music and art – in stunning detail.
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