By “Cryptic” Josh Villaire
This 1970 release was dedicated to John Lennon, “For John with Love from Yoko,” and continues to fulfill predictable prophecies with a hippy-dippy cover of the lovebirds lounging under spacious, Japanese tree branches. One begins to assume logically that in the near future any in earshot must soon resign themselves to be wallowing in loathsome tambourine protest music like a pig in mud. If you’ve bought into any of this poop-lah or if you’re a fan of the Beatles, be warned. This is not the Beatles.
Is this album a protest? Yes…but not for any propagandizing political agenda. This album is a protest against musical convention, and the frozen, tired concepts of what rock’n’roll is believed to be. Were people listening when it came out? Oh, hell yes! You can almost smell the B.O. of your favorite misfits like Lydia Lunch, Poly Styrene, and Johnny Rotten leaning close to the speakers with you wearing puzzled, yet pleasured faces. Like a flower to the sun, your heroes sit ear-cocked, bumming smokes and laughing with you about how this record has shocked them forever! This was such a crucial record for punk and no-wave – Yes! No Wave! – that you can hear it in almost all the records of 1977. If you were living in the seventies you’d either love Ono or hate Ono, but if you didn’t know her you were one sad sack.
Side B of this haunting release that stirs the nervous system is a track called “Aos” that was mined from a practice tape with Ornette Coleman from 1968. On it Ornette weaves like magnetic tape around Ono’s chaotic sex-cat cooing, and before long you mistake Orns’ pleading pipes for Onos’ caterwauling.
After this abrupt field trip into erroneous zones turned violent crime, lies the drooping jungle-rose petals of “Touch Me” which plunge anyone in ear-shot into a rainforest chock-full of all kinds of Bengalese tigers and fauna as far as the eyes can swallow. If Ono was in the throngs of reckless ecstasy in the previous song, she’s bursting with the estranged frenzy of a beast stalking its mate in this ditty. I was more than freaked that it was John “The Beatles” Lennon on this track because his axe is burning worse than herpes, and he’s shredding that thing to pieces like Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth. Even more eye-opening is while you’re staring down this Yoko void that plunges deeper than the Necronomicon would dare to drag you, your subjected to the snapping drum hail of Ringo Starr which help to reveal the hideous talons and fangs glistening with fresh gore beneath his friendly English veneer. It’s enough to make you forget that smug mustachio he was sporting on the Sgt. Pepper album — the poof!
I’m saving the pièce de résistance of this savage vinyl from the past for last with the two songs “Why” and “Why Not” viewed as sort of a part one and part two that disarmingly compliment each other. You sit slack-jawed, gaping at your belly button after replaying “Why” for the sixth or seventh time in all of its gutsy throat throwing. Witness John Lennon launch into a terrorized punk riff that sounds like the static electricity flying off a power plant. Is that Yoko singing or a razor playing pin-the-tail all over your wrist and eyes — forcing your repressions out like undigested junk food? The desperation of a thousand pussycats dumped into a blizzard after their cat-lady meal ticket lost her job could not rival Yokos’ cacophonous primal scream on “Why.” She is one with the wet, dirt-streaked people of Hiroshima mining for answers in the haunted depths of depravity and holiness like a nun that turns tricks after dark.
In “Why Not,” it’s almost as if Ono’s pierced the light at the end of her pitch-black tunnel, or worse found that there isn’t one, and now she’s hurling back through an ugly, paranoia stained dark like a bat out of hell. Ono the loathsome, blind bat of the catacombs bounces her terrors down unseen caverns and fissures so she can carve a path of discovery; taking strides to bury her fangs in the listener in “Why Not,” retaining the hair-raising energy of “Why” like a tight-rope walker who’s been poisoned by spider bites. Yoko will stumble without grace all over your neurosis in these two songs, and if you’re listening well enough I’ll bet you’ll start to dig it.
Yoko Ono has proven with this tour-de-force that even though she’s stuck on this planet for the time being she doesn’t have to play by its rules. Her taste and heart lie elsewhere, and she tirelessly demonstrates that there’s more than one way to skin a music industry: employing field recordings of bird chirping, trains billowing steam up and down the track, and her own unusual voice that rivals the mysteriousness of a black hole doorway to a solar system only a Yoko would know to love. It is because of this maverick rule thrashing that Yoko employs that this is the first record I’ve reviewed from the ‘70s, and in my bedeviled opinion an album that will not be forgotten for its bold influence to the underground for many years to come.