In her Ono right – [Part Two]

“Feeling The Space” [1973] was made during the period that John and Yoko’s marriage was under some strain, and certainly this collection of songs lacks the sparkle of “Approximate Infinite Universe” and the first two sides of “Fly”, although it is Yoko’s first single album of songs and may attract interest for that reason. The influence of her feminist activities is again apparent, and the sleeve notes explain that the title refers to her lonely childhood and the fact that she was never able to get physically close to her parents: she was always surrounded by space. The topic of loneliness is dealt with in some depth on the sleeve, and is also a recurring theme on the album.

Side 1; “Growing Pain” is an excellent start to the album – sad and soulful, featuring a wistful oboe and Yoko’s voice at its sweet best. “Yellow Girl” has a jazzy, late-night feel to it, but is rather flat and dull and never seems to get anywhere. [“Yellow” could either refer to her state of mind at the time, or be a self-depreciatory reference to her race]. “Coffin Car” gets things moving again: it seems to clank along like a tedious journey. Once again the lyrics deal with suicide, but this time the song is not in the first person. It is a comment on people’s hypocrisy when a person dies – suddenly all their faults are forgotten.

“Woman Of Salem” is in my opinion the best track on the album. It tells of the public burning of a witch in the 17th century: very poignant in view of the fact that Yoko was frequently called a “Witch” at the time of The Beatles’ break-up and suffered persecution in the form of death threats, voodoo dolls etc. The song opens with Yoko chanting over a background of tribal drums, and ends with her crying pitifully “Oh why, oh why … help me, help me …” getting faster and more desperate until it abruptly fades into nothing. Very chilling. [Interesting to note another reference to her daughter’s future after her death: “Let my daughter burn my book / Let her learn to sew and cook”].

By way of contrast, “Run Run Run” is a light-hearted song with beautiful guitar and keyboard work, describing Yoko’s appreciation of the open spaces around e.g. fields in springtime, starry skies, the coolness of an empty room as dusk falls. It is like a fresh spring breeze blowing through the album; practically the only pleasant theme on it. However, the final track on side 1, “If Only”, reverts to melancholia complete with bluesy harmonica, as Yoko sings of how she goes to pieces when she is left on her own.

Side 2: First up is “A Thousand Times Yes”: a dull, disjointed effort with frenzied keyboards and frantically stammered vocals. Things look up with “Straight Talk” which is precisely that – Yoko giving us all a piece of her mind about “speaking up” and “getting [ourselves] together”. Backed up by a driving beat and swinging sax, this is powerful stuff. Nice one Yoko.

“Angry Young Woman” is another of her little stories, this time about a stifled and dissatisfied young wife finally plucking up the courage to pack her bags, shut the door on her husband and kids, and “walk away to the new world”. It is spoilt by a disappointingly weak tune, and therefore does not have the impact of “What A Bastard The World Is” on “Approximate Infinite Universe”.

That infuriating plinky-plonk piano resurfaces on “She Hits Back” but it is redeemed by some surprising Fleetwood Macesque guitar licks. There is a novel use of repetition at the end of each verse: “ring-ring”, “flash-flash”, “Sneeze-sneeze” and “bang-bang”, as Yoko describes each of her senses “hitting back like a warning” – perhaps a warning against doing too much? [She always was and still is a workaholic].

“Woman Power” is a rather tuneless chant about the feminist movement which will not endear her to many. However, she once again manages to sail out on a high note with “Men Men Men” – a Twenties-style ditty which deals with putting men in their places, but this time in a humorous way so that it does not grate. The piano trills cheekily, and the saucy little sax interludes between each verse perfectly compliment Yoko’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics [Note the line “Men men men, milk and honey” – perhaps an idea for a future album title?] At the end of the song Yoko intones “Honeydew, you can come out of your box now”, and a familiar voice replies “Yes dear”. This is John’s ‘cameo’ appearance on the album, and in this context shows him as being totally subservient to his “mother”. The song would be highly amusing were it not for the knowledge of the unhappiness and year-long split which followed hot on the heels of the album. [While John and May Pang were in Los Angeles Yoko had a brief affair with David Spinozza, who plays guitar on most of the tracks].

“Seasons Of Glass” [1981]. After a space of 8 years, Yoko re-emerged as a solo artist in the wake of John’s tragic death, amid the inevitable cries of “cash-in” and a storm of fury over the controversial cover showing John’s bloodied glasses. But as Yoko later explained, doing the album was her way of dealing with what had happened. A self-confessed workaholic, she spent a couple of months resting in bed and then buried herself once again in her work, dedicating herself to buying up real estate and sorting out the tangled affairs of the Apple empire. In the spring of 1981 she re-assembled the musicians who had worked together so successfully on the “Double Fantasy” sessions and enlisted the help of John’s hero Phil Spector as assistant producer [although he walked out halfway through the sessions after a difference of opinions].

Although the album was undoubtedly a therapeutic exercise for Yoko, it was also her way of sharing her feelings with the millions around the world who had sent her their love and sympathy in the preceding months, and stood in place of the interviews and public appearances which would probably have proved too much of an ordeal for her at this point in time.

NB. “Seasons Of Glass” was originally advertised as including the single “Walking On Thin Ice” but in fact the single was a separate item included in the package.

Side 1: “Goodbye Sadness”; written in 1973, this is beautifully crafted song reminiscent of a child renouncing its fear of the dark. Yoko’s voice, in her own words, “chokes and crackles” with emotion, but the drums and bass form a steady, reassuring beat, and the melody is as soothing as a lullaby. Although written before the loss of John, the words take on a new meaning now as Yoko begins to pick up the pieces of her shattered life and bravely face the world: “I lived in fear every day / But now I’m going my way”.

“Mindweaver” opens with a phone conversation between Yoko and an unidentified man. Some people think it is John calling during their separation, but I doubt this as the lyrics reveal that the caller said hurtful and critical things [‘although his voice was sweet to me”]. The track is sustained by some of the most lovely acoustic guitar work ever to appear on a Yoko album.

It is fitting that the next track “Even When You’re Far Away”, should open with one of the sweetest voices of all times; that of the lisping 5 year old Sean telling one of his Daddy’s “little stories”. The inclusion of this piece again stirred up a storm of criticism, this time denouncing Yoko’s callousness at putting the bereaved and bewildered tot through the trauma of being recorded: in reality Sean did not know he was being recorded as he cuddled up on Mummy’s knee to enjoy a chat about the things he used to do with Daddy. The point of annexing Sean’s contribution to this particular track becomes obvious when one listens to the heartbreaking lyrics, as Yoko tries to explain to John that she will always love him no matter what happens. Although once again this track dates from the rock period of their marriage, the lyrics are strangely prophetic, as John is now indeed “far away” and Yoko is drawing closer to her son for comfort. The line “Part of you is growing in me” could almost refer to the infant Sean in her womb.

When you have finished mopping up the tears, lend an ear to the breathtaking sweetness of “Nobody Sees Me Like You Do” which carries on the sentiments of the previous number but is enriched by sumptuous keyboards courtesy Anthony Davillo and George Small, and angelic choir comprised entirely of Yoko’s multi-tracked vocals. She sings of the “curse of loneliness” and lines “I want to see us together again / Rocking away in our walnut chairs” have me reaching for the Kleenex again.

After four “slow” songs in a row, things suddenly spring to life with the twanging intro to “Turn Of The Wheel”, a pleasingly perky number, with jangling, banjo-like guitar work. Yoko’s voice hits amazing heights in the chorus and she sounds confident and cheery. It’s good to hear.

The penultimate number on Side 1, “Dogtown” is a masterpiece right from the first note. There are some ominous creaks, then a menacing guitar growls to life and Yoko launches into her soliloquy on death as she walks the deserted streets of Manhattan in the early morning chill. A stabbing staccato beat and a chorus of ghostly “oohs” and “aahs” are maintained throughout, sending genuine shivers down the spine in keeping with chilling lyrics like “He took a shot and people smiled / I tried the same and people frowned”. One wonders how Yoko must have felt, re-reading these 8-year old lyrics after the events of December 1980, and one must give her credit for her courage in making this public property. The Specials chart-topping “Ghost Town” was released around the same time as this album, and I always think of it and “Dogtown” together – two haunting ghost songs at a time of worldwide unease and gloom. Pity Yoko never got a No.1 hit.

As light relief after the sombre ambiance created by “Dogtown”, she rounds off the first side with “Silver Horse”, a left-over from the ‘Double Fantasy” sessions. It is a dreamy little song not unlike an old Scottish lament, with the addition of some wistful fretboard work in the middle. We let Yoko’s fantastic horse with no wings carry us on a cloud through to Side 2 with the feeling that all is not lost.

Side 2 opens with the anguished “I Don’t Know Why”, written only days after John’s death and sounding a great deal like Yoko letting out her bottled-up anger and bewilderment. The strident, crashing, disjointed chords convey cold rage and even manage to create a shivering effect, like an icy wind blowing through the empty apartment. At the end of the song she completely loses control and screams and curses – perhaps at Chapman or perhaps at the world in general. The cold atmosphere and shuddering sound effects continue throughout the following track, “Extension 33”, but this time the words recall various decisions Yoko has had to make during her life, reaching the conclusion that “Once I was in love / It nearly killed me / But now I have my pride and freedom”. The word “freedom” is repeated ad nauseam at the end, degenerating into a despondent wail as if to say “What use is it now?”

If by now the listener is desperate to hear something on a more cheerful note, he or she will be disappointed because the third track on side 2, “No No No” is without doubt the most controversial song Yoko has released since December 1980; I would almost go as far as to say that it is the most eyebrow-raising move she has made in any field during that time. Yoko’s howl following the four gunshots is one of the most distressing sounds I have ever heard on record, and although the police car’s siren only appears at the end, the whole piece is reminiscent of a siren, droning relentlessly as Yoko spits out her feelings of sexual revulsion. A lot of people took the lyrics to be an indication that she had found a new lover, but I think she could just as easily be singing hypothetically; trying to imagine someone else in John’s place and being unable to stomach the thought. It is hardly a pleasant song to listen to but one must bear in mind that Yoko really wanted to share her pain with us.

At last the sombre mood is dispersed with the airy saxophone and tinkling piano which introduce “Will You Touch Me?”, dating from 1971 and therefore the oldest song on the album. Although backdated, its lyrics sum up with painful accuracy Yoko’s longing for a friendly pair of arms, a shoulder to cry on, and a few kind words from a world that has mocked and scorned her for so long. Despite the tear-jerking lyrics, the song avoids becoming overtly slushy and sentimental by maintaining a light-hearted dance-hall theme throughout. A good choice of track to place in that slot on the album.

“She Gets Down On Her Knees” opens with the sound of a ship entering dock and Yoko’s inimitable seagull shrieks, and the sea-themed crops up throughout the song with lines such as “she goes from one bay to another / Looking for a liner”‘ [Yoko, whose name means “ocean child”, has often claimed that women have an affinity with the sea]. Although this is another angry sounding song, there is is a beautiful moment just before the end where the tune seems to melt suddenly like a lull in a sea-storm, and Yoko sings of “blue patches in the cloudy sky” – her hope for the future. The gulls are there too.

We stay by the sea-shore for the next track, “Toyboat”, as Yoko waits to be rescued from her island of loneliness. There are summery Hawaiian guitar licks and a soothing glockenspiel chimes unobtrusively in the background. The atmosphere generated by the song is one of calm and tranquility, and once again she makes beautiful use of vocal harmony. This is, in effect, the final track but Yoko chooses, in keeping with tradition, to end with a prayer. “Mother Of The Universe” is a finely crafted gospel number, slow and majestic, andYoko’s female “God” scarcely made a ripple compared to the tidal wave generated by John’s “anti-christ” statement of 1966. Bless you little lady.

December 1982 saw Yoko release “It’s Alright”: on a new label – Polydor – and produced by her new “companion” Sam Havadtoy. Going back into the studio was a brave move considering the damning by critics, public outcry and relative commercial failure which had greeted “Seasons Of Glass” the previous year. [In fact, “Seasons Of Glass” reached No.47 in the British charts, the highest chart position ever achieved by a Yoko album].

Once again she put her foot in it with the cover, which shows her embracing Sean in Central Park while the boy appears to be staring uneasily into the face of a ghostly John. Oh well, perhaps it was just Yoko’s way of letting us know that John was not forgotten, and I hope the cover didn’t discourage too many people from listening to the music, which is rather splendid to say the least. It is sub-titled “I See Rainbows” and this gives a foretaste of the optimism expressed in the songs. [Hands up all those who spotted the little rainbows peeping out from behind the initial letters of her name on the sleeve!]

The album gets off to a flying start with “My Man”: after the bouncing synthesiser intro I half expected Phil Collins to start singing! However, Yoko has seldom been in better voice than on the exuberant valentine to John: the song radiates love and joy from beginning to end. It was released as a single, and apparently the promo video featured the “Babalubabalubablu” chorus being sung by a trio male backing singers dressed as Japanese ladies twirling parasols in time to the music! A great pity it never got a TV airing in this country as it would have demonstrated to everybody Yoko’s supposedly non-existent sense of humour, and might have helped the song achieve the Top Ten placing it so deserved.

The second track, “Never Say Goodbye” is to some extent a return tom the icy chill felt on many of the tracks on “Seasons Of Glass”, telling us that Yoko still misses John terribly and wishes he were there to comfort her when she feels frightened or depressed. Musically the song is interesting because there are distinct shades of the Human League in the synthizer work, and the male chorus compliments Yoko’s lead vocal beautifully. In the middle of the song comes a fascinating montage of sound, including birds twittering, Yoko coughing, John crying out her name [from the “Wedding Album”] and Sean calling “Mummy? Mummy?” in a questioning tone, almost as if he were trying to wake her from one of the nightmares described in the song. At the end Sean is heard again, saying what sounds like “Looks like a giant plum” amidst reverberating echoes. No doubt he and mummy know what it means. Food for thought?

“Spec Of Dust” is Yoko’s answer to “The Way We Were” – a wistful and nostalgic look back at the happy times she spent with John. It conjures up visions of her sitting alone at the white piano against a backdrop of starry skies, and the synths create a violin-like effect. Most moving.

“Lonliness” is the only totally depressing song on the album, and the howling and wailing “ghosts” are back in full voice to make the point. It is therefore a relief to hear “Tomorrow May Never Come”, another joyous gem with more than a hint of Motown influence. It is a swinging, hand-clapping number I just LOVE those backing singers.

On Side 2 we find Yoko in bed and Sean trying to rouse her [this time he claims he WAS aware that a recording was taking place!] and their conversation continues into the first verse of the song. Here is Yoko being brave, getting up and facing the world, and offering some comfort and encouragement to the millions of people who, like her, are lonely and afraid and often unable to face the day ahead. It’s a touching gesture and the rousing chorus saying quite simply “It’s alright, I know it’s gonna be alright” is enough to brighten anyone’s day.

On the following number Yoko again urges us all to “Wake Up”, greet the sunshine and enjoy the “good times that are coming (your) way”. It is a good reggae number, with chirpy synths and percussion instruments imitating the sounds of various birds [!?] which is both pleasant and interesting to listen to.

“Let The Tears Dry” is an unusual song: it opens with military pipes and drums, and three shots which sound more like a canon than a gun. There are two short verses sung by Yoko and her backing group in unison like a chant, as they tell us that John didn’t die in vain. The song ends as it began and the platoon marches out.

For “Dream Love” we are transported once again to the beach, where seabirds shriek and waves peacefully lap the shore, and Yoko dreams of a united world in which everyone can “dream together”. It is a naive but nevertheless very appealing vision, and the lulling melody coupled with the gentle washing of the waters over the stones makes one yearn for it to materialise. The album’s final track “I See Rainbows” is Yoko’s plea to the world not to lose heart and to look to the future with love and hope. She reverts to using her own voice for backing vocals, and also applies the gimmick of deliberately not fitting the words to the tune!

It is lovely to think that she sees rainbows again and that she can urge us all to be optimistic in the Eighties. It is also very touching to note that on “Seasons Of Glass” Yoko was asking the world for its love, sympathy and understanding, while on “It’s Alright” it is she who attempts to cheer and comfort the world.

With the final release of “Milk And Honey” last Christmas, and the compilation “Every Man Has A Woman” this autumn, there has been no new solo album from Yoko this year, but I for one hope with all my heart that we have not have heard the last of this lady’s amazing talents and that she will return to the studio in the near future and present us with another treasure to add to the trove. Who knows, maybe next time she will be lucky and have a hit. But one thing is certain: whatever she does, Yoko will be alright.

By Jo Segarra.

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