Tag Archives: Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono-‘Feeling The Space’: A 1973 Jazz/Funk/Rock Journey Of Female Liberation

Yoko Ono’s had her career in conceptual art during the early 60’s-including her association with the avant garde art movement Fluxus. Her musical involvement came through working with John Cage and through her second husband-film producer and apparent jazz musician Tony Cox. She became infamous through her marriage to John Lennon. It was with him that she finally pursued her own recording career. Her first two album was direct companion piece to John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band-released in 1970. After this, Ono’s music career gradually expanded outward in another way.

With Ono finding herself increasingly withdrawn romantically from her all too close marriage to Lennon,  it would seem to me that the pair were finding themselves still peripherally involved in the others life. All the while remaining on very different life paths. To hear Yoko tell it? Her musical/art career began to regain serious power during the mid 1970’s,while John’s lifelong emotional insecurities got the best of him during his self named “lost weekend”. Yoko found herself as an empowered woman on a serious mission.

With access to an all star band of musicians such as David Spinozza and Michael Brecker? She was able to continue realizing her vision. Songs such as the flute powered “Growing Pain”, “Run Run Run” and “Angry Young Woman” are soulful, electric piano led ballads while “Yellow Girl (Stand By For Life)” and “Man Man Man” both have stomping, swinging cabaret jazzy blues rhythmic flavors about them. “Coffin Car” has a grinding blues/rock vibe that is repeated on the cooler “She Hits Back” while “If Only” is a harmonica led country/blues type ballad.

“A Thousand Times Yes” is a rhythmically clean jazz-funk number not too far from something the Crusaders might’ve done at this time while “Straight Talk” updates the rock ‘n soul shuffle of “Instant Karma” from her viewpoint. “Woman Power” is a stomping, percussive funk rocker with a rapped vocal from Yoko. “I Learn To Stutter” is a live spoken intro to a version of “Coffin Car” where Yoko talks of how the press attack that accompanied her marriage to Lennon deeply effected her emotionally. “Mildred” is a swinging, nightclub friendly piano ballad.

This album finds Yoko having made up her mind about her musical conceptualization for that time period.  She positioned herself as a jazzy soul/funk oriented artist. One with a lot of blues and pop song structure. As for her take on feminism?  She was now totally confident that women (both in and out of her own position in life) should allow their voices to make a difference. In a way? This is something of the graduation from the school of being Yoko Ono. Her marriage to John Lennon was on hiatus. Yet her art surely wasn’t suffering for it. One of Yoko’s most powerful and musically adept releases.

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Women’s History Month: Yoko Ono and the Invention of Feminist Rock

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The last few years have seen a much-deserved critical rehabilitation for Yoko Ono: once reviled as the Woman Who Broke Up the Beatles (whatever that’s supposed to mean), she’s now widely recognized as a key figure in conceptual art; even her avant-garde music has entered the canon as an inspiration for punk and alternative rock. But one facet of Ono’s artistry that I think remains underrated are the more commercially-minded albums she released in the 1970s, while married to (and in collaboration with!) ex-Beatle John Lennon. These albums were not only, in many cases, more interesting than the records Lennon himself was releasing around the same time (yeah, I said it); they were also arguably the first serious attempts to marry rock music and radical feminism–decades before the riot grrrl movement, and using her famous husband’s musicians, no less.

On “Yang Yang,” from her 1973 masterpiece Approximately Infinite Universe, Ono takes a grinding blues-rock arrangement by the Greenwich Village street band Elephant’s Memory (with a certain “Joel Nohnn” sitting in on guitar) and pairs it with lyrics that make “I am Woman” sound like “Stand by Your Man”: “No kick is good enough for lifetime substitution / No brick will give you a lifetime consolation / And whether you dig it or not / We outnumber you in population / And leave your private institution / Get down to real communication / Leave your scene of destruction / And join us in revolution.” This is the stuff of radical women’s liberationist pamphlets, not mainstream rock albums released by the wives of former Beatles. And while, predictably, Yoko never got her proper due for inventing feminist rock, at least we can appreciate it now.

If this post has piqued your interest, check out the full-scale guide to Ono’s discography I wrote last year; last month, my sister and I also recorded a podcast about her larger influence as an artist. And of course, we’re writing about important contributions by women in music all March on our blog Dystopian Dance Party. And, if you’d like to start seriously getting into Yoko’s music, you’re in luck: Secretly Canadian Records is currently reissuing her albums on vinyl and streaming services, from 1968’s infamous Lennon collaboration Two Virgins to 1985’s Bill Laswell-produced (!) Starpeace. It’s quite the journey, but well worth checking out!

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