Yoko remasters part two: three LPs pair Krautrock with strident feminism. By Andrew Male.
“IF THERE’S [one] attribute of Yoko’s that can even be compared to her lyrical idiocy,” said Nick Tosches, in his March 1973 Rolling Stone review of Approximately Infinite Universe, “[it’s] her total obnoxiousness…” It’s always an education to trawl ’70s music journalism and marvel at the casual sexism and racist epithets, but little prepares you for the vitriol meted out to Yoko Ono’s third solo album. Her previous LP, Fly had an easier ride. Released back-to-back with Imagine, in September 1971, Fly received full support from John, who co-produced the LP and assembled Ono’s crack backing band: Eric Clapton, Klaus Voormann, Bobby Keys and drummers Jim Keltner, Jim Gordon and Ringo Starr. He also promoted the LP on The Dick Cavett Show, incredible for a record that devotes two of its four sides to avant-concrète film scores and soundscapes. Sides one and two, however, created the perfect union of Yoko’s Fluxus poetry and her scream-soul delivery, Lennon’s band bolstering Ono’s unguarded art-vocals with free grooves (Midsummer New York), motorik reveries (Mind Train) and, for the primal ululations of Don’t Worry Kyoko, a Lennon/ Clapton slide-blues dust-up. With Midsummer New York (“Woke up in the morning/My hands cold in fear”) and torch song Mrs Lennon, Don’t Worry Kyoko’s pain paved the way for Ono’s near-masterpiece of art/rock, Approximately Infinite Universe (HHHH). Abandoned by Lennon mid-production after the commercial failure of Some Time In New York City and the One-To-One Madison Square Garden concert, Ono was left at New York’s Record Plant with the STINYC band, Elephant’s Memory. She blends furious attacks on Lennon with defiant calls for a women’s revolution. Standouts include broken soul ballad, Death Of Samantha (written after Ono witnessed Lennon screwing a groupie at a party for Nixon’s 1972 election victory), the proto-punk I Felt Like Smashing My Face In A Clear Glass Window and despairing piano ballad What A Bastard The World Is; a power-synthesis of feminist artprotest and white male rock’n’roll. Self-produced during Lennon’s
‘Lost Weekend’, and “dedicated to the sisters… unable to survive in male society”, Feeling The Space should have been Ono’s ultimate howl of defiance, but apart from Coffin Car’s doom-blues and the Beefheart soul flash of Woman Power, Ono is betrayed by a band who sterilise her potent songs with cocktail jazz arrangements. Whatever smothered Ono’s ‘Woman Power’ in 1973, the LPs lived on, influencing everyone from The B-52’s to Sonic Youth. These beautiful reissues preserve them as issued 45 years ago, with one difference. The Beatles’ Apple label is replaced by Yoko’s own trademark fruit, the grapefruit. As an artistic decision, it’s perfectly executed. As a symbolic gesture, it’s everything.