DISC 1: LONDON JAM
This disc represents ’68 to ’71.
It’s the Ascot London – Briefly Visiting New York Period.
At the time, I was an avant-garde composer obsessed with the sound of
music in my head and in no one else’s. In the avant-garde, I jammed with
top musicians like John Cage, David Tudor and La Monte Young in New
York; with Ichiyanagi, Mayuzumi, Kobayashi, and Takahashi in Tokyo and
in jazz, with Ornette Coleman and his incredible band: Ed Blackwell,
David Izenson and Charlie Haden. I came in from the cold to John’s world
totally fearless. I didn ‘t know what I was walking into.
Initially, I wanted to bring my old avant-garde friends to London to
make music, while John tried to sell me on his friends. “You think
they’re assholes from Liverpool, but they’re fucking quick. You got to
give them a chance, Yoko. Just explain to them what you want and they’ll
pick it up like that.”
John was right, of course. They did a brilliant job. Listen to George’s
sitar on GREENFIELD MORNING, to Ringo’s drumming on TOUCH ME, Eric
Clapton’s guitar on DON’T WORRY, KYOKO, Jim Keltner’s tabla on O’WIND,
Klaus Voorman’s bass guitar on WHY, and John’s incredible guitar playing
throughout. All of these tracks were “jamprovisations” – jam sessions
with no rehearsal, which was what I believed music should be at the
We did some earplay stuff on the board, like adding birds singing and
trains passing, but we did not have to correct one drum beat, one guitar
John and I felt that together we had created a “New Music,” a fusion of
avant·garde jazz-rock and East and West.
I never will forget the dawn in the Abbey Road Studio when John and I
hugged each other after completing the Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band album.
When I was a little girl, I read of Monsieur and Madame Curie
discovering radium, with, naturally, the Madame sitting in the driver’s
seat. That was how I felt. I could not change history. At the time, I
was a composer who was stretching her ears to the edge of the boundless
universe. We were there and nothing else seemed to matter.
In ’71, John and I made a brief visit to New York mainly to finish bits
and pieces of Imagine. In the middle of the night, after long hours of
recording , when the musicians looked totally exhausted, John suddenly
said “Yoko says she’s got something. Let’s try.”
I was surprised that he remembered the song I had shown him just briefly
that morning. That’s how MIDSUMMER NEW YORK was made. The musicians
found a second wind and they played well. We did two takes with no
rehearsal. I sang normally in one and, for fun I did a take off of Elvis
on the other. John selected the Elvis one to be on the record.
I asked Joe Jones, an old friend from the avant-garde, to make me
instruments which were unlike any in the world. Making strange
instruments was his thing. Joe came up with instruments which played
themselves without any musicians. DON’T COUNT THE WAVES, YOU and
AIRMALE were made that way.
For this CD Box, I had some fun making a medley of YOU – AIRMALE – FLY
and calling it HEAD PLAY. I hope you like it.
IS WINTER HERE TO STAY? was a jam with John and I, Elephant’s Memory,
and Mick Jagger, who visited the New York Studio one day. I think it was
very nice of Mick to have done it.
1. No Bed For Beatle John
2. Mind Holes
3. O’Wind (Body is the Scar of Your Mind)
5. Why Not
6. Greenfield Morning I Pushed An Empty Baby Carriage All Over The City
7. Touch Me
8. Paper Shoes
9. Mind Train
10. Open Your Box
11. Toilet Piece/Unknown
12. Don’t Worry, Kyoko (Mummy’s Only Looking For Her Hand In The Snow)
13. Telephone Piece
14. Midsummer New York
15. The Path
16. Don’t Count The Waves
17. Head Play (Medley: You/Airmale/Fly)
18. Is Winter Here To Stay?
DISC 2: NEW YORK ROCK
All the songs on this disc are from Approximately Infinite Universe, a
double album made in ’72 with the Plastic Ono Elephant’s Memory Band,
with some studio chats. At the time most songs were done like 50’s
rock-one or two takes, OK, and next, creating a raw, live feeling which
This is the period when I started to experiment combining rock beat and
opera in some of the songs, resulting in very short operas. I loved the
fact that in rock you said your piece in three minutes. It was the idea
of Haiku. It suited my temperament and also it was practical for me at
John once said in a TV interview that “Yoko had to write while the pig
was asleep.” Yes, there was that. So keeping the songs shorter had its
benefits. But once we were in the studio, John was very caring about my
tracks to the end – sending the tapes back for remastering with notes in
his own handwriting, like the one I found recently in the file. I found
these notes among unsorted piles of my old scribblings while I was
looking for my original notes. It just popped out, as if John were
saying “Hello, just don’t forget that I took care of you, too, you
know.” How could I forget that, John?
Sometimes I missed doing some left field stuff. So I slipped in a few
things. In YANGYANG I used a chord progression which in the Middle Ages
had been prohibited by the Church as the Devil’s chords. John liked
WHAT A BASTARD THE WORLD IS was whispered around as if it was “our”
story. A newspaper published a catty story to the effect of-“Yoko makes
a confession in one of the songs – it seems there’s a ruffle in
paradise.” That hurt John. Little did he know that the world was so
macho they would have celebrated if it turned out that John was a
bastard who mistreated me, But that was not how it was at all.
I wrote the song because a girlfriend of a musician was crying one night
in the studio. The other girls were trying to console her. Later one of
them told me, the musician had a habit of staying out all night. That
was all I was told, I thought “It’s a story of all of us women” and got
inspired to write the song.
I wrote the song not from my experiences with John but from another
relationship I had had before him. I probably should have thrown an
ashtray and screamed at that guy on those occasions, like in the song.
One weekend somebody arranged for John and me to use a country cottage
not far from New York City. We were still just visiting New York, our
home was Ascot, and so we did not yet have a country place of our own.
It was a quiet cottage surrounded with trees and nobody was around
except us. In the middle of the night I woke up, slipped out of the bed
and went into the next room. I found myself standing on the cold floor
in a pool of moonlight. A full moon, high above the trees, was looking
at me through the window. It was so beautiful, I wrote WINTER SONG.
On our way home from the weekend, John was sleeping in the car putting
his head on my lap. I was filled with love for him and wrote I WANT MY
LOVE TO REST TONIGHT over his head in the most uncomfortable position.
When we got back to New York City, he woke up and said “What was that?”.
Did he dream about what I was doing in his sleep? No, it was just his
quick ear. I played the song to him as soon as we got back to our small
apartment on Bank Street. Little did I know the song would be considered
by some people as something of a betrayal to the feminist cause.
DEATH OF SAMANTHA, NOW OR NEVER and I HAVE A WOMAN INSIDE
MY SOUL gave me the chills when I listened to them this time around as I
prepared this CD Box. Like the line about the gravestone in I HAVE A
WOMAN IN MY SOUL and that I couldn ‘t read the engraving.
When I wrote the songs I was just writing what I saw and heard in my
mind. I cried when I listened to myself in NOW OR NEVER, singing “Are we
gonna keep diggin’ oil wells and gold, Are we gonna keep shooting the
ones that try to change, Are we gonna keep thinking it won’t happen to
us, Are we gonna be known as the century that kills.?”
I didn’t know it would happen to us.
NEW YORK ROCK
1. Yang Yang
2. Death of Samantha
3. What Did I Do!
4. Approximately Infinite Universe
5. What A Bastard The World Is
6. Catman (The Rosies Are Coming)
7. I Want My Love To Rest Tonight
8. Shiranakatta (I Didn’t Know)
9. Peter The Dealer
10. I Felt Like Smashing My Face In A Clear Glass Window
11. Winter Song
12. Kite Song
13. Now Or Never
14. What A Mess
15. I Have A Woman Inside My Soul
16. Move On Fast
17. Looking Over From My Hotel Window
18. Waiting For The Sunrise
DISC 3: RUN, RUN, RUN
This disc has all the songs from Feeling The Space and songs which were
dropped from it to make it into a single album. In June of ’73, I was
invited by the National Organization of Women to their International
Women’s Conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I was asked to give a
concert there for the Sisters. John and I took this very seriously. I
made a booklet of my songs and statements specially for the occasion and
carried copies of them with me. John carried his guitar. He was to be my
band. The conference was incredibly memorable for both of us. I never
will forget how all the women at the concert suddenly stood up and
joined me in singing the chorus of WOMAN POWER. Their power at that
moment was so strong that it stopped the video camera from running! Our
photographer did not know why his flashbulb suddenly did not work.
Things like that happened a few times in my life. This was one of them.
During the conference, when some sisters gathered to have coffee, I met
a woman who had come from Middle America. She said she had left her
husband and her children and was not intending to go back to them. She
was a sweet girl with large frightened eyes. Those eyes have seen stuff
our mothers never taught us to be part of the deal in life, I thought. I
asked her how she felt. She said she missed her children, and sometimes
she heard them crying in her dreams, but she felt okay because she knew
her husband was not bad to her kids. She also said she was having a hard
time finding a job because she had no skills. A classic case. That was
how ANGRY YOUNG WOMAN came to me. John and I visited Salem,
Massachusetts. on our way home from the conference. We went to a house
where a witch was believed to have lived. It turned out she had not been
a witch but a doctor (of course!) and her beautiful, clean but rather
austere house seemed appropriate to have once encased an astute and
intellectual mind. We went up the hill where she, supposedly, had been
burnt on a cross. The grass on the hill seemed dry and flattened out by
kids playing baseball. We walked through the main streets of the town.
It was a summer evening, the high ceilinged shops, probably built in the
30’s, were closed, and the shadows of street lamps were long on the
dusty pavement, with not many people around. John and I felt as though
we were walking in the town of The Visit, an old Ingrid Bergman film,
where all the factories were closed because of the anger of one woman
who had sought justice. We walked for a while and then went back to our
car where our driver, Peter, was waiting. I was very touched by our
visit and wrote the song WOMAN OF SALEM. When I started to sing the song
in the studio, a musician pointed out that in my lyrics I had referred
to the time as being 1692 and that I should probably change the date
since Salem would not have existed then. He must be right, I thought.
But I decided not to touch the lyrics because the song had come to me
like an automatic writing. “The song could be about Salem in England-if
there was such a place,” I said to the musician. My first vision of the
song was quite vivid. A woman sat in a darkish room, at a table under a
window from which the morning light was coming through and you could
hear the birds chirping amongst the summer green. Then I was the woman
quietly closing her diary. Anyway, it was a symbolic song. If the time
was a bit off – even a century or so – it didn’t really matter. I was
going to push it through with that and I did. I don’t know why I didn’t
think of checking the year, which would have been an easy thing to do.
Had I simply been stubborn for being told of my possible mistake? An
unsettling feeling had lingered at the time and then it was forgotten.
It was only last year, ’91, I found out that in the year 1992, Salem
would be observing the 300th anniversary of it’s 1692 trials! With ANGRY
YOUNG WOMAN in my pocket and the other songs I took to the International
Women’s Conference, I felt it was time for me to go into the studio
again. I felt I had to get a new set of musicians for the kind of sound
I had in mind. So I hired session guys with jazz backgrounds. The first
day I walked into the studio, I noticed there was some nervous tension.
To break the ice, I suggested we do a jam to get to know each other.
That’s how IT’S BEEN VERY HARD was made. It was the first take of the
first day. They didn’t know me from Adam. I think the song shows how
brilliant these musicians were. From then on we were like a family. That
summer, John and I moved to the Dakota. Some of the Sisters from the
Conference visited us in our new apartment. A woman representative from
Norway taught John how to type. So John said he would be playing with
his newfound toy, the typewriter, while I made the album- and he did (it
was the beginning of Skywriting By Word Of Mouth). Every day John waited
for me to bring back a rough remix of what I had done that day. He
started to say he wanted to play on a couple of my songs. “You should
call me in when you’re ready, just like you would call in a session
guitarist and I’ll come and play.” I knew I could not get a better
guitarist than John for WOMAN POWER. So I called him in for that-like he
said. He did an overdub guitar on WOMAN POWER and SHE HITS BACK that
afternoon. Sean’s friends, who heard WOMAN POWER for the first time in
the 90s, say this track sounds contemporary. John would have been
pleased to hear that. One day I came home and heard John playing a
beautiful song which was later to become STEEL AND GLASS. “It’s great
that you’re doing this (recording) because now I feel like I want to go
in and make mine,” he said. After Feeling The Space was done, John went
into the studio and made Mind Games with the same musicians.
RUN, RUN, RUN
1. Growing Pain
2. Yellow Girl (Stand By For Life)
3. Coffin Car
4. Warrior Woman
5. Women of Salem
6. Run, Run, Run
7. If Only
8. A Thousand Times Yes
9. Straight Talk
10. Angry Young Woman
11. Potbelly Rocker
12. She Hits Back
13. Men, Men, Men
14. Woman Power
15. It’s Been Very Hard
16. Mildred, Mildred
17. Left Turn’s The Right Turn
DISC 4: KISS, KISS, KISS
This disc is a compilation of my songs from the Double Fantasy, Milk &
THERE’S NO GOODBYE and FORGIVE ME, MY LOVE were two songs I
had written for the musical John and I were planning to make.
FORGIVE ME, MY LOVE was first recorded in the Double Fantasy session.
This version is the one I later did for It’s Alright.
THERE’S NO GOODBYE was never professionally recorded. The one on this
side is a cassette version I made at home in ’81 to give to a singer who
wanted a song.
OPEN YOUR SOUL TO ME was a song we considered for Double Fantasy but
was not recorded then. This version was recorded at the time of Season Of Glass
with Phil Spector at the board.
This is, naturally, the most painful side for me to listen to. It was hell compiling
it and I have very little to say about these songs at this time.
KISS, KISS, KISS
1. Walking On Thin Ice
2. Kiss Kiss Kiss
3. Give Me Something
4. I’m Moving On
5. Yes, I’m Your Angel
6. Beautiful Boys
7. Open Your Soul To Me
8. Every Man Has A Woman Who Loves Him
9. Hard Times Are Over
10. Don’t Be Scared
11. Sleepless Night
13. Anatano Te (Your Hands)
14. Let Me Count The Ways
15. Forgive Me, My Love
16. You’re The One
17. There’s No Goodbye
18. Have You Seen A Horizon Lately
DISC 5: NO, NO, NO
This disc is made of excerpts from Season Of Glass, It ‘s Alright and
Starpeace. The three albums I have recorded since John’s death.
There is a story about a composer who went to his mother’s funeral and
though he was very upset about the loss, he could not help noticing that
his sister was crying off key. It was a story to indicate how inhuman a
composer can get in his professionalism. Listening back to these tracks,
I don’t know how I made them at the time when I was in sheer pain. But I
also think it helped me to get through the hard times to just think
about being on key.
NOBODY SEES ME LIKE YOU DO was a song John liked (he said he liked the chords) and it was especially hard doing this song when he was not
I DON’T KNOW WHY was a song that came to my mind about two nights after John was shot. I was in bed trying to close my ears to the sound of
John’s records being played loudly outside the Dakota building by fans,
especially IMAGINE. Then the song came into my mind. I was in such a
state I couldn’t think of the chords. It hadn’t occurred to me to go to
the piano that was in the room. I picked up a cassette tape recorder
that was always next to our bed and recorded the song acappella. I did
not change one word when I recorded it later.
At the time I envisioned the end part as half an hour of screaming and
swearing. But in the studio, I decided not to do it that way.
NO, NO, NO was how I felt through the first couple of months. John was
dead. I was alive. But John’s side of the bed was still warm when I came
back from the hospital. My side was cold. I was shivering. It was as if
John were still alive. I wanted somebody to hold me. In my mind, I was
saying please, hold me. I wanted to stop shivering. I was saying please,
don’t hold me. My body still remembered my husband’s warmth. My mind was like a shattered glass, the sharp points split in tangents. I made
myself impossible for anybody to hold me.
When I wrote the song, I juxtaposed the atonal and minor chords. which
suited the woman who felt like she was wearing a pair of mismatched
shoes. In the recording, I used real gun shots and sirens. It was not a
A musician came to me and said he could make a siren effect with the
guitar, using two of my atonal chords. “It’s better to keep the song a
musical experience,” he said. He played the chords. I didn’t like it. It
was too beautiful. It lacked the urgency I was feeling. No, it had to be
the real siren.
Now I knew what “Music Concrete” had meant. But I hadn’t been taught
such a option in my composition classes.
My voice kept cracking while I recorded the songs. I finally thought
maybe I shouldn’t put the album out. Then it occurred to me there were
probably many people in the world whose voices were cracking for many
reasons. I realized my songs were the songs of the desperate. It was all
right to show myself as how I was.
In TOYBOAT I hear my voice sounding strange, like a person drowning.
I used a photo I took of John’s blood-stained glasses on the record
cover. The record company called me and said the record shops would
not stock the record unless I changed the cover. I didn ‘t understand it.
Why? They said it was in bad taste. I felt like a person soaked in blood
coming into a living room full of people and reporting that my husband
was dead, his body was taken away, and the pair of glasses were the only
thing I had managed to salvage – and people looking at me saying it was
in bad taste to show the glasses to them. “I’m not changing the cover.
This is what John is now,” I said.
The songs from It’s Alright were an attempt to do new sounds. I used
shotguns for the backbeat. I brought Sean’s toy raygun to the studio to
use it as a rhythm track. I was expecting the usual sneer I had gotten
from the musicians and engineers whenever I had tried to do anything
that was out of the ordinary. Surprisingly, no one was upset this time.
It was ’82 and it seemed as though I was finally in sync with the world.
I love it. A musician brought a toy plastic tube to make a wind sound
for LET THE TEARS DRY. Sean was happy playing with it in the studio.
Meanwhile, there was a bomb scare and Sean and I were warned to move
into a hotel and to stay away from the studio. I wrote the song IT’S
ALRIGHT while we were cooped up in the hotel room- as a prayer. Finally,
I went to the studio despite the warning. I couldn’t hide all my life.
I used 81 Tracks on NEVER SAY GOODBYE. It was before mixing boards
were computerized, and the engineer and I had to work on the board like
crazy to remix it. It reminded me of the time in Abbey Road Studio in ’69
when John and I had to hold the tape across the room while we made the
sounds of the trains passing each other for the Yoko Ono Plastic Band album,
creating 90s sounds with primitive equipment.
MY MAN was originally called MY PAPA because I referred to John as
“Papa” when I spoke about him to my Japanese speaking friends, just as
John started to sometimes call me “Mother” after Sean was born. John
thought I should not call the song MY PAPA because there was already a
song called that. “What about MY OLD MAN? ” he said. That didn’t seem
quite right. We laughed. I had kept the song on the backburner and
changed it to MY MAN at the time of the recording.
In a way, the It’s Alright time was much more difficult for me as a
woman, as a person, than when I had made Season Of Glass. Life went on.
I had to walk and talk normally, while I knew that somewhere inside me
there was a clock that had stopped in ’80.
On the Starpeace album, we used musicians from different cultures to
represent the world. There were some behind-the-scenes concerns with the
album because of the then Reagan’s Star Wars program. Some people
advised me against making the album. The timing wasn’t right, they said.
The timing was right, I thought.
The more they argued, the more it helped to solidify my feelings that I
should go ahead with it. I told Sean I was going to do it. He was the
only one who would have been affected by whatever happened to me. I even
went on a concert tour with the album right smack in the middle of the
strong anti-peace sentiment in the USA and Europe. It was truly HELL IN
Then things started to turn around. It seemed to have inspired some
heavy people. as you may know, and made me feel good.
In hindsight, I don’t know how I did it. (I’m a coward.) But I’m glad I did.
NO, NO, NO
1. I Don’t Know Why
3. Even When You’re Far Away
4. Nobody Sees Me Like You Do
5. Silver Horse
6. No, No, No
8. She Gets Down On Her Knees
9. Extension 33
10. Never Say Goodbye
11. Spec of Dust
12. My Man
13. It’s Alright
14. Let The Tears Dry
15. Dream Love
16. Hell in Paradise
17. I Love You, Earth
18. Cape Clear
19. Goodbye Sadness
DISC 6: A STORY
This was an album I made in ’74 while John and I were separated. It was
already in a finished state, though the mixes were not that great and it
had always bothered me. I remixed them all for this disc.
YUME 0 MOTO (LET’S HAVE A DREAM) was already out as a single in
Japan at the time. Then John came back . from LA, we got back together
again and I felt it was not important to release this album. Who wants to
remember a Lost Weekend, anyway?
DOGTOWN was written in our two room apartment on Bank Street in ’72.
I remember the barred window in the dark front room where I wrote the
song, while John was asleep in the back room. You could hear the morning
bustle in the distance but our street was quiet as ever. I remember thinking how
lonely John and I were. We were like two jailbirds the world knew nothing about.
The song was recorded again on the Season Of Glass album in the way I
envisioned it to be. The track on A Story was okay. Anyway, I thought I
should leave it on for the record.
YES, I’M A WITCH was initially meant for Feeling The Space and was
dropped because of the word “bitch.” I was being careful after OPEN YOUR
BOX and WOMAN IS THE NIGGER OF THE WORLD had been banned.
I might have dropped it at the last minute with A STORY, too.
They tell me now that in the 90’s it’s nothing to use such a word. Well, I’m glad.
As this is the last disc of the box, I added two new tracks which were
never finished at the time in ’73, O’OH and NAMYOHORENGEKYO.
SISTERS 0 SISTERS was the first feminist song (1971).
JOSEJOI BANZAI is a Japanese feminist song released as a single in Japan
WE’RE ALL WATER was recorded in ’72. I wanted to include this song on
the final disc because it’s the essence of what I was- with warts and
all. It’s me saying to the world I love you … and up yours!
1. A Story
3. Will You Touch Me
5. It Happened
6. Tomorrow May Never Come
7. Winter Friend
8. Heartburn Stew
9. Yes, I’m A Witch
10. Yume O Moto
13. We’re All Water
14. Josejoi Banzai
15. Sisters O Sisters
MUSIC IS HARMONY
Music is harmony.
In the big picture, we are just a part
Of the harmony called the Universe.
Imagine standing outside
The Universe and listening to the music
It creates! It’s nice to know that we
Are a part of it.
All sounds are potentially dangerous.
All sounds are potentially medicinal.
All sounds are beautiful.