Freelining with Mike Freeman: Thank you, Yoko.

Freeline Media editor Mike Freeman has high praise for Yoko Ono's 1970 LP, "Plastic Ono Band." (Photo by Dave Raith).

It’s that time, I think, to offer a word of thanks to a talented artist who has been much maligned, much ridiculed over the years. So here goes.
Thank you, Yoko Ono.
In the pantheon of much-abused celebs, Yoko Ono may be close to the top. She was derided from day one as a pretentious no-talent riding on the coattails of her celebrity husband, John Lennon, and even accused of being the cause of the Beatles’ breakdown. (Example: “What do Ethiopians and Yoko Ono have in common? They both live off dead Beatles.” Sheesh.)
In the 1970s and 1980s, Ono became the cruel butt of far too many comedians’ bad jokes; remember Joan Rivers holding up a dog food bowl and saying she had just found Yoko Ono’s best China, or when Rivers said of Ono, “If I found her floating in my pool, I’d punish my dog.” Sooo, sooo cruel.
As Lennon himself sang in “The Ballad Of John & Yoko,” “Christ, you know it ain’t easy. You know how hard it can be.” I’m sure Yoko does.
None of that, however, can diminish one simple fact: Yoko Ono is a talented singer and songwriter. If you don’t believe me, I offer up two clear examples.
“Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band,” released in 1970, is an absolutely hypnotic CD made up of wildly, radically experimental music. This is not mindless pop but music that strives to be as savagely non-commercial as is humanly possible. Yes, it’s not “user friendly” in the traditional sense, but it’s not boring, forgettable or derivative.
The opening track, “Why,” is 5 minutes, 37 seconds of gritty, frenzied, electrifying guitar playing combined with Yoko’s screeching, caterwauling vocals. If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, I’ll tell you there’s real anguish in her voice, and this is revolutionary stuff.
This album has been derided by critics who say it sounds similar to fingernails going down a blackboard or a chainsaw being turned on; I don’t necessarily disagree, but what are its bad points? This is an album that rouses you with its avant guard surprises. It doesn’t have to be “easy listening” to be fascinating to listen to.
I especially like playing this CD while driving to work — it sounds great cranked up full blast while cruising down the highway.
Exhibit No. 2 is the far more mainstream LP “Season Of Glass,” which Yoko made in 1981 after Lennon’s tragic murder. By now she had shifted to a far more conventional style of music, both in terms of singing and songwriting. These are “songs” in the classic pop/rock sense, with lyrics and bridges and a chorus; but the anguish and pain in these songs is even more heartfelt, raw, stark and genuine. It’s not easy to listen to songs like “No, No, No,” or “She Gets Down On her Knees” without fully comprehending — and even painfully reliving alongside her — the sheer agony and torment that Ono went through when Lennon was killed.
So, whether her work is radical or within the mainstream of rock, Yoko Ono truly bears her soul on vinyl.
I can also keep in mind that her song “Walking On Thin Ice” became a hit in gay dance clubs around 2003, and that she reworked her song “Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him” from the Lennon/Ono album “Double Fantasy” to contain new lyrics supporting gay marriage.
So I say, go, Yoko, go! I’ll be playing “Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band” as I drive to work this week, with the volume well cranked.


Contact Mike Freeman at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.
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One Response to “Freelining with Mike Freeman: Thank you, Yoko.”

  1. april says:

    I’ve always admired and felt a downright kinship with Yoko. Her losing Kyoko to her ex-husband was also a tragedy in her (and John’s) life. The beautiful photo of her here could pass for her daughter; she’s a dead ringer (luckily not literally). Back in the Seventies I impersonated her on a local radio station, all harmless chit chat, and the deejays fell over themselves with excitement. I did her justice, no worries. (The things teenagers do!) Thanks so much for this tribute to her unique talent. She remains a trailblazer, one who always did things with decorum.

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