Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Yoko Ono—
Plastic Ono Band


Released 1970 on Apple
The Seth Man, October 2000ce
It’s extremely difficult to discuss any of Lennon/Ono’s early work because it’s either so personal, so atonal or just plain fucking harrowing you’d really rather prefer not to have to do all the hard work listening to anything by them before their later cooled out Phil Spector-produced aural palliatives. But I’ll say this: “Plastic Ono Band” by Yoko Ono is one extremely raw and alive album, slashing all the portraits and throwing over all the busts in the hallowed halls of post-Beatledom expectation as Lennon backs his wife in a shattering display that “Helter Skelter” (which was McCartney, anyway) only hinted at. No, Yoko Ono’s “Plastic Ono Band” LP is far more shattering, beginning as an engineer quickly presses the play button to capture “Why”, the live in the studio Free-Rock howler already in progress. Lennon’s skittering and jittery slide/noise guitar needles through the backing band of Klaus Voormann (bass) and Ringo Starr (you know) at top amp alarm a good eight years before Public Image Limited (more specifically, their psychotic “Chant”) but when Yoko comes in all needles hit the red and stay there as she implores, shrieks and wails the epigrammatic title. Voormann’s bass and Ringo’s rock steady anchoring provide all the space in the world by rocking out as Lennon pitches, bends and throttles his guitar in conduct completely unbecoming from an ex-Beatle. This is a track of the highest total energy that demands the utmost volume available.

“Why Not” follows, the tempo greatly eased up with bottleneck slide guitar and Ringo’s ever solid, loving drumming -- he could have drummed with Cecil Taylor and made it make sense, bringing more to the piece in the process, as his simple yet highly attentive style is well-suited in the arena of music of expanse. And the expanse continues as “Why Not” is the question this album both poses and answers simultaneously: Ms. Ono’s avant garde background brought to Lennon’s rebellious streak a space of expression only bounded by imagination as they set out to live their lives together as art. So they each released a “Plastic Ono Band” album apiece with extremely similar cover designs and backed by the same rhythm section of Voormann/Starr. But stylistically, the music on both were from the opposite ends of musical experience with Lennon’s LP of more structured songs contrasting with Ono’s more wildly improvisational avant freakouts. But one thing both albums shared was a Janov-inspired freeing of unleashing all internalised pain, and for Yoko, that meant through screaming, moaning, whispering or orgasming it all out until the emptiness filled her with silence.

At other times, Ono’s voice seems to turn to water or the rustle of wind as “Why Not” creeps in, balanced by the fire of her husband’s feedbacking and the earth of ever-solid backing from Voormann/Ringo begin to in a quietly free zone. Then Lennon starts riffing off his wife’s vocals, feedbacking off her as she calls his name, draws it out, calling out “Touch me...” and it all starts to pick up as only the loosest avant rock pickup band could, lurching haywired and perfectly not in sync, going beyond a crossfaded train FX that cuts in and rolls beyond the track’s end. The side ends with “Greenfield Morning I Pushed An Empty Baby Carriage All Over The City,” a drone exercise/exorcise of a ringing guitar riff masquerading as a sitar tape loop accompanies multi-tracked Yoko vocals. The band fades in, stripped down within rudimentary rhythmic cross-hatching as Yoko’s vocals ascend in an uncharacteristically lower register tape delay, standing tall and defiantly in the midst of her recent personal tragedy that only a woman can truly feel and mourn. Her voice becomes entwined within ensuing Abbey Road birdsong FX, increasing volume to a sinister level.

Side two’s “Aos” is where Ornette Coleman and his band of one drummer and two stand up bassists (one of them Charlie Haden) back Ono on an improvisation with lilting, lyric-less vocals as they run small curlicues and snatches of riffs behind her small vocals perched between a breath taken and a whisper of an orgasm. Then Yoko lets loose with the most megatonic vocal issue of the album -- It’s so loud, all other signals temporarily drop off as the jazzers careen into improv hell as they all fall into avant jazz freak out gloriously. It all eventually simmers back into quietude and strangeness...a cough...Ono continues sporadically. A coughing fit...Yoko breathes...The track is done.

“Touch Me” returns to the spiky, distorto-ness of side one with super syncopated drums recorded with all the warmth that was applied to Ringo’s instruments on “The White Album.” Yoko’s vocalizing remarkably sounds like a free jazz saxophone at one point, while Lennon’s out-of-kilter freeforms inspire Voormann to turn in some plonking, leaden bass notes. “Paper Shoes” continues the train track clattering FX from side one, its steady rhythm soon superseded by rain and thunder. A continuous tom-tom pattern soon emerges along with Yoko’s banshee’d-out wailing, and all intensifies with Lennon’s guitar hollow (-out-of-) body (-iness) playing. All halts with a final Ono “aaaaaaaaaaaayy,” but after moments of silence, carnivorous howling ensues in the background. Yoko then speaks for the only time on the album, as to both herself and the listener she smiles, “Don’t worry” right before the locked inner groove repeats or lifts up, depending on the turntable in use.