Tag Archives: Yoko Ono

Rocks In The Attic #805: John Lennon & Yoko Ono – ‘Some Time In New York City’ (1972)

RITA#805After John and Yoko’s 1972 promotional film Imagine and 1988’s wider-focused Imagine: John Lennon, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the 1971 album had been well and truly covered. But, as seems to happen when you least expect it, somebody stumbled on some unreleased footage and now we have another documentary to entertain us.

John And Yoko: Above Us Only Sky is a 90-minute film by director Michael Epstein, featuring documentary footage, both seen and unseen, from the recording of Imagine and the events that surrounded it. Unlike John and Yoko’s 1972 ‘home-movie’, Epstein’s documentary has the power of hindsight, plus a heap of talking heads, including Yoko Ono and Julian Lennon, to make sense of it all.

RITA#805aRight out of the bat, the highlight of the unseen footage is of Lennon and band recording with George ‘Double-Denim’ Harrison on Oh My Love, and audio outtakes of Lennon coaching King Curtis through his saxophone parts on It’s So Hard. George also lends some advice to Lennon recording the album’s penultimate song, How?, a collaboration that isn’t credited on the album and has never been alluded to.

An intimate and revealing documentary, for sure, but I’m still waiting for a documentary centred on the next stage in his career. The later sections of John And Yoko: Above Us Only Sky scratches the surface of their move from Tittenhurst to NYC, but it’s this phase of his career that’s always been of the most interest to me.

There’s a great quote of John’s I first saw in the John Lennon Anthology box-set, illustrated by a photo of him listening to the beat of the city with a stethoscope: ‘If I’d lived in Roman times, I’d have lived in Rome. Today, America is the Roman Empire and New York is Rome itself.’ This logic has always stuck with me, and perhaps because I devoured that box-set before I actually listened to the individual albums themselves, it’s this weird third record named after his favourite city that I’ve always gravitated towards.

RITA#805bYes, Plastic Ono Band is a belter, Imagine is the big, famous hit, and he still had a number of great albums after this one, but this one sticks out for being the most exciting – definitely until the newfound excitement of the duo’s return with Double Fantasy. It’s the hodge-podge feel of Some Time In New York City that I love the most, almost each song on the studio half of the record is a protest song in itself, on whatever cause the couple were fighting at the time of recording. Hearing these songs nearly fifty years later, it’s not hard to understand why the FBI had opened a file on the Lennons earlier that year and had begun intense surveillance on them. The fear was that John and Yoko were mobilising young people to vote, which could have endangered Richard Nixon’s chances of a second term in 1972. History speaks for itself as to who the real crook was.

I don’t often listen to the live half of the record (or the Bonus Live Jam LP as it’s described on the cover). It’s a great document of the band playing live at that time, but it’s not as interesting as the studio sides of the album and as much as I love her, there’s only so much of Yoko’s screaming I can tolerate.

RITA#805cI do love the insert cover of the live LP though, a replica of Frank Zappa’s 1971 live album with John’s red scrawl across it. This is genius, and even when you consider Zappa’s involvement on the records, it’s so far from anything that would happen in today’s world of music attorneys, trademarks and lawsuits.

Hopefully we’ll get a decent documentary on this era, from the end of Imagine until the start of Mind Games. His every move in New York would have been documented, if not by the press then definitely by the authorities.

Hit: Woman Is The Nigger Of The World

Hidden Gem: John Sinclair

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Rocks In The Attic #679: John Lennon & Yoko Ono – ‘Milk And Honey’ (1984)

RITA#679One of the saddest things about losing John Lennon is that his return to recording was starting to produce some really interesting music, first with 1980’s Double Fantasy, and then this, the posthumously released follow-up, Milk And Honey, from 1984.

Lennon’s post-Beatles albums from the ‘70s sometimes make for a hard listen. Awash with the reverb of Phil Spector, they’re often angry, yet balanced with some overly sentimental singles. Finding a musical companion in Yoko Ono seems to have rejuvenated his output, waking him up from an arguably misdirected post-Beatles decade. Ono might not be a writing partner like McCartney was, but the relationship seems to have energised his writing and awakened his competitive spirit.

It’s difficult to imagine what his next studio record would have sounded like. This release was cobbled together from sessions following Double Fantasy, so it makes for a great companion piece to that record. Who knows – a year or two later, Lennon might have tired from the post-punk leanings of that record, and gone in a different direction. His decision to record a version of I’m Losing You backed by Cheap Trick (available on the John Lennon Anthology box-set) perhaps indicates that the 1980s would have been a rockier, band-oriented decade.

Hit: Nobody Told Me

Hidden Gem: I Don’t Wanna Face It

Rocks In The Attic #645: John Lennon & Yoko Ono – ‘Double Fantasy’ (1980)

RITA#645I enjoyed the recent Blade Runner sequel, Blade Runner 2049. When it was first mooted, I, like many others, expressed anger at why Hollywood was daring to mess with something so sacred. This type of revisionism generally ends poorly, but director Denis Villeneuve had a good track record, and the resulting film felt more like a genuine follow up to the 1982 original than I could possibly have imagined.

One thing I read online around the time of the film’s release was somebody claiming that Ryan Gosling is the new Nicolas Cage. Not in looks or acting style, but in his scene-stealing buffoonery that shines through in every film. I used to love Nic Cage – his turn as H.I. McDunnough in Raising Arizona is one of my favourite cinematic performances of all time – and while he occasionally redeems himself with a great role (Big Daddy in Kick Ass, for example), his performances are generally as woeful as the films he chooses.

But in no way is Ryan Gosling the new Nicolas Cage. Gosling may suffer sometimes from the same level of screen charisma as a vase of flowers, but at least he’s watchable, particularly when he turns his best attribute – moody silence – to brilliant effect in films such as Drive and the aforementioned Blade Runner 2049.

I posit another theory – that the new Nicolas Cage is none other than Gosling’s Blade Runner 2049 co-star, Jared Leto. To take the mantle of the silver screen’s new Nic Cage, his successor must be a recidivist over-actor. Luckily for us, Leto has this in spades.

Not only does he chew the scenery as Blade Runner 2049’s blind villain, Niander Wallace, but he comes across as so self-absorbed that one gets the feeling he’d be more at home performing the film as a one-man stage-play.

RITA#645aLast week I also watched Chapter 27, the film about the murder of John Lennon. Inspired by Won’t You Take Me Down, Jack Jones’ book of interviews with Lennon’s assassin, Mark David Chapman, the film is a tough watch, as tough as Jones’ book is to read.

I’m not sure if it glamorises Chapman, but it definitely doesn’t seek to explain why he did what he did – something that he himself was so conflicted about (if Jones’ interviews are to be believed). As a result, the film has a horrible foreboding sense of resignation to it.

Of course, Chapter 27 gives Jared Leto the opportunity to pull out all the stops in his portrayal of Chapman, putting on a great deal of weight for the role and changing his voice to mimic the killer’s childlike whisper. I’m on the fence about whether it’s a great performance, as we really only have Leto’s interpretation to go by. Let’s just say that he definitely earned his salary. Chapman does come across as a creepy motherfucker, and I was quite happy when the film ended as I genuinely couldn’t bear any more time in his company.

It’s so heartbreaking to listen to this record when you consider what happened to Lennon just three weeks after its release. There’s a strong sense of optimism throughout both John and Yoko’s songs, as the couple looked ahead into the new decade.

Hit: Woman

Hidden Gem: I’m Losing You

Rocks In The Attic #630: Krzysztof Komeda – ‘Rosemary’s Baby (O.S.T.)’ (1968)

tp0004c_SP_DPGate_CoverThere’s a moment in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby where, during what we’re initially led to believe is a dream sequence, Mia Farrow’s Rosemary is raped by an unseen person while the residents of her apartment complex look on, naked. As the camera pans across the small crowd, from left to right, we spot Rosemary’s husband, Guy.

‘She’s awake, she sees,’ he says to their neighbour Minnie.

‘She don’t see,’ Minnie replies.

‘THIS IS NO DREAM! THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING!’ shouts Rosemary.

This small exchange is one of the most horrifying moments in American cinema. The prospect of being targeted by a Satanic cult is one thing; the realisation that your husband and protector might be part of the conspiracy is even more shocking.

RITA#630b.jpgIt provokes the same gut-wrenching sense of doom as the final moments of Tommy Lee Wallace’s Halloween III: Season Of The Witch (1982), in which Tom Atkins’ character screams down the phone to the television company, pleading with them to not play the commercial that is going to cause so much carnage.

This is when horror really connects; when it really matters. Hollywood loves jump-scare horror, because it sells tickets, but psychological horror is far more effective. The truly disturbing thing about Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) isn’t the shower scene, it’s the thought that one day you might stay at the seemingly benign Bates Motel; and no matter what precautions you take, that nice motel manager you just met always has a key to your room.

RITA#630aSpielberg’s Jaws (1975) – often derided when labelled as a horror film – is just as shocking as Polanski and Hitchcock’s work. What could be more horrific than the thought, just the lingering idea, that a killer shark might be circling in the gloomy darkness beneath you as you swim? It plants a seed, just like the prospect of Norman Bates making plans behind closed doors.

Released in June 1968, Rosemary’s Baby is an oddity for the horror genre. It’s an urban horror, taking part in a metropolitan area (New York) as opposed to the conventional rural- or suburban-set horror. The lighting of the film also goes against type. This isn’t a film of shadow and darkness; much of the picture takes place during the daytime, and in the scenes that do take place after the sun has set, most shots are well lit. This isn’t the kind of film where evil lurks in the shadows; instead it exists in plain sight where you’d least expect it.

Komeda’s score is the strongest indicator that the film rightfully belongs in the horror genre. The location, the cast and the script might all scream drama – or at most, thriller – but the music is right out of a haunted house. Most unnerving is Mia Farrow’s lullaby over the waltzing opening titles; an ominous foreboding of innocence corrupted.

The film left a sour taste in popular culture. Not only are there the obvious parallels with the murder of Polanski’s pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, a year later at the hands of the satanic Manson cult, but the final shot foreshadows yet another tragedy.

RITA#630c.jpgThe film’s end credits roll over a high crane shot looking down at Rosemary’s apartment complex, the Bramford. In reality, the location is the Dakota complex in Manhattan, which was used for external shots only. Well-known as the residence of John Lennon and Yoko Ono from 1973 onwards, the Dakota’s architecture looks well-suited as the location of a film about devil worship in New York City. As the camera pans down, the final frame of the film shows two people walking into the building’s south entrance, the same archway through which Lennon was walking as he was gunned down by his assassin, Mark Chapman, in December 1980.

Hit: Main Title

Hidden Gem: Furnishing The Apartment

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Rocks In The Attic #620: Bill Haley & His Comets – ‘Bill Haley 1927 – 1981’ (1981)

RITA#620What if Elvis had never happened? What if Elvis had walked into Sun Studios in Memphis in 1953, but was prevented from making his first recording for Sam Phillips by a city-wide power cut? Of if he was hit by a bus walking over to the studio? The whole future of popular music and teen culture might have changed into an alternate timeline that doesn’t bear thinking about.

Two years later, Bill Haley’s Rock Around The Clock turns rock and roll into a household name, but there’s no good-looking teen idol to pass the flame to (up and comers Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis are all killed in a package tour bus crash). Instead, teenagers across America turn to Haley for inspiration, as he signs with manager ‘Colonel’ Tom Parker. Tartan blazers become the hottest fashion accessory, and teens across the country turn to the emerging fast food restaurants to gain weight in adulation of their portly hero.

In 1957, Haley buys a large farming property, Graceland, between Memphis and the Mississippi border. A year later, Haley meets fourteen year old Priscilla Beaulieu and they marry after a seven year courtship. Haley becomes the most famous musician in the world, with his artistic credibility waning only after volunteering to join the army in 1958.

Throughout the 1960s Haley concentrates on acting and appears in a number of films celebrating middle-age. His return to music, the 1968 Comeback Special, renews public interest and reclaims Haley’s fanbase away from the British clarinet explosion of Acker Bilk. Dubbed the Fab One, Bilk had begun to alienate his global audience in recent years with music heavily influenced by his hallucinogenic drug use.

RITA#620aIn the 1970s, Haley becomes a staple of the Las Vegas casino scene. He switches draper jackets for white and gold jumpsuits, and it seems that his star will never fade with a million impersonators copying his gold wraparound sunglasses and kiss-curl hair-style. However, in December 1980 tragedy strikes when Haley is gunned down by an obsessive fan outside the New York apartment he shares with his Japanese wife, the artist Yoko Ono. Haley falls into a coma, and dies a few months later.

Haley’s legacy – the influential sound of rock and roll – can still be heard across pop charts to this day, and his lasting effect on fast-food culture is covered in Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 documentary, Super Size Me, a celebration of the age of American obesity.

Hit: Rock Around The Clock

Hidden Gem: Rip It Up

Rocks In The Attic #547: Various Artists – ‘Now That’s What I Call Music – The Christmas Album’ (2016)

rita547I saw this in a record store a few weeks ago, and couldn’t resist it. I’ve had my eyes out for the original 1985 compilation, hoping that I’d come across it in a charity shop, but it hasn’t happened yet. Forty notes does seem a bit steep for this new version – a bunch of songs I’ve heard a million times – but this is usually the soundtrack to present opening in our house on Christmas Day every year, and it’ll be nice to do it from my turntable, rather than through the iPod.

It’s slightly disingenuous to refer to any of these songs as a hidden gem – they’re all so ubiquitous – but the format of my blog forces my hand. I’ve therefore chosen Brenda Lee’s Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree, if only for the mental image it provides of Macaulay Culkin’s Kevin from Home Alone, putting on a fake house party with cardboard cut-outs and mannequins.

The song choices on this record are slightly odd – it’s a mixtures of ‘70s and ‘80s British songs (Slade, Wizzard, Wham!, Shakin’ Stevens, Band Aid, John & Yoko, Kirsty MacColl & the Pogues), together with a handful of older American hits (Dean Martin, Andy Williams, Bing Crosby, and the aforementioned Brenda Lee). The only jarring inclusion is Chris Rea’s Driving Home For Christmas – a song I’ve always liked but never loved, wondering if it’s the same journey he recounts in The Road To Hell. Bloody December traffic…

Merry Christmas everybody!

Hit: Do They Know It’s Christmas – Band Aid

Hidden Gem: Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree – Brenda Lee

Rocks In The Attic #494: Various Artists – ‘Every Man Has A Woman’ (1984)

RITA#494Yoko Ono got a raw deal, didn’t she? Known to the entire globe as ‘the woman who split up the Beatles’, she didn’t really do anything malicious or wilful to break up the band (and if anything, they would have split up whether she was in the picture or not). Her only crime was to exist as far as some people are concerned. Well, that’s not very nice, is it? ‘All you need is love’, John sang in 1967, but half of his fans have a hatred for his wife usually reserved for their personal enemies.

While some of her high-pitched wailing puts me off, some of her songwriting is great. I might like her contributions to Double Fantasy far less than I like John’s, but they still stand up. And who knows what might have happened next, had John not been gunned down. Half of Double Fantasy – admittedly Yoko’s half – is very much new wave, and I wonder if John would have gone down that route in the early ‘80s (as McCartney did with McCartney II in 1981).

Every Man Has A Woman is a collection of Yoko Ono covers put together to mark her 50th birthday. Devised by John, but completed by others after his death, it features the likes of Elvis Costello, Harry Nilsson, Lennon himself, Roseanne Cash, Roberta Flack, and a young Sean Lennon covering songs from Approximately Infinite Universe (1973), Double Fantasy (1980), Season Of Glass (1981), and It’s Alright (I See Rainbows) (1982). Nilsson appears three times throughout the course of the record, perhaps in an attempt to apologies to Yoko for leading John astray during his long weekend of 1973 to 1975.

Hit: Every Man Has A Woman Who Loves Him – John Lennon

Hidden Gem: I’m Moving On – Eddie Money