Thursday, November 5, 2009

When I'm 64 .... no, I mean 76 - Yoko Ono "Between my Head and the Sky"

Getting a decent segue from day to day can often be a bit tricky on this blog so, after yesterday’s somewhat shonky link between Karlheinz Stockhausen and the Beatles it was pretty fortuitous that today I just happened to discover the Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band’s new album and so, of course, snapped it up straight away.

Between My Head and the Sky is full of so many interesting, innovative, fresh ideas, performed with such creativity and candour, that it is almost impossible to believe that Yoko Ono is now 76 years old. It brings together elements of rock, jazz, noise, ballads, pop, imbues them all with Yoko’s unique sound and colour, bringing even the most straightforward music onto the avant-garde stage.

Not that the music is difficult. Listen, for example, to the placid beauty of ‘Healing’, or of ‘I’m going away smiling’ with its bare piano and cello, and you will see that even new and experimental approaches to music can still sound pretty, and can still move you.

But there are other songs that are much more on the edge, where more bizarre noise blurts out of Yoko’s mouth, or from Sean Lennon’s guitar, like in the squawking vocals on ‘Waiting for the D Train’, or the weird electronics of ‘The Sun is Down’, or the distorted guitars of ‘Ask the Elephant!’, a weird, funky song about big elephants, tigers on roller skates and windows, or the odd mix of electronic noise and wailing vocals on ‘Moving Mountains’.

At times the album almost has a sense of departure about it, like in the heartbreaking nostalgia of ‘Memory of Footsteps’, with piano, trumpet, and Yoko’s voice, which even at this age and with such a limited range, can capture all the simplicity and depth of an emotion; and at times it has a sense of hope and renewal, like in ‘Watching the Rain’, with funny little darts of electronic sound poking their way through spacey, flowing keyboards.

There’s the buoyant groove of ‘Hashire, Hashire’, which, with its shoe-shuffling beat and bubbly trumpet, has an almost reggae feel to it and then, straight after it, there’s the avant-garde rock of the title song, with screeching guitar from Sean and screeching vocals from Yoko. There’s the minimalism of ‘Feel the Sand’, with scarcely more notes in it than you’d expect in a composition by John Cage; and there’s the almost Bach-like piano accompaniment to ‘Higa Nobura’, and then the completely freaky few seconds of ‘I’m Alive’ that sounds like someone accidentally left the microphones on when the tradies came in to dismantle the recording studio.

Between My Head and the Sky seems to do strange and outlandish things in amazingly unpretentious, at times almost understated, ways. Yoko doesn’t sing in the way singers are meant to sing, the music doesn’t sound like music usually sounds, and yet it still somehow manages to come to you, and to greet you, in the way that an old, if slightly eccentric, friend might do: odd, but oddly familiar, too.

I know that Yoko Ono is not everyone’s cup of sencha, but Between My Head and the Sky is well worth listening to, if only to see how creativity is something that doesn’t let a trivial little thing like age get in its way.


  1. I haven't had time recently to follow your blog regularly, Ian, but today I've caught-up with the backlog - and even answered your October question.

    Yoko's 76, eh? So the drugs don't always get you in the end!

  2. Hahaha thanks Patrick! I might have a bit of a backlog myself over the next couple of days, but will be back on track asap!