If you’ve listened to our podcast from last month–and if you haven’t, I invite you to–then you already know why Callie and I both love Yoko Ono as an artist, musician, and all-around badass woman. So today, I’m going to focus on just the musician and “badass woman” parts. One of the less-sung facets of Ono’s artistry is the fact that she may have been the first person ever to successfully marry rock music and radical feminism: decades before riot grrrl, and using her famous husband’s musicians, no less.
On “Yang Yang,” from her 1973 masterpiece Approximately Infinite Universe, Ono takes a grinding blues-rock arrangement by the Greenwich Village street band Elephant’s Memory (with a certain “Joel Nohnn” sitting in on guitar) and pairs it with lyrics that make “I am Woman” sound like “Stand by Your Man”: “No kick is good enough for lifetime substitution / No brick will give you a lifetime consolation / And whether you dig it or not / We outnumber you in population / And leave your private institution / Get down to real communication / Leave your scene of destruction / And join us in revolution.” This is the stuff of radical women’s liberationist pamphlets, not mainstream rock albums released by the wives of former Beatles. And while, predictably, Yoko never got her proper due for inventing feminist rock music, at least we can appreciate it now.
Unfortunately, Approximately Infinite Universe is not currently available for streaming–though it probably will be in a few months, thanks to the ongoing reissue project of Yoko Ono’s music. In the meantime, however, you can check out this 2010 cover by British-German political journalist turned Stones Throw recording artist Anika, which strips away the original version’s more conventional ’70s rock trappings and replaces them with something a little noisier and more lo-fi. I’m pretty sure Yoko would approve.
We’ll be back with more music by badass women soon; in the meantime, catch up with the playlists below.