The release of the new Beatles documentary Get Back has revived one of the greatest musical debates of all time. Just why did the Beatles break up? One thing that seemed clear (at least to me) when watching the mammoth film is that the fault does not lie with John Lennon’s soon-to-be spouse Yoko Ono. While she was there for the majority of the Let It Be sessions, she mostly appeared to be hanging out. A constant presence for sure, but hardly a distraction for Paul, George and Ringo.
Given this new documentary evidence, I was excited to learn about the upcoming tribute album Ocean Child: Songs Of Yoko Ono. If the public is reevaluating Ono’s role in the Beatles’ demise, then certainly it is time to take another look her musical output as well. Ono was an accomplished musician before she ever met Lennon, a classically trained vocalist and pianist who had collaborated with John Cage and LaMonte Young. In the decades since her husband’s murder, she has continued to record and release music at a steady pace.
The new tribute album is spearheaded by Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard. “This is an artist whose output has run the gamut from avant-garde to bubblegum pop, often across a single album,” Gibbard said of Ono. “For years, it has been my position that her songwriting has been criminally overlooked.” Due out in late February, the album will include covers by artists such as Sharon Van Etten, the Flaming Lips, Japanese Breakfast and, of course, Death Cab for Cutie.
The first single is a collaboration between David Byrne and Yo La Tengo, a cover of Ono’s “Who Has Seen The Wind?” The track was originally released in 1970 as a B-side to Lennon’s “Instant Karma.” Lennon both produced and played guitar on the track. The dreamy song plays like a hybrid of a Japanese folk tune and harpsichord-powered church music.
Byrne and Yo La Tengo’s cover keeps the slow, spacey feel of the original, but with a bit more of a new age sound. The most striking part of the track is the backing vocals, which, at first listen, feel as if they were lifted from the Beach Boys’ experimental Smile sessions. If the rest of the tracks are this strong, it will be a fitting tribute to Ono’s musical and artistic explorations. Hopefully, the album will shed some light on her long, and perhaps deeply misunderstood, musical career.
Click here to listen to more covers of and by Yoko Ono.