Songwriter Interviews

Yoko Ono

by Greg Prato

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At 80 years old, Yoko Ono is vital as ever. She has notched an astonishing 10 #1 Dance hits since 2003, including "Hold Me," which topped the chart in 2013 when it was remixed by Dave Audé. She has recently collaborated with Sonic Youth co-founders Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore (resulting in the album YOKOKIMTHURSTON), and worked with her son, Sean, in a revamped Plastic Ono Band. Her remarkable youth appeal was underscored by the Digital Genius Award she picked up at the 2013 MTV Online Music Awards. It seems her brand of abstract art was ahead of its time.

After moving from Japan to New York City, Yoko became a bold and uncompromising artist at a time when women were viewed in the avante-garde milieu as curiosities or accessories. On November 7, 1966, she performed a one-woman show in London where she first met John Lennon. When John and Yoko got married in 1968, she became a convenient scapegoat for The Beatles' problems, and the subject of an unprecedented wave of nasty and misguided criticism. Lennon was simply in love. "Once I found the woman, the boys became of no interest whatsoever," he explained.

Throughout their marriage, Yoko retained her career and her identity while assisting in John's endeavors (among her contributions: co-writing "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)"). She has remained a faithful steward to his legacy while expanding her own.

Yoko agreed to answer some of our questions via email. We asked about her songwriting, including some of her best-known compositions. She also set the record straight regarding which rock bands/songs inspired John Lennon to begin writing and recording once more in 1980, resulting in his last-ever studio album, Double Fantasy.
Greg Prato (Songfacts): First off, congratulations on winning the MTV Digital Genius Award and for celebrating your 80th birthday this year.

Yoko Ono: Thank you!

Songfacts: As far as songwriting, how do you find you write your best songs? For instance, do you wait for inspiration, do the lyrics come first, etc.

Yoko: All depends. Sometimes the music comes first and sometimes the lyrics. Most of the time, both lyrics and the music and its treatment come at the same time.

Songfacts: Please explain memories of writing/recording "Hold Me."

Yoko: I've written two songs and sent them both to Audé. Audé chose "Hold Me," and sent me a great track. I was totally inspired by it, and immediately sung over the magical track. Audé is rolling with magic.

Songfacts: And what about your memories of writing/recording "Kiss Kiss Kiss."

Yoko: This song was created when I was withdrawing from a bad drug. I kept breathing in pain. All that time, I realized that there was a crack in my beautiful art deco mirror. At the recording studio, I sung in total darkness, which gave the right mood to it.

Songfacts: What are your memories of writing/recording "Walking on Thin Ice."

Yoko: It's a song that came to me music notes and lyrics together. John immediately thought it would be my first number one. Well, it didn't happen right away, but he was right.

Songfacts: Who will you be collaborating with on your next single? Who would you like to work with that you haven't yet already?

Yoko: My future is always a bright garden you see from where you are - a dark and long tunnel. I am not planning things like who should I collaborate with when I finally get there.

Songfacts: I've heard in interviews people claim that several tracks by other rock bands inspired John to want to make music again in 1980 [which resulted in the Double Fantasy album] - namely Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" and the B-52's "Rock Lobster." Do you know if this is true?

Yoko: The B-52's, yes. Listening to the B-52's, John said he realized that my time had come. So he could record an album by making me an equal partner and we won't get flack like we used to up to then. I have not heard about Queen [inspiring John]. But we both loved Queen. So it's possible that we got some energy from them.

Songfacts: What were some similarities and differences between the original Plastic Ono Band of the late '60s/early '70s, and then the more recent version?

Yoko: My partner is Sean, and not John. It turns out that Sean is a talent on his own right, John would have been very proud of.

Songfacts: How was it working with Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore on the album Yokokimthurston, and subsequent performances?

Yoko: I had a lucky occasion to perform in the encore piece of Kim Gordon's show in Meltdown. She is fantastic. Thurston, of course, is great. He and I will be touring this summer to a few festivals in Europe. It would not be bad if it was me, Thurston and Kim. But life has its own idea, it seems!

Songfacts: Out of all your solo albums, which one is your favorite and why?

Yoko: I love all of them each one for different reasons. They are scrapbooks in my mind of sweet love and laughter.

Songfacts: I've always seen similarities between John and Kurt Cobain - especially the fact that both were artists that were not afraid to express their honest feelings in song lyrics and interviews about subjects that some would shy away from. Did you see similarities between John and Kurt?

Yoko: Don't waste your time checking every rock and roller if they have any similarities with John. In some ways, they all do, I'm sure.

Songfacts: What are your thoughts on the current state of rock music?

Yoko: Rock music is rocking now! We are telling the world, we are going to survive, in whatever condition we are put in.

Songfacts: Do you agree that perhaps now more than ever, the lyrical message of "Give Peace a Chance" rings true?

Yoko: Yes. And I think all of us are giving peace a chance. It's a powerful time.

August 5, 2013. Get more from Yoko at
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Comments: 3

  • Fritz Souder from MarylandShe started off as John's muse and inspired and helped write some really great songs. As far as aging, she's still a very attractive women.
  • ScottyoCan u imagine John recording today? What would his sound be like with all the new sounds of today's recording techniques? It would b awesome.
  • Miguel Angel Noriega from Puebla, MexicoCongratulations Yoko, the words of Imagine have the power and the magic to make dreams come true, how did you do that great stuff? With all my love
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