Plastic Ono Band
Plastic Ono Band
Plastic Ono Band, 1969. L–R: Klaus Voormann, Alan White, Yoko Ono, John Lennon, and Eric Clapton.
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Lennon and Ono began a personal and artistic relationship in 1968, collaborating on several experimental releases. Following their marriage in 1969, they decided their future endeavours would be credited to a conceptual and collaborative vehicle, Plastic Ono Band. The band featured a rotating lineup of musicians including Eric Clapton, Klaus Voormann, Alan White, Billy Preston, Jim Keltner, Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, and Lennon's former Beatles bandmates George Harrison and Ringo Starr. After the Lennons' move to New York, they collaborated with Elephant's Memory under the moniker of the "Plastic Ono Elephant's Memory Band". Lennon's collaborations continued under similar names, until the winding down of the concept in 1974.
Origins and formation (1968–1969)
John Lennon and Yoko Ono first met in 1966. Lennon was a world-famous member of the Beatles, and Ono was an avant-garde artist and performer. By 1968, the two established a romantic relationship and they began collaborating on a number of musical projects. They first recorded together in May 1968; these recordings would be released in November as the experimental album Unfinished Music No.1: Two Virgins. The pair also worked throughout the summer on "Revolution 9", an experimental piece that appeared on the Beatles' White Album. In December 1968, Lennon and Ono appeared together at The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus with a supergroup named "The Dirty Mac", consisting of Eric Clapton, Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, Mitch Mitchell of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and violinist Ivry Gitlis. Lennon and Ono continued with their experimental releases parallel to Lennon's activities in the Beatles, releasing Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions in May 1969.
On 20 March 1969, Lennon and Ono married, and subsequently began their first "Bed-in for Peace" event. The event saw the new couple using press coverage of their marriage to advocate for peace. Recordings made around this time would be released as their third and final experimental album, Wedding Album.
Following the success of the first bed-in, Lennon and Ono held a second in Montreal in May. During the Bed-in, the couple and their guests recorded the Lennon-penned song "Give Peace a Chance" and Ono's "Remember Love". These were released on 4 July as a single credited to the Plastic Ono Band. It was the first single released by Lennon outside of the Beatles, with whom he was still active. Although an independent composition and release by Lennon, his Beatles writing partner Paul McCartney was still credited, as both a contractual and personal agreement of sharing credit.
The single was preceded by a press launch for the Plastic Ono band on 3 July. According to Ono, the name was coined by Lennon as a result of Ono's use of plastic stands for recording. Press material outlined the "band" as a conceptual movement, not limited to a strict membership like a normal group. Lennon and Ono also stated that the audience were members, with the accompanying slogan "YOU are the Plastic Ono Band".
Toronto Rock Revival Festival and early singles (1969–1970)
The Plastic Ono Band remained dormant for most of the summer of 1969 as the Beatles worked on completing Abbey Road. On 12 September, Lennon received a call from John Brower, organizer of the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival festival (set to occur the following day), offering Lennon free attendance to the festival in order to boost its profile. Lennon offered instead to perform at the festival. Brower agreed, and Lennon quickly assembled a band. He initially approached Beatles bandmate George Harrison to play lead guitar, but Harrison turned him down. Eric Clapton (who had played guitar in Lennon's earlier live group, the Dirty Mac) was chosen instead. Bassist Klaus Voormann and drummer Alan White filled out the first performing lineup of the Plastic Ono Band. While organizing the band, Lennon privately decided to leave the Beatles, due to the tensions in the band at the time. The band rehearsed on the plane to Toronto, and performed both rock songs sung by Lennon and experimental pieces led by Ono. The show was recorded, and released in December as Live Peace in Toronto 1969, the first LP credited to the Plastic Ono Band.
On 20 September, Lennon revealed to the other Beatles that he was leaving the band, although it was not revealed publicly at the time. A few days later, the Plastic Ono Band began the recording of their next single. "Cold Turkey" had been initially presented by Lennon as a potential Beatles single, but this was rejected by McCartney. "Cold Turkey" and its b-side "Don't Worry Kyoko" featured a Plastic Ono Band almost identical to the Toronto lineup except White was replaced by Beatles drummer Ringo Starr. The writing credits for "Cold Turkey" featured only Lennon's name, reflecting his split with McCartney and the Beatles.
Following the release of the "Cold Turkey" single, Lennon began preparations for a follow-up. On 26 November, he mixed "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)" and "What's the New Mary Jane", for release as a single. Both songs were old Beatles recordings. "You Know My Name" dated initially from 1967, with further work by Lennon and McCartney in 1969. The b-side was a 1968 Lennon song originally intended for inclusion on the White Album. The single was put on hold by EMI, and was ultimately canceled, possibly due to objections from the Beatles.
On 15 December, the Plastic Ono Band took part in a benefit concert for UNICEF at the Lyceum Ballroom in London , entitled "Peace for Christmas". With 48 hours' notice, Lennon and Ono assembled the Toronto lineup of the band (Clapton, Voorman, and White), with the addition of keyboardist Billy Preston. Clapton brought along the Delaney & Bonnie and Friends touring group, with whom he was touring at the time. In addition to Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett, the group included Lennon's Beatles bandmate George Harrison, saxophonist Bobby Keys, drummer Jim Gordon, and trumpet player Jim Price. Keith Moon of the Who also joined the performance. Lennon would later refer to this lineup as "the Plastic Ono Supergroup". Following the performance, Lennon and Ono engaged in a media blitz and advertising campaign for peace, taking out billboards in major cities saying "WAR IS OVER! If You Want It – Happy Christmas from John & Yoko".
The new year saw the Plastic Ono Band reconvening to record another single. "Instant Karma!" was written and recorded on 27 January 1970, fulfilling Lennon's idea for an instant single. Lennon, Ono, George Harrison, Klaus Voorman, Alan White, and Billy Preston, along with backing vocalists recruited from a nearby pub, composed the POB for the session. On Harrison's suggestion, famed American producer Phil Spector was hired, beginning a working relationship that extended long into both his and Lennon's careers. "Instant Karma", backed with Ono's "Who Has Seen the Wind?", was released just over a week later. The single was credited to "Lennon/Ono with the Plastic Ono Band", in contrast to earlier releases, which were credited to the band alone.
Plastic Ono Band albums to "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" (1970–1971)
During the summer of 1970, Lennon and Ono undertook primal therapy under the guidance of Arthur Janov in Los Angeles. This therapy had a great effect on Lennon's writing. In the meantime, the Beatles had publicly broken up, and the pair returned to London at the end of September to begin recording on a pair of studio albums, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band. The core of the Plastic Ono Band backing the two was Klaus Voorman on bass and Ringo Starr on drums. Phil Spector produced the albums, and he and Billy Preston added keyboards to some select tracks. The Lennon album featured straightforward, stripped down rock, while Ono featured experimental and Avant-garde music. Both albums were released on 11 December, each to critical acclaim. The single "Mother"/"Why" was released, the songs coming from John Lennon and Yoko Ono respectively. Subsequently, "Power to the People" was recorded with a lineup of Billy Preston, Bobby Keys, Klaus Voorman, and Alan White. Ono's b-side "Open Your Box" featured Voorman and Jim Gordon. The single was released the following spring, with the sides credited to "John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band" and "Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band" respectively.
In the spring and summer of 1971, Lennon and Ono respectively recorded Imagine and Fly. Despite the albums featuring regular members of the Plastic Ono Band (such as George Harrison, Klaus Voorman, Alan White, Jim Keltner, and Jim Gordon) and Phil Spector's production of Imagine, the albums were credited not to the Plastic Ono Band, but to Lennon and Ono as solo artists. On 6 June, Lennon and Ono performed with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention in New York City, dubbing the collaboration as the "Plastic Ono Mothers".
The next use of the Plastic Ono Band name was the 1971 Christmas single "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)". Credited to "John & Yoko/The Plastic Ono Band", the recording featured drummer Jim Keltner, pianist Nicky Hopkins (who had played on Imagine), and guitarists Hugh McCracken, Chris Osbourne (who had played on Fly), Teddy Irwin, and Stuart Scharf. The b-side "Listen, the Snow Is Falling" featured the same musicians as "Happy Xmas", with the addition of Klaus Voorman on bass. Produced by Phil Spector, the single was issued on 1 December.
Move to New York: Plastic Ono Elephant's Memory Band (1971–1973)
Lennon and Ono left the UK to settle in New York City during the fall of 1971. In Greenwich Village, the couple became more politically active and began writing protest songs. These songs became the basis for their next album, Some Time in New York City. As backing, they enlisted the help of New York band Elephant's Memory, consisting of guitarist Wayne 'Tex' Gabriel, bassist Gary Van Scyoc, saxophonist Stan Bronstein, keyboardist Adam Ippolito, keyboardist John La Boosca, and drummer Richard Frank, Jr. Phil Spector produced, and Jim Keltner also played on the album. The album was released on 12 June 1972, credited to "John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band with Elephant's Memory plus Invisible Strings". Some Time in New York City included a second disc, entitled Live Jam, which included the recordings from the 1969 Peace for Christmas concert and the 1971 performance with Frank Zappa.
Ono and Lennon continued their work with Elephant's Memory throughout 1972, performing as the Plastic Ono Elephant's Memory Band (which also included Jim Keltner). On 30 August, they performed a pair of benefit concerts at Madison Square Garden. The benefit, entitled "One to One", was organised by Geraldo Rivera to raise money for children with mental challenges. By this time, La Boosca had departed the band, and the concert saw the addition of John Ward on bass. The concert was filmed and recorded, later released in February 1986 as the album Live In New York City. They also performed at the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon.
The last collaboration of the Plastic Ono Elephant's Memory Band was Ono's double album Approximately Infinite Universe. It was recorded throughout the fall of 1972, and was released in January 1973.
Lennon's split with Ono and the Lost Weekend (1973–1974)
By the beginning of 1973, recording had begun in earnest on Ono's next album, Feeling the Space, featuring a new group of studio musicians. The newest incarnation of the Plastic Ono Band featured guitarist David Spinozza, keyboardist Ken Ascher, bassist Gordon Edwards, percussionists Arthur Jenkins and David Friedman, saxophonist Michael Brecker, pedal steel guitarist Sneaky Pete Kleinow, as well as regular contributor Jim Keltner. The album would be released in November.
Throughout 1973, Lennon and Ono's relationship became strained. By August, the two had begun a period of separation that Lennon called "The Lost Weekend". Lennon began the recording of his own album, Mind Games, using the same players as on Feeling the Space, dubbed "The Plastic U.F.Ono Band". Around the time of the album's release in November, Lennon moved to Los Angeles with new lover May Pang. In October, Lennon began the recording of an album of rock 'n' roll oldies (a contractual obligation due to a lawsuit). These featured many Plastic Ono Band regulars (including much of the "U.F.Ono Band", Klaus Voorman, and the return of Phil Spector to the production chair), but upon release in 1975 as Rock 'n' Roll, it was credited to Lennon alone.
The sessions for Rock 'n' Roll were extremely troubled, and the sessions were abandoned until a later date. In July 1974, Lennon returned to New York to record Walls and Bridges. The new "Plastic Ono Nuclear Band" featured both old and new faces, with Jim Keltner, Kenneth Ascher, and Arthur Jenkins continuing from Mind Games, the returns of Klaus Voorman, Nicky Hopkins, and Bobby Keys, and the addition of guitarists Jesse Ed Davis and Eddie Mottau. Recording was finished in August, and the album was released 26 September and 4 October in the US and UK respectively.
Walls and Bridges would prove to be the last release of new material by the Plastic Ono Band in the 1970s. Lennon subsequently returned to his marriage with Ono and retired from music following the birth of his son Sean. The compilation Shaved Fish was released in October 1975, Lennon's last release credited to the Plastic Ono Band. Upon his and Ono's return to music in 1980 for the album Double Fantasy, they played with an all-new group of studio musicians who were not billed as any variation of the Plastic Ono Band name. Lennon was shot and killed shortly after the release of the album.
In 2009, Yoko Ono revived the Plastic Ono Band name with the 2009 EP Don't Stop Me!, a preview of the album Between My Head and the Sky. Both albums, and subsequent activities, are credited to the "Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band". The core members of the new Plastic Ono Band are Sean Lennon (the son of Ono and Lennon), Cornelius (Keigo Oyamada) and Yuka Honda. Since 2009, the band has performed live concerts, with additional members including bassist Shimmy Hirotaka Shimizu, horn player Michael Leonhart, cellist Erik Friedlander, and drummer Yuko Araki. They have also performed with many guest performers, including Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore, Bette Midler, Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Scissor Sisters, Harper Simon, Paul Simon and Gene Ween.
In 2010, at a concert entitled "We Are the Plastic Ono Band", Ono and Sean Lennon reunited with Eric Clapton, Klaus Voorman, and Jim Keltner. In 2011, Ono and Lennon collaborated with The Flaming Lips on an EP entitled The Flaming Lips with Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band. The latest release from the Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band is the 2013 album Take Me to the Land of Hell. The Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band continued to make live appearances into 2015.
- Studio Albums
- John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (1970)
- Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band (1970)
- Some Time in New York City (1972)
- Feeling the Space (1973)
- Between My Head and the Sky (2009)
- Take Me to the Land of Hell (2013)
- Live albums
- Live Peace in Toronto 1969 (1969)
- Don't Stop Me! (2009)
- The Flaming Lips with Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band (2011)
- Shaved Fish (1975)
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