Better naked

31 10 2010

Whatever you may think of her, Yoko Ono, you must admit, is a shrewd, sharp, businesswoman.  She’s handled John Lennon’s estate with tremendous aplomb.  Why she and her husband always styled her as this supposedly visionary performance artist, she seems better to suited to taking a good money maker and making it into a great one.  Just in the past year, her late husband’s estate has hauled in $17 Million!  But I digress…

More interesting — and maybe surprising — to me is that Yoko has quite an ear for music.  I’ve never cared for most of her material.  Her singing…err…vocal work…err…caterwauling is god-awful.  Even when she actually “sings,” she just sounds ear-bleedingly brutal.  Her voice is truly ugly.  But she certainly is gifted enough herself to recognize just how good John was as a singer and musician and has the vision to try to make sure the rest of us could hear John as he was meant to be heard.

I’ve not heard the remastered John Lennon solo albums reissued on his just past 70th birthday save for Double Fantasy.  Brilliantly, with that album Yoko did two things.  First and foremost, like her business partners, the Beatles, recently did with Let It Be…Naked, Yoko has stripped away layers of “production” on Double Fantasy.  In fact, the new CD is called Double Fantasy Stripped Down and contains a more basic set of tracks and the original release album.  More about that momentarily.  Two, she brought John’s voice high up in the mix.  She has publicly said that she wanted John’s voice to be heard,  knowing that everyone but him really loved his vocal work.

If I had to describe Stripped Down in one word it would be “Wow!”  It sounds fantastic.  I don’t know how much Yoko was literally at the mixing console with Jack Douglas, but whoever remixed the album made it sound dynamite.  More interestingly, the “stripped down” tracks are, in many ways, better than the original album mixes.  They’re just a little more immediate, a little less cluttered — not that Double Fantasy ever suffered from “Wall of Sound” levels of overproduction.  Peeling away layers of sound effects and superfluous instruments (like horns) from some tracks just make them sound and feel much more genuine.  I could say, “Listen to this song or that song and you’ll see…”  Rather, I say listen to all the John tracks.  Their freshness is hard to describe without a bunch of cliche adjectives.  They’re damned good.

Even Yoko’s tracks, some interesting songs with lousy vocal work, feel good.  John always tried to credit Yoko with various music styles to come along.  In bands like the B-52’s (probably “Rock Lobster”) he heard her early performances, imagined her influence.  Maybe he wasn’t too far off.  A few of her songs on the album would have been classics…had she left the singing to her husband.  But that was not meant to be.

If you like Double Fantasy, I cannot recommend Stripped Down highly enough.

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