John Lennon had a habit of using hyperbole, often blurting out reactionary statements that were damning or praising in equal measure. While the moment he described his band as ” more popular than Jesus” stands out as the best example, on one occasion, the Beatle even declared that one of his B-sides was “one of the best rock ‘n’ roll records ever made”.
Lennon was firmly in The Plastic Ono Band mode when he made this statement, and his creative juices were flowing in all directions. The Beatles had reached their conclusion, and creating alongside Yoko Ono was a fresh experience that he truly relished.
After working with the same people for almost the entirety of his adult life, the chance to escape from his comfortable surroundings was liberating, and Yoko continued to surprise Lennon in positive ways. Ono was not only his muse, but also an artist who he greatly admired as a creative, and Lennon felt that one song captured Yoko’s vivid artistry, a number that he later claimed was “20 years ahead of its time”.
The track Lennon was referring to is ‘Don’t Worry, Kyoko’, which The Plastic Ono Band released in 1969 as the B-side to ‘Cold Turkey‘. The material is a slick blues-infused track that Ono transforms with her demonic vocal delivery while her raw emotion is laid bare.
‘Don’t Worry, Kyoko’ was an incredibly personal song written about her daughter, who she had lost custody of and lived with her ex-husband, Anthony Cox. Heartbreakingly, they remained out of contact until Kyoko reappeared in Yoko’s life in 1994, but thankfully, they’ve stayed in close touch ever since.
In 1970, Lennon applauded the track and told Rolling Stone: “Don’t get the therapy confused with the music. Yoko’s whole thing was that scream. ‘Don’t Worry, Kyoko’ was one of the fuckin’ best rock and roll records ever made. Listen to it, and play ‘Tutti Fruitti’. Listen to ‘Don’t Worry, Kyoko’ on the other side of ‘Cold Turkey’.”
Lennon felt as though Ono didn’t get the praise that her work deserved and couldn’t fathom why Yoko wasn’t placed on a pedestal in the same way as any of the classic groups of the ’60s, not excluding The Beatles. While she didn’t sell as many records as the Fab Four, Lennon was convinced that her barrier-pushing methods were equally as vital in progressing popular music.
Lennon continued: “I’m digressing from mine, but if somebody with a rock-oriented mind could possibly hear her stuff, you’ll see what she’s doing. It’s fantastic, you know. It’s as important as anything we ever did, and it is as important as anything the Stones or Townshend ever did. Listen to it, and you’ll hear what she is putting down. On ‘Cold Turkey’ I’m getting towards it. I’m influenced by her music 1000 per cent more than I ever was by anybody or anything. She makes music like you’ve never heard on earth.”
The former Beatle also spoke about the rapturous state Yoko made other musicians feel and explained why they gravitated towards her company. He added: “When the musicians play with her, they’re inspired out of their skulls. I don’t know how much they played her record later. We’ve got a cut of her from the Lyceum in London, 15 or 20 musicians playing with her, from Bonnie and Delaney and the fucking lot. We played the tracks of it the other night. It’s the most fantastic music I’ve ever heard. They’ve probably gone away and forgotten all about it. It’s fantastic. It’s like 20 years ahead of its time.”
Yoko was a relentlessly inventive musician, and ‘Don’t Worry, Kyoko’ is a prime example of her forward-thinking approach. Perhaps, Lennon was right to say she was decades ahead of her time, but rightly or wrongly, her association with him was always going to overshadow anything Ono released.