Podcast Episode 11 - Robert Bound on 'Yes, I'm Your Angel'
On the 36th anniversary of the tragic death of John Lennon, culture editor of Monocle magazine, Robert Bound, delivers an impassioned defence of the music and songwriting of Yoko Ono, the keeper of Lennon's flame.
"Not wanting to sound like a politician, who is injecting a bit of local colour in order to make his anecdote seem more real, I was in a taxi on the way over here this evening ladies and gentlemen.
I got in at Marylebone and I said "I'm going to Wilton's Music Hall" and he said, "Oh yeah, I know it, on Ensign Street".. Blah blah blah blah blah, and we talked - he talked, I listened - for thirty five minutes or so.
I told him what I was doing, and he said "It's probably Englebert Humperdink, isn't it?"
And I said "Look at me!"
And he goes, "Tom Jones! Tom Jones - he was the Welsh Elvis wasn't he? Or Elvis, of course, Elvis is my favourite... Is it Frank Sinatra?"
And I said, "No, no..."
And he goes, "Elton John - that great songwriting partnership with Bernie Taupin, you can't really touch it. I mean the words! Do you think it's the words or the music that comes first in that relationship between a songwriter and a lyricist?"
I said, "Probably half and half."
We talked and talked and talked. And he never once said Basement Jaxx.
I don't know why that's funny.
So the song that changed my life is "Yes I'm Your Angel" by Yoko Ono. It didn't change my life by offering solace in times of need, but simply by spreading a little joy very often over years and years and years. (I'm older than I look).
I also think it's a song that could change Yoko Ono's life - or at least her reputation. Because I think that us listening to 'Yes, I'm Your Angel', could rebrand a slightly misunderstood artist. In a way, tonight I'm making a case for Yoko.
Because Yoko Ono splits a room - especially here in the UK, where some people thing she's an interesting and progressive, boundary-pushing contemporary artist. But a lot of people, let's face it, think she's a bit of a bitch. She's the woman that stopped The Beatles' winning streak, and then broke them up completely.
When it comes on in a minute, you'll hear that it sounds like it was recorded at the American Bar at The Savoy - or at some other palm-fronded ballroom in Manhattan perhaps - and that it contains as much Roaring Twenties naivety as some of the aggressive solo material that John and Yoko were doing at that same time and on that same album.
It's a little bit cabaret, and it's quite silly, but it's very charming. And it seems like a change from what Lennon was making in his serious world of solo records that he seemed to really want to be better than those of Paul McCartney. In a way, 'Yes, I'm Your Angel' is a bit of an antidote.
I don't know what you expect from Yoko Ono. There are two new biographies of Paul McCartney out at the moment, and both talk quite extensively about Paul's inability to get on with Yoko. I love Paul McCartney - and maybe I'd rather go for dinner and a spliff with Macca than go for a full-on LA carousal with Lennon at his peak. But I'm a huge fan of Yoko. So what should I do? I should listen to 'Yes, I'm Your Angel' again.
We might be a very nice, well-adjusted, well-read crowd tonight - and an international one perhaps - but many people, when they think of Yoko, think of spikiness. As a visual artist and as a performance artist, she did a lot of very good and engaging work - and she still does, she's 83 years old I think. She's made god knows how many solo albums of all sorts of music - electronica, something-like-punk, but with keyboards, tape-loops and that yelping vocal. She's also done disco, she's done funk. And she's something like an alternative Grace Jones (because the world definitely needs one of those...). And everyone wants to guest on her albums - except perhaps Paul.
Yoko has made albums that take the piss out of her reputation - like 'Yes, I'm a Witch', a recent one of hers, which exactly riffs on our beloved, dreamy, melodramatic and slightly melancholic 'Yes, I'm Your Angel'.
She's a bit of a Gay icon as well. She sticks up for people and for things like peace. She follows people on Twitter that aren't famous or important, just because she seems to like them. Maybe Yoko was a pain in the arse once, but maybe she's changed. And maybe having your husband shot dead will do that to you...
Yoko Ono, to me, inspires kindness. She's like the anti-Lou Reed. And also, unlike Grace Jones, she doesn't have raw, male meat on her backstage rider. That's another story for if I'm ever invited back...
In this song, in which Yoko believes in pumpkins that turn into princes, and that she's so pretty and you're so dizzy, but that she also likes getting it on - "It's oh so good - mmmm! - every time!". This song really does have it all.
'Yes, I'm Your Angel' shows that Yoko is sure of herself and the universe that she's created, and that there's no competition. It's very definitive and firm, but dressed up as a cutesy girl having a bash at a Cole Porter song. But it shows Yoko's spine of steel too. It's a wonderful love song without an edge of malice. And I played it to the girl that I loved and married - and it was our first dance.
I think that 'Yes, I'm Your Angel' is the song that redresses the balance and rewrites a bit of her history. It's a one-song rebrand of an often misunderstood woman. And it's a song that, perhaps, could change your lives too..."
May 19th - Wilton's Music Hall