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David Pescovitz is Boing Boing's co-editor/managing partner. He's also a research director at Institute for the Future. On Instagram, he's @pesco.

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36 Responses to “John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and Chuck Berry perform "Memphis" (1972)”

  1. Mitchell Glaser says:

    Wow, John Lennon and Chuck Barry playing and singing and OH MY GOD IS SOMEONE BUTCHERING A PIG? Really, the immense arrogance of Yoko Ono (who actually seems to come off as a rather nice person in interviews) throwing her “vocal stylings” (I won’t insult yodelers) into things is just incredible.

  2. CygnusXII says:

    I have never liked Yoko Ono. I know she wasn’t responsible for breaking up the Beatles, but for some reason I just cannot seem to like her. Her yodeling in this video is a prime example. Maybe she thought she was contributing artistically, but in my universe, all she did was take away from the experience. Apparently she was not happy with banging on a bongo and being able to say she played with Chuck Berry, she had to screech like a banshee, and throw off the performance. Luckily Chuck is such a high level performer, He took it in stride and kept going. When his eye goggled, that was surely a WTF just happened moment.

  3. Khal Shariff says:

    Boundaries Yoko. You may still think this was a good idea. It wasn’t. I like your art, but this HOLLERING has nothin going for it.

  4. Pickleschlitz says:

    You can see him counting the bars in his head that he has to keep going with the chattering chipmunk behind him. She keeps trying to ruin the moment, but someone in the booth at the Mike Douglas Show had the good sense to turn off her mike.

  5. Dave X says:

    On the other hand, this is a song that every one of these guys could play in their sleep. So, in a very weird way, it kinds makes sense to throw a monkey wrench into the gears, just to see what happens. It may be the video quality, but it looks to me like she’s also purposely playing her drum on the off-beat. Hilarious!

    • mindfu says:

      I actually am hearing her vocals take about the place a saxophone would. That makes it not too bad. Still, when she’s choosing to vocalize is so bad for the song that it really does occur to me she’s trying to blow everything up. The bongo playing also.

  6. timquinn says:

    oof, one thing is for sure. Yoko brings out the troglodytes in online discussions. I guess none of you are familiar with ANY IDEAS from 20th century art, or 19th century. Your fragile pop songs and tender performers egos will recover from a weird performance. Are you worried Chuck  Berry’s DIGNITY will be hurt? Come on, the guy is a clown, too, as well as a great song writer and guitar player. Re-fucking-lax about your precious aesthetic sensibility, already.

    • mindfu says:

      True, Yoko Ono was a great conceptual artist. 
      Also, she was a terrible vocalist who basically ruined this TV spot to get attention.

      The two are not mutually exclusive.If Yoko was having an art show and Chuck Berry walked into it and started writing in pee on one of her pieces, that wouldn’t take away from his skills as a guitarist. It would, however, be about as useful as Yoko in this clip.

      • timquinn says:

        The only problem I see with Yoko’s performance is that it is a little weak, timid. That could be what so bugs people about it. It gets under your skin immediately, its absolutely breaking every rule of polite society. A generation later this is totally recognized as a legitimate approach at almost any level of culture. I give you Andy Kaufmann as someone in the same tradition and just as viscerally disturbing. He enjoyed success probably because he worked in an area where awkward white males were already expected. Being female and asian and fearless is a lot to ask of someone appearing on tv in the mid sixties. Shoot, Berry thought he was the scheduled weirdo. He is not that freaked out, He follows up her yodelesque with his own duck walk. Middle-class America needed this in such a huge way. Obviously, still does.
        It is like nails on the chalk board. Yeah, you can learn to love it beyond just bringing embarrassment to the participants. A generation of punk rockers can attest to that.

        This clip is an awesome moment of pop culture history. Marred only by Yoko’s own timidity. She was no doubt under a lot of pressure not to do it and would not have had the opportunity without John’s near godlike status at the time.

    • euansmith says:

       I misread your name as “Tinquim” which seemed a trifle outré.

  7. aperturehead says:

    Yoko could have writhed around in a bag of lizards and recited the Communist Manifesto in Klingon, but Mr Berry’s main concern is always getting a check at the end of a show. This is classic American TV at its best! – incidentally, Yoko is one of the 20th Century’s Top 100 most influential and special artists.

    • Boundegar says:

      I thought she was kind of brilliant myself.  I want to see her as “featured” artist with those two Korean girls!

    • alfanovember says:

      incidentally, Chuck Berry is one of the 20th Century’s Top 10 most influential and special artists.
      Fixed it for you.

  8. fergus1948 says:

    McCartney must feel he forever lives in John’s shadow. He gets to take Kurt Cobain’s place in Nirvana and STILL John beats him to the BoingBoing post!

  9. Saltine says:

    A couple of thoughts over the Ono-outrage. First: Ono was a member of the Fluxus movement, which liked to mess with pop culture AND high art and often tried to see how far you could push kitschy pop-culture to make it interesting. You can’t get much more kitschy/schmaltzy than this song, and the venue invites détournement. Second: The song does not get hurt. I guarantee you that there are more performances of it on YouTube and that most of them are “straight.” So, finally, if you didn’t like it, that’s ok. But no one got hurt, beyond butt-hurt, and if they did, well, maybe their butt needs tweaking.

    • Jim Beach says:

      Meh. 

      If Yoko was having an art show with Frida Kahlo, and Kahlo’s love interest musician started throwing random paint on everyone in the whole gallery and ruining the pieces, would that mean Yoko’s art show was a success?

      I’m pretty sure Yoko wouldn’t appreciate that. So yeah, this clip is a fascinating trainwreck. It’s still a trainwreck. 

  10. BurntHombre says:

    That stage has one too many microphones.

    • Mitchell Glaser says:

      And if you notice, Yoko’s mic is pointed down at her drum in the beginning but you can see her flip it up to photobomb her vocals in.

  11. Kevin Brennan says:

    If memory serves (since I’m an old fart who ran home from school every day to watch the Mike Douglas Show that week), that’s Yippie Jerry Rubin playing the drum next to Yoko. 

  12. mindfu says:

    Yes, Yoko Ono was a good and influential conceptual artist and a member of Fluxus.

    Also, she was (and I’m sure still is) an absolutely terrible vocalist. Who, rather than learn to sing well, took a conceptual direction with it where she would sound as awful as possible.

    And probably worst of all, from what I can see she was unable to deal with simply there and not being the focus of attention. It’s on her face on stage. Lennon is radiantly happy to be playing with one of his childhood heroes. Berry is happy to be playing with this very famous star who’s work he probably also liked. And Yoko just looks *miserable*, angrily banging a bongo about once a bar.
    While the person she’s supposed to love is on stage with one of his childhood heroes, she couldn’t just suck it up and be nice. She had to do something loud and *noticeable*. She had to blow up the spot. Notice the timing of when she’s ‘singing’. There’s absolutely no reason for her to start vocals while Berry is halfway through his line. Even a good saxophone player waits until the lead singer’s done. But nope, not Yoko…straight in.

    Linda McCartney wasn’t the greatest, but she didn’t seem to vindictively grab the spotlight. She just wanted to be a part of her mega-talented husband’s work, and was about as good as an average civilian. Hard to hate her for that. Yoko, on the other hand, just comes off to me as a bratty scheming mess.

  13. euansmith says:

    Cool; Chuck and John, and I even enjoyed Yoko’s input.

  14. Stephan says:

    All that Yoko hate … all too predictable.

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