"Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me and My Monkey"

Yoko Ono was involved as both participant and observer in a number of the recording sessions for the Beatle's "White Album." It used to be boiler plate to blame Ono for breaking up the Beatles. I think she made them much more interesting. The White Album is a collection of wonderfully odd, occasionally self-indulgent pieces, shaken out of a period in which the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein died, they began their up-and-down relationship with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, they released the unpopular and poorly received "Magical Mystery Tour" movie, and they began trying to live their lives as individuals following all the zaniness of the "Fab Four" mid-sixties. Eventually, of course, they went their separate ways; they grew up and moved on. Some critics point to the White Album as the beginning of the band's dissolution, claiming that the album is comprised of four solo albums, and that none of the four were really interested in what any of the other three were doing. I'm not sure that's a fair assessment, but within a year or so, the Beatles were basically kaput. Perhaps the critics are right!

Among some of the Beatles White Album classic rock hits such as "Back in the U.S.S.R," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," and "Birthday," are the peculiar minimalist pieces "Wild Honey Pie," "Why don't we do it in the road?" (two McCartney songs) and they lyrically minimal Lennon number "Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me and My Monkey," which he said was about his and Ono's relationship. The classic cover of the White Album is itself a minimalist gesture. As a group, they were working on angles quite different from the albums that preceded the collection officially titled simply "The Beatles."

There's also the famous--or infamous--sound collage "Revolution 9," which Lennon and Ono collaborated upon (George Harrison was involved to a lesser extent). While that piece is known among its detractors for creepiness, self-indulgence, and lack of structure, much of what moves "Revolution 9" is minimalist in nature. "Number 9, number 9" repeated over and over, purposely distorted baby-like cries and gurgles, bits of crowd noise--"block that kick"--odd snatches of dialog--"the watusi, the twist"--short pieces of orchestral music and sound effects, sometimes purposely distorted, sometimes not. It's all very purposely structured.

How much of the influence and structure comes from Ono, who had a lengthy and distinguished avant garde resume and had worked on different visual, sound, and written projects (most notably perhaps with Fluxus) long before she met Lennon in 1966? How much was simply "of the times," with the Beatles being influenced by the art and music and writing of other people working in the era? (I can't say that Lennon had heard of Aram Soroyan in 1968, but I think he would have liked his work). McCartney, the bachelor Beatle for most of the sixties, spent a lot of time listening to avant garde music, hanging out with artists in London, and exploring other "heady" interests, though that background is papered over by Sir Mac's Tin Pan Alley-style songs such as "When I'm Sixty-four," "Honey Pie," "Your Mother Should Know," etc. But the same guy who wrote "Martha My Dear" and "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" for the White Album also contributed "Wild Honey Pie," and "Why don't we do it in the road?" not mention "Helter Skelter," a dynamic and adventuresome recording that was sadly kidnapped and put to terrible use by a raving lunatic and psychopath in 1969.

The Beatles were doing interesting things at this time, and so was Yoko Ono.

I'm not clever enough to make the connections ("it's such a fine line between stupid, and clever"), but I can't help reading the lyric of "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey" as cut from a similar cloth as some of Ono's pieces from her book Grapefruit, take "Snow Piece" as an example, or the minimalist work that people such Saroyan or Robert Creeley and others were doing in the late 1960s. Evidently, the Ono-Lennon influence went both ways. In 1970, Ono recorded "Mum's only looking for her hand in the snow," a piece sometimes listed as "(Don't Worry, Kyoko) Mommy's only looking for her hand in the snow," for her daughter from her second marriage, and which to my ears works as a melding of Ono's avant garde background with what we might call a roots-based rock-n-roll/blues accompaniment, which Lennon was using so prominently during this time on songs ranging from "Cold Turkey" to the pieces on his "John Lennon Plastic Ono Band" album--the (in)famous "Mother" album, some of which sounds as contemporary today as the White Stripes, with its basic, direct, and spare arrangements, no BS lyrics, etc. One source I found claims that Eric Clapton plays guitar on the Ono recording linked to, above. He was a guitarist in the Lennon/Ono "Plastic Ono Band," which played a few concerts and made some recordings circa 1969-70. Lennon's guitar playing was always rhythmically oriented first and foremost, and when I first heard "Mum's only looking . . . " I assumed it was Lennon's guitar backing Ono. Regardless, Ono and Lennon influenced each other in an interesting way. After years of abuse and scorn, it's nice to see Ono getting some of the respect she and her work have been due.