Yoko Ono took flight. In August 1974, she touched down in Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to mobs of fans and a constellation of flashbulbs. She was arriving to perform a run of six shows ostensibly pegged to her most recent album, 1973’s uncharacteristically slight Feeling the Space. But the nine months since its release had been a time of upheaval and artistic renewal. Separated from her husband, John Lennon, who had eloped—with her blessing—with a lover, she quietly recorded a new album, A Story, with a blistering centerpiece titled “Yes, I’m a Witch.” Though the album would remain unreleased until 1992, due to problems at her record label, Apple, Ono had been galvanized by its creation process. “When I wrote the song ‘Yes, I’m a Witch,’ I was ready to scream,” she said in 2007. “I think it was important that I came up with that in 1974. I needed to shout it for the good of my mental health.”
Fifty thousand fans showed up to hear Ono let rip on the opening night of the tour, a live performance at One Step Festival in Koriyama, Fukushima; the recording has now been released for the first time, by Idol Japan Records, as Let’s Have a Dream. On stage, Ono banters with the crowd in Japanese before flipping to English to figure out the setlist with her specially assembled Plastic Ono Super Band, which includes the Brecker Brothers and Steve Gadd, the drummer behind the iconic drum fills of Steely Dan’s “Aja.” In the surviving video footage of the performance, she blows kisses to the crowd, struts across the stage in towering platform heels, wiggles her waist, and squats on her haunches while dramatically warbling. As the crowd screams its applause, she stands with arms aloft, like a homecoming Olympian showing off her gold.
On Let’s Have a Dream, “Angry Young Woman” is hardly recognizable from its origins as an earnest message song. Communing with Steve Khan’s intuitive, bluesy guitar, Ono sounds beautifully melodic as she descibes a woman with “three children and two abortions” who rejects mothering for a new life. It’s a remarkable thing to hear a ’70s crowd cheer for a song with such thorny themes; 50 years on, the topic of mothers who reject parenting remains a taboo touched by few. Feeling the Space’s baroque piano and folksy choir always felt like a mismatch for “Woman of Salem,” a parable about the pack-mentality sexism Ono knew all too well. Here she is resplendent and raw, expelling a torrent of female stereotypes as if acid were burning a hole in her throat and the mic were a spittoon. As the song reaches its climax, Ono’s voice curdles. “Help! Help!” she shouts, before her band splinters into carnivalesque disorder, with a flute that flouders like a cartoon bird in a snowstorm. She screams, invoking a murderous mob. “Must kill! Must kill! Must kill!”