There are a couple of eyewitness versions to this story, a little-known incident that took place in Japan during John Lennon’s years as a homebody. Clearly neither he nor Yoko were entirely housebound in those five years. They were out and about, just not making records at that point. I’ll try to present the version I like best. In all the nine years since he first conceived this song in Rishikesh, India, John had never played it live. And the one time he did, it was to an unwitting audience.
After winning his appeal to stay in the United States, John & Yoko visited Japan at least three times before his passing, beginning with a 1977 trip that lasted from May to October of that year. Yoko’s parents were upper class people who had a summer home in Karuizawa in Nagano Prefecture. During a stay at Tokyo’s Okura Hotel in 1977, while Yoko was visiting her family, John and his friend Elliot Mintz were lounging around in the presidential suite when an elderly couple evidently took the elevator to the wrong floor.
This couple has never been identified as anything other than an ‘elderly couple’. I’d love to know who they were, although at this point, only their relatives would know for sure. They wandered in and sat down, apparently thinking they were in a lounge bar. John found this entertaining and as Mintz related, he began to play “Jealous Guy” on his acoustic guitar.
The couple sat and listened for a few minutes before walking back to the elevator and going, which left John and Mintz in fits of laughter. “It was the only time I think he ever performed for a party of two,” Mintz wrote. “They did not leave a tip.”
-The Frost Programme, Sept. 29 & Oct. 4, 1967
–Frost on Saturday, Aug. 24, 1968, repeated on The Best of Frost, May 18, 1969
–The David Frost Show, June 10, 1969/ July 10, 1969 & Dec. 16, 1971/ Jan. 13, 1972
As a talk show host David Frost was not a flamboyant fellow, but he was intuitive and could tease your dirty secrets out without making you uncomfortable. That’s probably what made his interviews with Richard Nixon so effective. While his name is intimately associated with the Beatles, as a band they put in an appearance on only one occasion. That would be for the world premiere of the extraordinary promotional clip for “Hey Jude” on Frost on Sunday on September 8, 1968. In order to maintain the illusion of a live appearance, Frost taped some clips at Twickenham Film Studios where he seemingly introduces the band.
By this time Paul McCartney had already made three appearances on one iteration or more of the Frost Show, the first as far back as April 1964, while they were neck deep in the filming of their first film, A Hard Day’s Night. Ringo showed up twice in 1969 & 1970; George Harrison appeared once in 1971 alongside Ravi Shankar, while he & John had expounded on Transcendental Meditation on two episodes back in 1967.
GEORGE: Your actions – whatever they are – are your actions. It’s all about your attitude toward other people. If you treat them good, they’ll do the same; if you hit them in the face, they’ll probably do the same thing. And that’s not much to do with religion. Action and reaction, that’s the thing Christ was saying. Whatever you do, you get it back.
JOHN: It’s the same in the whole universe, in all religions. It’s just opening your mind to see that. Buddha was groovy, you know. And Jesus was all right. It’s exactly the same thing.
John & Yoko made their first appearance as a couple one month after the premiere of “Hey Jude”, on the fourth edition of the latest iteration, Frost on Saturday on August 24, 1968, recorded live from Wembley Studios on London Weekend Television. while he was still a Beatle. The other guests included singer Blossom Dearie and satirist Stan Freberg. This interview took place two days after Ringo had left the group, during the sessions for The White Album; in fact it was also the day after the group had carried on and recorded all of “Back in the USSR”, without Ringo.
On this occasion the couple arrived in black clothes with small white badges on their lapels. They discussed their art project “You Are Here’, basically an unfinished art piece that invited people to participate.
Yoko Ono: “Usually people think in vicarious terms, they think ‘Somebody’s there,’ ‘John Lennon’s there,’ or somebody. But it’s not that. YOU are the one who’s here, and so in art, usually art gives something that’s an object and says ‘This is art,’ you know, but instead of that, art exists in people. It’s people’s art, and so we don’t believe in just making something and completing it and giving it to people, we like people to participate. All the pieces are unfinished and they have to be finished by people.”
Further on John elaborated, “The thing is, there’s no such thing as sculpture or art or anything, it’s just a bit of – it’s just words, you know, and actually saying everything is art. We’re all art, art is just a tag, like a journalist’s tag, but artists believe it. But sculpture is anything you care to name. This is sculpture: us sitting here, this is a happening, we are here, this is art, but yeah, if you gave that to a child, he wouldn’t have any preconceived ideas, so you wouldn’t have to say ‘This is sculpture’ or ‘This is a broken cup’, you’d say ‘There’s that – there’s glue, what do you do? You stick it together’.”
Other examples were Hammer a Nail In. Frost didn’t always get it when they talked about ‘vibrations’ or art in general, which was probably where most proper people were at in 1968. As someone with an odd imagination I found John’s comments on art insightful, and his sense of humor was as joyful to experience as ever. He was intuitive enough to connect his piece to the first time John met Yoko at the Indica Gallery in 1966, this may be the first time John told the story of how he met Yoko to an audience and how they connected over art.
Frost: I know this is a terrible condemnation of you, but I just felt like a man hammering in a nail.
Lennon: Winner! I felt like one hammering it in on TV.
Frost: Well in fact, because this is interesting, the thing with the nails for instance, it was banging the nail in – that the two of you found that you agreed on art and so on.
They also had a long discussion of their film “Smile”, wherein John just stares into the camera. When three minutes get stretched into one hour, one can see how much the facial expression changes.
Ono: Well, we’re not trying to explain, John. We’re just trying to communicate. And communication itself is art and art is communication. And so that, erm, people are getting so intelligent that you don’t have to explain too much, all you have to do is just touch each other, just shake hands, and so this is a way of touching each other.
Interestingly, as the credits roll “Hey Jude” is playing. John joins into the coda and encourages the audience to join in as the episode ends. The interview was so intriguing it was repeated on a highlights series, The Best of Frost, which was transmitted in some regions by LWT on late night Sunday, May 18, 1969.
Link: Beatles Bible,
By this time Frost had become a host of some repute. In 1969 he launched a weekly TV series in the United States, The David Frost Show, produced for the Westinghouse group for syndication. This involved Frost flying back and forth across the Atlantic every week holding down this series as well as his LWT series in England. On June 14 John & Yoko filmed a pre-taped sequence for the July 10, 1969 segment at Stonebridge Park Studios, where the previous December they’d participated in the Rolling Stones’ Rock & Roll Circus. Other guests included actors John Cassavetes, Peter Falk, Ben Gazzara & Julie London.
Lennon: What’s Bagism? It’s like a tag for what we all do, we’re all in a bag, you know, and we realized that we came from two bags – I was in this pop bag going round and round in my little clique and she was in her little avant-garde clique going round and round and you’re in your little tele clique and they’re in their…you know? And we all sort of come out and look at each other every now and then, but we don’t communicate. We all intellectualize about how there is no barrier between art, music, poetry… but we’re still all – ‘I’m a rock and roller’, ‘He’s a poet’. So we just came up with the word so you would ask us what bagism is – And we’d say we’re all in a bag, baby!
John’s first act was to throw acorns into the audience, calling them “acorns for peace”. John came in full Gandalf mustache & beard, and a blindingly white suit; Yoko was still in black. They came to discuss their peace campaign and bagism. John also held up a copy of Unfinished Music 2: Life With the Lions, playing snippets from ‘Cambridge 1968″ & “No Bed for Beatle John”. Yoko gave Frost a ‘box of smiles’; when he opened it he found a mirror inside that reflected back his own smile. Two Virgins was also discussed; Frost joked that the price tag had been placed in a ‘strategic place’.
Lennon: We’re trying to sell peace, like a product, you know, and sell it like people sell soap or soft drinks, you know, the only way to get people aware that peace is possible and – It isn’t just inevitable to have violence, not just war, all forms of violence. People just accept it and think ‘Oh, they did it’, or ‘Harold Wilson did it’ or ‘Nixon did it’, they’re always scapegoating people. It isn’t Nixon’s fault, we’re all responsible for everything that goes on, you know, we’re all responsible for Biafra and Hitler and everything. So we’re just saying ‘SELL PEACE’. Anybody interested in peace – just stick it in the window, it’s simple but it lets somebody else know that you want peace too, because you feel alone if you’re the only one thinking ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if there was peace and nobody was getting killed’. So advertise yourself that you’re for peace if you believe in it.
John’s fifth & final appearance on a David Frost program was taped December 16, 1971 for later syndication, about a week after the Ann Arbor benefit for John Sinclair, & a day before his appearance at eh Apollo Theater. John is still in his black leather jacket. After Frost introduced John & Yoko he said we are in for a musical treat. They were joined onstage by David Peel & the Lower East Side for a rendering of Peel’s “The Ballad of New York City”, a simply folksy tune with John on a tea chest bass.
David Peel had served two years in the U.S. Army, around 1960. He was stationed in Alaska, which is kind of funny, because that was where my Dad served as a radio operator in the late 1950’s. John Lennon befriended Peel in 1971 when his band was performing in New York’s Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. Peel had joined John & Yoko at the Ann Arbor benefit on December 10, 1971, and less than a week later, joined the pair again on this segment of The David Frost Show.
Both songs that Peel performed on this show would appear four months later on his third album, The Pope Smokes Dope (released April 17, 1972 on Apple Records). John produced the album as well as provided background vocals with Yoko Ono. The album managed to offend almost everybody, subsequently being banned in most of the world expect the United States, Canada & Japan.
This would be John’s first live appearance on U.S. TV as a solo artist. Joined by Yoko, Jerry Rubin & David Peel & company, he would perform “Attica State”, a bit of “Luck of the Irish” “Sisters, O Sisters” & “John Sinclair”, closing with Peel’s “The Hippie From New York City”.
Once more these were all acoustic performances. John & Yoko harmonized on “Attica State”. Yoko, in a green pullover sweater & blue jean, was multi-tasking, tapping a bongo while holding a lyrics sheet, which John refers back to. It was a problem he’d had in the Beatles too; he always had a hard time remembering the words to the songs he wrote himself. While he & the Lower East Side performed on the edge of the stage, a man in a red felt cowboy hat in the back was tossing paper airplanes over their heads.
After the song Frost invited members of the audience into a discussion about a fairer penal system. At one point a middle-aged couple questioned whether the Lennons were glorifying the prisoners in their song.
Yoko performed ‘Sisters, O Sisters”, then joined Frost for a multi-pointed discussion, including her struggle against discrimination of women, a realization that the public always listens to famous people, and the belief that communication is the key to peace. The pair then invited Chief Lion of the Onondaga tribe onstage for a discussion about plans for the New York State Department of Transportation to expand a highway through tribal land. A short film clip was shown with John & Yoko joining in the Onondaga protest.
Six days after their appearance at the Ann Arbor benefit, John & Yoko & the Lower East side performed “John Sinclair” in a more intimate setting. Yoko’s bongo was more perceptible, and John threw in a few variations to the tune: “Bring him home to his wife and kids/ We did!/ They gave him ten for two/ What else can the whole world do?/ Got to got to got to got…set him free/ Free!”
After the song, John talks about their part in the protest to free John Sinclair and their fight for peace. Finally, everyone stands as David Peel & the Lower East Side perform “The Hippie From New York City”, with John & Yoko standing in back. Again it is an acoustic version of a song about ‘a cockroach & Mayor Lindsey’ with bongos & flute.
Show would be broadcast a month later on January 13, 1972, on ABC-TV.
David Peel died in a veteran’s hospital, April 6, 2017.
David Frost passed away on Saturday, August 31, 2013, at the ripe age of 74.
Available on: Seven surviving segments, including John & Yoko’s appearance from 1968, are included on a two-disc DVD set, Frost on Saturday (1968), released by Network, October 4, 2010. Sadly, this seems to only be available in Region 2, i.e., Europe, Japan & the Middle East. There may not be any official release of the Lennon’s other appearances on DVD.
Unofficially, there is at least one bootleg I’m aware of, now. John Lennon Live & Sessions 1971-1972, a two-CD program featuring rehearsals as well as the Tea for Two Rally, The Attica State benefit at the Apollo & all the songs from his last David Frost segment, taped on December 16, 1971, plus 0music from TV appearances on Aquarius & the Mike Douglas Show.
On a different bootleg, THE BEATLES: MOVIES AND MEDITATION 1967 VOL. 4, a 90 Mn. DVD. Among random Magical Mystery Tour home movies & How I Won the War premiere clips, there is also John & George’s two appearances on The Frost Programme on September 29 & October 4, 1967, although only the second program is presented complete.
In approximately six weeks from this writing, it will be the 50th anniversary of John Lennon’s concert appearance at the Apollo Theatre on December 17, 1971. Granted it was a very short set (three songs, and one of them was Yoko’s), but this performance was unplugged decades before that term was coined. It was just John & Yoko and his band on the edge of the stage, accompanied by nothing but Yoko’s bongo and their guitars.
December 1971 was a busy month for the Lennons. Only the week before they had performed at the John Sinclair Freedom Rally in Ann Arbor, Michigan before heading back to New York City. The day before his Apollo appearance, in fact, on December 16, they’d taped an episode of The David Frost Show, joined by David Peel and the Lower East Side band. This wouldn’t be broadcast however, until a month later, well into January 1972.
The show was captured on 16mm film, and also completely ignored by mainstream media. The only reports would come from Harlem’s local Amsterdam News. Aretha Franklin also performed at this benefit for the families of the prisoners shot in the Attica Prison riot in September of that year. Joining John & Yoko were counterculture activist Jerry Rubin, Chris Osbourne and Eddie Mattau. What they were about to offer were three songs that wouldn’t see the light of day until the release of John & Yoko’s Sometime In New York City six months later on June 12, 1972.
“I’d like to say it’s an honor and a pleasure to be here at the Apollo, and for the reasons that we’re all here,” John began. “Yoko is gonna sing a number that she wrote about her sisters.” The show begins with her offering of a beautiful version of “Sisters, O Sisters.” For once Yoko’s voice is gorgeous, as are the harmonies she shares with John on chorus. Next up is “Attica State”, a song John began composing at his 31st birthday party. The lyrics are strident but softened somewhat by the acoustic guitars, and the slide guitar adds a bit of flavor.
“Thank you,” John said, three times actually. “Some of you might wonder what I’m doing here with no drummers and no, nothing like that, but as you might know I lost me old band or I left it. I’m putting an electric band together, it’s not ready yet and these things like this keep coming up so I have to just busk it. So I’m gonna sing a song you might know. Its called “Imagine”. This may be the most sincere performance of John’s classic, and may quite possibly be better than the official studio version. The acoustic guitar seems deeper somehow than the piano on the original; Yoko’s bongo is not intrusive this time. It’s hard to listen to this song now, since that was one of the numbers they played at my brother Eddie’s funeral in 2018. But sometimes you just got to.
Ironically, Mark David Chapman was sent to Attica Correctional Facility after he shot John in 1980.
Available: John Lennon’s two songs, “Attica State” & “Imagine”, have seen release first on John Lennon Anthology (November 1998), CD 2-New York City. “Imagine” was subsequently re-issued on John Lennon Acoustic (November 2004). Insofar as I know, Yoko’s live version of ‘Sisters, O Sisters remains unreleased.