Spanning more than 4000 episodes, TV’s The Mike Douglas Show played host to rock’s great and good over its 21-year run, from Frank Zappa to Sly Stone, Genesis to ELO.
Each week, Douglas would share the spotlight with a celebrity co-host, and in February 1972 the producers bagged a big one: a week of shows starring John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
“It’s become a cliche that Woodstock was the defining moment of the counterculture,” says Erik Nelson, who’s recently completed work on Daytime Revolution, a documentary about the five shows.
Speaking with Variety, he adds, “This week in 1972, when John Lennon and Yoko Ono essentially hijacked the airwaves and presented the best minds and dreams of their generation to the widest possible mass audience of what was then called ‘Middle America,’ was as far as the counterculture would ever get. Not just music but a prescient blueprint for the future we now live in.”
Over the course of the five shows, Lennon and Ono’s curated list of guests included pioneering psychedelic soul act The Chamber Brothers, Asian-American folk group Yellow Pearl, comedian George Carlin, Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale, Runa Uviller (author of Fathers’ Rights and Feminism: The Maternal Presumption Revisited), Youth International Party leader Jerry Rubin, improvisational group the Ace Trucking Company, and Joseph Blatchford, director of the United States Peace Corps. Good Morning America, this was not.
The most famous clip from the run of shows – one that’s gone viral again recently – features Lennon and Ono performing the 1959 classic Memphis, Tennessee, aided by the song’s writer, Chuck Berry. The musicians quickly slip into a relaxed groove, and everything is fine until Ono unleashes one of her trademark, stuttering screams. Berry, it would appear, is not prepared for this moment, and his eyes widen in shock.
Some of the circulating clips are edited to emphasise Berry’s surprise, but the reaction is genuine (watch from the 16’05” mark in the first video below, while an edited version follows). Lennon, meanwhile, bears the countenance of a man who’s just realised that he hasn’t warned Berry what’s about to transpire.
Sadly, a sound engineer appears to remove Ono from the mix as the song progresses, thus denying 40 million viewers the opportunity to hear more of her unique vocals (listen to the epic, 16-minute Mind Train, from Ono’s 1971 album Fly, for an example of her very real greatness). But, in the grand scheme of things, there were more important things to worry about, and Ono knew it.
“We wanted to do the shows to show that we are working for peace and love and also to change the world, not with violence, but with love,” she explained. “And everybody that we selected is participating in efforts to change the world.”