Woman Is the Nigger of the World

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"Woman Is the Nigger of the World"
Witnotw.jpg
Single by John Lennon and Yoko Ono as Plastic Ono Band
from the album Some Time in New York City
B-side"Sisters, O Sisters" (Yoko Ono)
Released25 April 1972 (1972-04-25)
RecordedNovember 1971–March 1972 at Record Plant East, New York City
GenreRock
Length5:15
LabelApple
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)
John Lennon and Yoko Ono as Plastic Ono Band singles chronology
"Happy Xmas (War Is Over)"
(1971)
"Woman Is the Nigger of the World"
(1972)
"Mind Games"
(1973)
Some Time in New York City track listing
16 tracks
Side one
  1. "Woman Is the Nigger of the World"
  2. "Sisters, O Sisters"
  3. "Attica State"
  4. "Born in a Prison"
  5. "New York City"
Side two
  1. "Sunday Bloody Sunday"
  2. "The Luck of the Irish"
  3. "John Sinclair"
  4. "Angela"
  5. "We're All Water"
Side three
  1. "Cold Turkey"
  2. "Don't Worry Kyoko"
Side four
  1. "Well (Baby Please Don't Go)"
  2. "Jamrag"
  3. "Scumbag"
  4. "Au"

"Woman Is the Nigger of the World" is a song by John Lennon and Yoko Ono with Elephant's Memory from their 1972 album Some Time in New York City. Released as a single in the United States, the song sparked controversy at the time due to the use of the word "nigger" in the title and its agitprop exaggerated subject matter.

Composition[edit]

The phrase "woman is the nigger of the world" was coined by Yoko Ono in an interview with Nova magazine in 1969 and quoted on the magazine's cover. Literary analysts note that the phrase owes much to Zora Neale Hurston's novel Their Eyes Were Watching God,[1] in which the protagonist Janie Crawford's grandmother says "De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see."[2][3] The song describes women's subservience to men and misogyny across all cultures.

In a 1972 interview on The Dick Cavett Show, Lennon said that Irish revolutionary James Connolly was an inspiration for the song. Lennon cited Connolly's statement that "the female worker is the slave of the slave" in explaining the pro-feminist inspiration behind the song.[4]

Release and reception[edit]

Due to its use of the racial epithet "nigger" and what was criticized as an inappropriate comparison of sexism to racism against Black Americans, most radio stations in the United States declined to play the record.[5] It was released in the U.S. on 24 April 1972[6] and peaked at number 57 on the Billboard Hot 100, based primarily on sales, making it Lennon's lowest-charting U.S. single in his lifetime.[7] The song also charted at number 93 on the Cash Box Top 100.[8]

The National Organization for Women (NOW) awarded Lennon and Ono a "Positive Image of Women" citation for the song's "strong pro-feminist statement" in August 1972.[9] Cash Box described the song as the "most powerful epic to come out of the women's movement so far."[10]

Classic Rock critic Rob Hughes rated it as Lennon's 9th best political song.[11]

Response to criticism[edit]

Through radio and television interviews, Lennon described his use of the term "nigger" as referring to any oppressed person. Apple Records placed an advertisement for the single in the 6 May issue of Billboard magazine featuring a recent statement, unrelated to the song, by prominent black Congressman Ron Dellums to demonstrate the broader use of the term. Lennon also referred to Dellums's statement during an appearance on The Dick Cavett Show, where he and Ono performed the song with the band Elephant's Memory. Because of the controversial title, ABC asked Cavett to apologise to the audience in advance for the song's content; otherwise the performance would not have been shown.[4][6] Cavett disliked giving the statement, saying in the 2010 documentary LENNONYC:

I had John and Yoko on, and the suits said: "We're gonna write a little insert just before the song for you to say." I said, "You are going to censor my guests after I get them on the show? This is ludicrous." So they wrote this thing, and I went in and taped it in order to retain the song. About 600 protests did come in. None of them about the song! All of them about, quote: "that mealy-mouthed statement you forced Dick to say before the show. Don't you believe we're grown up..." Oh, God. It was wonderful in that sense; it gave me hope for the republic.[12]

Lennon also visited the offices of Ebony and Jet magazines with comedian/activist Dick Gregory and appeared in a cover story, "Ex-Beatle Tells How Black Stars Changed His Life", in the 26 October 1972 issue of Jet.

Reissues[edit]

An edited version of the song was included on the 1975 compilation album Shaved Fish. The song was reissued as the B-side to "Stand by Me" on 4 April 1977.[13] It was also included on Working Class Hero: The Definitive Lennon and the Gimme Some Truth box set.

In popular culture[edit]

An episode of the television series Better Things, written by Pamela Adlon and Louis C.K., named "Woman is the Something of the Something", features characters discussing the saying "woman is the nigger of the world".[14]

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1972) Peak
position
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[15] 20
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Wallonia)[16] 45
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[17] 73
Denmark (IFPI)[18] 9
Italy (Musica e dischi)[19] 12
Japan (Oricon Singles Chart)[20] 38
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[21] 24
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[22] 21
US Billboard Hot 100[23] 57
US Cash Box Top 100[24] 93

Personnel[edit]

Personnel on the single and Some Time in New York City recording are:[25][26]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Chang, Jeff (2014). Who We Be: A Cultural History of Race in Post-Civil Rights America. New York: St. Martin's Press. p. 85. ISBN 978-0-312571-29-0.
  2. ^ Hurston, Zora Neale (1986). Their Eyes Were Watching God. London: Virago Press. p. 19. ISBN 9780860685241.
  3. ^ Rees, Nigel (2002). Mark My Words: Great Quotations and the Stories Behind Them. New York: Sterling Publishing. p. 418. ISBN 0-760735-32-8.
  4. ^ a b Television interview, 11 May 1972. The Dick Cavett Show: John and Yoko collection [video recording] DVD, 2005. ISBN 0-7389-3357-0.
  5. ^ Hilburn, Robert. "New Disc Controversy" Los Angeles Times 22 April 1972: B6
  6. ^ a b Miles, Barry; Badman, Keith, eds. (2001). The Beatles Diary After the Break-Up: 1970–2001 (reprint ed.). London: Music Sales Group. ISBN 978-0-7119-8307-6.
  7. ^ Duston, Anne. "Lennon, Ono 45 Controversial" Billboard 17 June 1972: 65
  8. ^ Blaney, John (2005). John Lennon: Listen to This Book (illustrated ed.). [S.l.]: Paper Jukebox. p. 326. ISBN 978-0-9544528-1-0.
  9. ^ Johnston, Laurie. "Women's Group to Observe Rights Day Here Today" New York Times 25 August 1972: 40
  10. ^ "CashBox Record Reviews" (PDF). Cash Box. 6 May 1972. p. 18. Retrieved 11 December 2021.
  11. ^ Hughes, Rob (8 December 2021). "John Lennon's 10 best political songs". Classic Rock. Louder Sound. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  12. ^ 2010 documentary LennoNYC
  13. ^ Blaney, John (2005). "1973 to 1975: The Lost Weekend Starts Here". John Lennon: Listen to This Book (illustrated ed.). [S.l.]: Paper Jukebox. p. 168. ISBN 978-0-9544528-1-0.
  14. ^ Felsenthal, Julia (30 September 2016). "Pamela Adlon on Better Things's Most Meta Episode Yet". Vogue. Retrieved 1 October 2016.
  15. ^ "John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band With Elephant's Memory And The Invisible Strings – Woman Is the Nigger of the World" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50.
  16. ^ "John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band With Elephant's Memory And The Invisible Strings – Woman Is the Nigger of the World" (in French). Ultratop 50.
  17. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 7673." RPM. Library and Archives Canada.
  18. ^ "Hitlisten". Ekstra Bladet. 28 September 1972. p. 34.
  19. ^ Spinetoli, John Joseph. Artisti In Classifica: I Singoli: 1960-1999. Milano: Musica e dischi, 2000
  20. ^ Okamoto, Satoshi (2011). Single Chart Book: Complete Edition 1968–2010 (in Japanese). Roppongi, Tokyo: Oricon Entertainment. ISBN 978-4-87131-088-8.
  21. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band With Elephant's Memory And The Invisible Strings" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40.
  22. ^ "John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band With Elephant's Memory And The Invisible Strings – Woman Is the Nigger of the World" (in Dutch). Single Top 100.
  23. ^ "John Lennon Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.
  24. ^ "Top 100 1972-06-03". Cashbox. Retrieved 5 January 2015.
  25. ^ Blaney, J. (2007). Lennon and McCartney: together alone : a critical discography of their solo work. Jawbone Press. pp. 60–62. ISBN 978-1-906002-02-2.
  26. ^ "Woman Is The N—r Of The World". The Beatles Bible. 3 August 2010. Retrieved 23 July 2020.