With the exception of "AOS", a 1968 live recording, the entire album was recorded in one afternoon in October 1970 during the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band sessions at Ascot Sound Studios and Abbey Road Studios, using the same musicians and production team. Also recorded on this day were "Don't Worry Kyoko (Mummy's Only Looking for Her Hand in the Snow)" which ended up on the next album Fly, and "Between the Takes" which was released on Fly's 1998 CD reissue. "Greenfield Morning I Pushed an Empty Baby Carriage All Over the City" was based around a sample from a discarded tape of George Harrison playing a sitar and a Ringo Starr drum break with an added echo effect plus Ono's vocals with a lyric referencing a miscarriage. Ono's vocalisations on tracks such as "Why" and "Why Not" mixed hetai, a Japanese vocal technique from kabuki theatre, with modern rock 'n roll and raw aggression influenced by the then-popular primal therapy that Lennon and Ono had been undertaking. According to Ono, the recording engineers were in the habit of turning off the recording equipment when she began to perform-- which is why, at the end of "Why", Lennon can be heard asking "Did you get that?".
Initially on Apple Records, through EMI, Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band was released to considerable critical disdain in 1970, at a time when Ono was being widely blamed, albeit unfairly, for disbanding The Beatles. Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band failed to chart in the UK but reached number 182 in the US. Notable exceptions were the estimations of Billboard who called it 'visionary' and critic Lester Bangs who supported it in Rolling Stone. More recently, the album has been credited (like those of The Velvet Underground) with having an influence, particularly on musicians, grossly disproportionate to its sales and visibility. Critic David Browne of Entertainment Weekly has credited the album with "launching a hundred or more female alternative rockers, like Kate Pierson & Cindy Wilson of the B-52s to current thrashers like L7 and Courtney Love of Hole".
The covers of Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band and John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band albums are nearly identical; Lennon pointed out the difference in their 1980 Playboy interview ("In Yoko's, she's leaning back on me; in mine, I'm leaning on her"). The photos were taken with a cheap Instamatic camera on the grounds of Tittenhurst Park (their home at the time) by actor Daniel Richter (as listed in the album's credits), who was working as their assistant.
The album was reissued on CD by Rykodisc in 1997 with three bonus tracks from the era ("Open Your Box", "Something More Abstract" and "The South Wind") and an "LP replica" special edition was issued by V2 Records in Japan in 2007.