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"Instant Karma!" is a song written by John Lennon, and released on Apple Records in February 1970 in both the UK and US. It was released as a single and credited in the UK to "Lennon/Ono with the Plastic Ono Band". It reached the Top 5 in both the UK and US single charts, later becoming the first US single by a former Beatle to reach 1 million in sales. "Instant Karma!" was written, recorded, and released within a week. The song was performed live on Top of the Pops.


Composition and lyrics[edit source | editbeta]Edit

"Instant Karma!" was written with a similar chord structure to "Three Blind Mice"[2] and "Some Other Guy",[nb 1][4] and using the same chord progression as the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love".[5] The song's theme of karma was brought about in a conversation by Melinde Kendall, between Beatle John Lennon; his wife Yoko Ono; Ono's ex-husband, Anthony Cox; and his wife, Kendall.[2] Lennon would have previously known about karma due to the Beatles' stay in India.[2] One day Lennon awoke with a lyric in his mind and wrote a rough melody on his piano,[6] repeating the melody until he was satisfied with it.[7][8] He immediately proceeded to call producer Phil Spector: "Come over to Apple quick, I've just written a monster."[8] The song's first verse chides the song's listener and is sung sarcastically ("Get yourself together... Pretty soon you're gonna be dead.").[9] The chorus, similar to "Give Peace a Chance", is anthem-like ("We all shine on, like the moon and the stars and the sun."),[9]which would be a style used in one of Lennon's later singles, "Power to the People".[10]

Recording[edit source | editbeta]Edit

It ranks as one of the fastest-released songs in pop music history, recorded at London's Abbey Road Studios the same day it was written, and arriving in stores only ten days later.[11] 10 takes were recorded in total.[12] Lennon remarked to the press that he "wrote it for breakfast, recorded it for lunch, and we're putting it out for dinner."[13] The record was produced by Phil Spector, after Beatle George Harrison brought him to the recording session while Harrison and Spector were working on Harrrison's All Things Must Pass.[14] "Instant Karma!" was first of many Beatles-related recordings that Spector would work on that year.[15] The main musicians at the recording, Harrison, Klaus Voormann, and Alan White, were dubbed as a different variety of the Plastic Ono Band.[16] Lennon had thought the song would turn out like his previous single, "Cold Turkey"; Lennon was then surprised when Spector used his "wall of sound" method on the song.[16]

Lennon said about the recording: "we booked the studio and Phil (Spector) came in and said, 'How do you want it?' And I said, '1950s' and he said 'Right' and BOOM!. I did it about three goes, he played it back and there it was."[17] Despite Spector's "wall of sound" technique being used on the Beatles' Get Back/Let It Be tapes–against Paul McCartney's original idea–the technique was what Lennon wanted for "Instant Karma!".[14] The song uses an amount of echo smilar to 1950s Sun Records recordings.[9] Organist Billy Preston brought in a group of people from a nightclub to sing backing vocals,[18] after Lennon felt the chorus was missing something.[7] Despite Lennon and Spector disagreeing about the bass sound,[14] Lennon would work with Spector for the next few years, after being impressed with his work on "Instant Karma!".[5] The version that was released on the US single had been remixed, without Lennon being told, by Spector.[19]

Release[edit source | editbeta]Edit

"Instant Karma!, was released–under the moniker of the Plastic Ono Band–in the UK on 6 February 1970,[nb 2] and in the US on 20 February 1970.[nb 3][20] In the US, the single was, instead of being credited to the Plasic Ono Band, credited to John Ono Lennon,[20] and the song was renamed to "Instant Karma! (We All Shine On)". It is the third solo single issued by Lennon, and it peaked at number 3 on both the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the US,[21] number 2 on Canada's Singles Chart,[22] and number 5 on the UK Singles Chart.[23] It peaked at number 4 in both Austria[24] and Belgium.[25]

The single was released several weeks before the break-up of the Beatles.[20] It was backed with Ono's "Who Has Seen the Wind?", an acoustic ballad recorded atTrident Studios, as the B-side.[18] "Who Has Seen the Wind?", which Lennon has no part in the performance,[9] was later included on the Rykodisc reissue of the couple's Wedding Album.[26]

Lennon and Ono appeared on the British television program Top of the Pops to perform the song live,[11] along with Alan WhiteKlaus Voormann, B. P. Fallon and Mal Evans miming vocals.[2] Lennon sang a live vocal over the single's original backing track.[2] This was also the first appearance of any member of the Beatles since their performance on the show in 1966.[2] Two versions, known as "cue card" and "knitting", were recorded for Top of the Pops, on 11 February 1970, aired on the 12th and 19th respectively.[2] The "cue card" performance was included on The John Lennon Video Collection,[nb 4] while the "knitting" performance was remixed and extended for release on the Lennon Legend: The Very Best of John Lennon DVD.[nb 5][nb 6][2] The "knitting" version also appeared on the UK single, "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)", released on 8 December 2003.[nb 7][2]

Like the previous Lennon solo single, "Cold Turkey", the single was released with a standard green Apple label, with the words "PLAY LOUD" printed on A-side of the UK pressing,[20][26] and above and beneath the spindle hole of the US single pressing.[30] The B-side label, by contrast, carried the words "PLAY QUIET"[20] ("PLAY SOFT" in the US).[26] The single later became the first by a former Beatle to reach sales of 1 million in the US.[20] The song's first appearance on an album, albeit slightly edited in length, was the 1975 compilation Shaved Fish,[26] with emphasis put on the album's cover art of the song title's marketing figure of speech.[9] The song was also released on another compilation, The John Lennon Collection.[31] A live version was included on the album and video Live in New York City.[32] In July 1992, "Instant Karma!" was re-released as a single, this time backed with "Oh My Love", in Holland.[nb 8][2] Originally, copies of it were given away with first editions of The John Lennon Video Colllection.[2] Released in the rest of Europe, barring the UK, "Instant Karma!" gained, in addition to "Oh My Love", two more B-sides: "Mother" and "Bless You".[nb 9][2]

Critical reception[edit source | editbeta]Edit

In John Lennon: In His Own Words, author Ken Lawrence said that "many considered it his finest achievement since leaving the Beatles".[34] Lennon biographer John Blaney said that the song is an appeal "for mankind to take responsibility for its fate" and that it was "Lennon developing his own brand of egalitarianism".[2] While in The Words and Music of John Lennon, authors Ben Urish and Kenneth G. Bielen said that the song provided "a chiding though positive message for humanity."[9] Jon Wiener, in his book Come Together: John Lennon in His Time, said that Lennon had a "rich, deep voice" and that the song's sound was "irresistible."[35] Simon Leng, in his book While My Guitar Gently Weeps: The Music of George Harrison, said that the song was "full of urgency and sheer excitement."[36] Lennon biographer Philip Norman called the song "minimalist [...] but far more relaxed and humorous."[12]

Personnel[edit source | editbeta]Edit

The following musicians contributed to the recording of "Instant Karma!":[37][38]

Chart performance[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Cover versions and cultural references[edit source | editbeta]Edit

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