"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 | edit]Edit
"Instant Karma!" was written with a similar chord structure to "Three Blind Mice" and "Some Other Guy",[nb 1] and using the same chord progression as the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love". 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. Lennon would have previously known about karma due to the Beatles' stay in India. One day Lennon awoke with a lyric in his mind and wrote a rough melody on his piano, repeating the melody until he was satisfied with it. He immediately proceeded to call producer Phil Spector: "Come over to Apple quick, I've just written a monster." The song's first verse chides the song's listener and is sung sarcastically ("Get yourself together... Pretty soon you're gonna be dead."). The chorus, similar to "Give Peace a Chance", is anthem-like ("We all shine on, like the moon and the stars and the sun."),which would be a style used in one of Lennon's later singles, "Power to the People".
Recording[edit source | edit]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. 10 takes were recorded in total. Lennon remarked to the press that he "wrote it for breakfast, recorded it for lunch, and we're putting it out for dinner." 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. "Instant Karma!" was first of many Beatles-related recordings that Spector would work on that year. The main musicians at the recording, Harrison, Klaus Voormann, and Alan White, were dubbed as a different variety of the Plastic Ono Band. 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.
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." 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!". The song uses an amount of echo smilar to 1950s Sun Records recordings. Organist Billy Preston brought in a group of people from a nightclub to sing backing vocals, after Lennon felt the chorus was missing something. Despite Lennon and Spector disagreeing about the bass sound, Lennon would work with Spector for the next few years, after being impressed with his work on "Instant Karma!". The version that was released on the US single had been remixed, without Lennon being told, by Spector.
Release[edit source | edit]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] In the US, the single was, instead of being credited to the Plasic Ono Band, credited to John Ono Lennon, 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, number 2 on Canada's Singles Chart, and number 5 on the UK Singles Chart. It peaked at number 4 in both Austria and Belgium.
The single was released several weeks before the break-up of the Beatles. It was backed with Ono's "Who Has Seen the Wind?", an acoustic ballad recorded atTrident Studios, as the B-side. "Who Has Seen the Wind?", which Lennon has no part in the performance, was later included on the Rykodisc reissue of the couple's Wedding Album.
Lennon and Ono appeared on the British television program Top of the Pops to perform the song live, along with Alan White, Klaus Voormann, B. P. Fallon and Mal Evans miming vocals. Lennon sang a live vocal over the single's original backing track. This was also the first appearance of any member of the Beatles since their performance on the show in 1966. 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. 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] The "knitting" version also appeared on the UK single, "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)", released on 8 December 2003.[nb 7]
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, and above and beneath the spindle hole of the US single pressing. The B-side label, by contrast, carried the words "PLAY QUIET" ("PLAY SOFT" in the US). The single later became the first by a former Beatle to reach sales of 1 million in the US. The song's first appearance on an album, albeit slightly edited in length, was the 1975 compilation Shaved Fish, with emphasis put on the album's cover art of the song title's marketing figure of speech. The song was also released on another compilation, The John Lennon Collection. A live version was included on the album and video Live in New York City. In July 1992, "Instant Karma!" was re-released as a single, this time backed with "Oh My Love", in Holland.[nb 8] Originally, copies of it were given away with first editions of The John Lennon Video Colllection. 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]
Critical reception[edit source | edit]Edit
In John Lennon: In His Own Words, author Ken Lawrence said that "many considered it his finest achievement since leaving the Beatles". 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". 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." 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." 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." Lennon biographer Philip Norman called the song "minimalist [...] but far more relaxed and humorous."
Personnel[edit source | edit]Edit
- John Lennon – lead vocal, acoustic guitar, electric piano
- George Harrison – lead guitar, piano, backing vocal
- Klaus Voormann – bass guitar, electric piano, backing vocal
- Alan White – drums, piano, backing vocal
- Billy Preston – organ, backing vocal
- Yoko Ono – backing vocal
- Mal Evans – chimes, handclaps, backing vocal
- Phil Spector – producer
- Allen Klein and several dozen revellers from London's Hatchett Club – overdubbed backing vocals
Chart performance[edit source | edit]Edit
- Number 6 – Australia Kent Music Report
- Number 4 – Austria Ö3 Austria Top 40
- Number 4 – Belgium Ultratop
- Number 2 – Canada RPM Singles Chart
- Number 7 – German Media Control Charts
- Number 58 – Japan Oricon Singles Chart
- Number 7 – Netherlands MegaCharts
- Number 9 – Norway VG-lista
- Number 31 – Switzerland Singles Top 75
- Number 5 – UK Singles Chart
- Number 3 – US Billboard Hot 100
- Number 3 – US Cashbox Top 100
Cover versions and cultural references[edit source | edit]Edit
- The song has been covered by Toad the Wet Sprocket, Paul Weller, Duran Duran, U2, Green Day, and Tokio Hotel.
- The title for Stephen King's horror novel The Shining comes from Lennon's line in this song, "We all shine on ..." King said he was going to call the book The Shine, before realising that "shine" has been used as a derogatory term for black people.
- Ono later let the footwear and apparel company Nike use "Instant Karma" in an advert.
- Instant Karma Records was named after the song.
- The Flaming Lips recorded a song called "I Don't Understand Karma" as a reply to "Instant Karma!".