John Lennon – Instant Karma

This track is so alive. Lennon’s voice as always cuts through as always and Lennon’s sense of rhythm is different as always. He wrote and recorded this song in one day. John enlisted George Harrison, Klaus Voormann, Alan White and Billy Preston to help him record the song.

The song peaked at #3 in the Billboard 100 and #5 in the UK in 1970. Phil Spector produced this track with great results. John kept it simple and Spector produced an exciting record and didn’t overproduce it. The drums are really in your face in this recording.

From Songfacts

Karma is the belief that your actions affect your future lives. Good deeds will have a positive effect while bad deeds bring negative consequences. The concept of Karma is popular in the Hindu and Buddhist religions. Lennon’s idea of “Instant Karma” refers to a more immediate concept of accountability for your actions. Basically, what comes around, goes around.

It was unusual in the Beatles era for a song to be written and put into tape the same day. Lennon told Rolling Stone in January 1971 about the recording of this song and its quick turnaround: “I wrote it in the morning on the piano. I went to the office and sang it many times. So I said ‘Hell, let’s do it,’ and we booked the studio, and Phil came in, and said, ‘How do you want it?’ I said, ‘You know, 1950’s.’ He said, ‘right,’ and boom, I did it in about three goes or something like that. I went in and he played it back and there it was. The only argument was that I said a bit more bass, that’s all; and off we went.”

In this song, Lennon addresses critics who are not on board with his message of unity and hope (“You better get yourself together…”), but according to Yoko Ono, the song is really an invitation, not a condemnation. “It’s like, ‘Let’s all be together and anybody who’s out there who’s not in this game, why don’t you join us?,'” she told Uncut in 1998. “And to say that ‘We all shine on,’ it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing, instead of saying some people are shining and some people are not. It’s a really uplifting song.”

A good indication of Lennon’s mindset at the time and inspiration for this song can be seen in the statement he and Yoko released on December 31, 1969, declaring 1970 “Year 1 AP (After Peace).” The statement read: “We believe that the last decade was the end of the old machine crumbling to pieces. And we think we can get it together, with your help. We have great hopes for the new year.”

George Harrison played guitar on this and Billy Preston played piano on this track. Preston helped out The Beatles with their Let It Be Album.

According to Philip Norman’s book John Lennon: The Life, the chorus was made up of Mal Evans, Yoko, and a small group of strangers Lennon rounded up from a West End pub called Hatchetts.

This was the first of many recordings by members of the Beatles that Phil Spector produced in 1970. He helmed three albums in the same year for them, which were Let It Be for The Beatles, All Things Must Pass for George Harrison and Plastic Ono Band for John Lennon. According to the BBC book The Record Producers, John Lennon wanted Spector to produce a single before letting him take on Let It Be. “Instant Karma” proved that Spector could work with sparse instrumentation and still produce a hit, and it won over Lennon.

In 1993, “Instant Karma” was used in a Nike commercial directed by David Fincher. Predictably, many of Lennon’s fans did not appreciate his music being used to support a major corporation, and Yoko Ono took some heat for allowing the song’s use. Yoko explained her decision in an interview with Option, where she said: “Look, even if we have something against big business, big business is going to thrive. It’s going to be there. The way I see it is: I’ve got an access there for millions of people to hear ‘Instant Karma’; and I got $800,000, which went to the United Negro College Fund. That’s what I got for that song. You have a problem with that? What’s the alternative? Big business is going to be there no matter what we do. So if it’s going to be there, why don’t we use it for positive things. To say this is wrong is the same kind of snobbery as, like, an avant-garde composer saying, ‘Ah, we should not do that commercial deal; it’s bad.’ I don’t buy that. I mean, what is sell-out? What does sell-out mean?”

Alan White played drums on this song. White was a member of the band Yes, and also worked with George Harrison, Joe Cocker, Ginger Baker and The Ventures.

The title of the Stephen King novel The Shining, which was later made into a film starring Jack Nicholson, was inspired by the refrain in this song: “We all shine on.” 

At first, King called his novel The Shine, but when he found out that “Shine” was an archaic, derogatory term used to describe African-Americans (referring to shoe-shiners), he changed it to The Shining.

Instant Karma is also the title of Mark Swartz’ 2002 novel.

In their 2009 “Blue Sky” TV commercial, Chase bank used a version of this song sung by Peter Murphy. While the “We all shine on” chorus is a sensible sentiment for a bank looking to attract new customers, invoking “Karma” at a time when large banks like Chase helped trigger a financial meltdown was a questionable call. Also puzzling was the choice of Murphy, who is the former lead singer of the Goth band Bauhaus.

The Australian rock band Midnight Oil performed this during their famous protest outside Exxon headquarters in New York City in 1990, a year after the Exxon Valdez oil disaster in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Jim Moginie, the band’s guitarist/keyboardist, told Blurt Magazine: “We played ‘Instant Karma’ for the first time, which summed up matters pretty well about the oil spill. It felt good to make the point that needed to be made about Exxon.”

Instant Karma

Instant Karma’s gonna get you
Gonna knock you right on the head
You better get yourself together
Pretty soon you’re gonna be dead
What in the world you thinking of
Laughing in the face of love
What on earth you tryin’ to do
It’s up to you, yeah you

Instant Karma’s gonna get you
Gonna look you right in the face
Better get yourself together darlin’
Join the human race
How in the world you gonna see
Laughin’ at fools like me
Who in the hell d’you think you are
A super star
Well, right you are

Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Well we all shine on
Ev’ryone come on

Instant Karma’s gonna get you
Gonna knock you off your feet
Better recognize your brothers
Ev’ryone you meet
Why in the world are we here
Surely not to live in pain and fear
Why on earth are you there
When you’re ev’rywhere
Come and get your share

Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Yeah we all shine on
Come on and on and on on on
Yeah yeah, alright, uh huh, ah

Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Yeah we all shine on
On and on and on on and on

Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Yeah we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

12 thoughts on “John Lennon – Instant Karma”

  1. Great song and a fabulous write up. I had no idea about the link to the Stephen King novel The Shining. That Yoko is a piece of work always having something to say and does she really need to be in this video knitting while wearing a sanitary napkin over her eyes?

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you… I had no idea about the Stephen King connection either.
      Yoko…don’t get me started… I know…it was always some kind of statement.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Yeah, never would have guessed it but then again, King is the , well “king” of pop culture references in his writing! ((actually that title might really go to Douglas coupland, but that doesn’t make as good a quip!))

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I went through a phase where i read him nonstop, largely on a midnight shift at a large hotel. That was over 20 years back…got a bit tired of horror and began finding his dialog very predictable. That said, much to like about him- he can spin a great yarn, his attention to detail is outstanding & he can shift genres at times to surprise people. His prolificness is also mind- boggling. How about you?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. As you know I usually read Bios but I have read IT and Christine. I loved IT…the town of Derry and how he created the place made it real…Saying that yes…he gets predictible…
        He describes things a little too much at times…
        Like…It’s not just a crack in the sidewalk…it’s back in 1940 Joe dropped his watch and it caused the crack, he went home and etc…lol… sometimes a little too much describing.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Been awhile but I think “It” and “salem’s Lot” were my favorites. The collection of short stories with the one made into “Stand by Me” (seems like the short story was called ‘The Body’) was very good too. He wrote a non-fiction book on the Red Sox I believe, big baseball fan (guess we have to forgive him being a Bosox fan given where he lives!)

        Liked by 1 person

      5. lol yes he gets a Redsox pass. I’ll have to read Salem’s Lot then.
        In IT he created a world. I’ve read it a number of times. Both the movie and mini series are ok…but I wish they would have made a 20 or so part HBO series on IT. It’s too deep to get in two movies.
        I’ll look for the short stories also…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. One of my favorites by John. What a pc o…. Yoko is, to rationalize why she sold the song out to the corporations. She could have donated that amount of the royalties from The Beatles songs without batting an eye. I didn’t know what that was on her head. Vile!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yep she is one of a kind…no doubt. She always had to make some kind of statement no matter what…what this is I have no clue. She was/is out there

      Liked by 2 people

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