JOHN LENNON – ” Instant Karma “

Posted: January 29, 2022 in MUSIC
John lennon   instant karma

The term ‘karma’ had been no stranger to John Lennon following his famous trips to India with The Beatles earlier on in the 1960s. During their travels, the group would meet Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who guided the Fab Four through sessions of transcendental meditation while teaching them the boons of spirituality and mindfulness. Among the teachings were many of the strong values held in Hinduism, including karma. Karma, for those who aren’t aware, is the ultimate sum of one’s actions, if one acts in a good manner, then they can expect good things to come to them, but if they act badly, then bad things will await them in the next life. 

On the morning of January 27th, 1970, Lennon wrote ‘Instant Karma!’ in a spur-of-the-moment idea to create a song that would bluntly teach people that they must take responsibility for their actions. The lyrics are particularly spiritual for Lennon, on a level that would be more synonymous with his friend George Harrison

Lennon would later say of the idea in a 1980 interview with David Sheff: “It just came to me. Everybody was going on about karma, especially in the Sixties. But it occurred to me that karma is instant as well as it influences your past life or your future life. There really is a reaction to what you do now. That’s what people ought to be concerned about. Also, I’m fascinated by commercials and promotion as an art form. I enjoy them. So the idea of instant karma was like the idea of instant coffee: presenting something in a new form. I just liked it.”

After writing the song at his piano in the morning, Lennon began to obsess over the “Instant” element of the title and decided that it would be fitting to get the track recorded as quickly as possible while the creative ants were still very much in his pants. He wasted no time in calling ahead to book Studio Two at EMI Studios, Abbey Road, and the session began at 7pm that evening with Phil Spector as the producer on George Harrison’s recommendation.

George Harrison remembered the day: “John phoned me up one morning in January and said, ‘I’ve written this tune and I’m going to record it tonight and have it pressed up and out tomorrow – that’s the whole point: Instant Karma, you know.’ So I was in. I said, ‘OK, I’ll see you in town.’ I was in town with Phil Spector and I said to Phil, ‘Why don’t you come to the session?’ There were just four people: John played piano, I played acoustic guitar, there was Klaus Voormann on bass, and Alan White on drums. We recorded the song and brought it out that week, mixed – instantly – by Phil Spector.”

As Lennon recalled: “It was great, ’cause I wrote it in the morning on the piano, like I said many times, and I went to the office and I sang it. I thought, ‘Hell, let’s do it,’ and we booked the studio. And Phil came in, he said, ‘How do you want it?’ I said, ‘You know, 1950 but now.’ And he said ‘Right,’ and boom, I did it in just about three goes. He played it back, and there it was. I said, ‘A bit more bass,’ that’s all. And off we went. See, Phil doesn’t fuss about with fuckin’ stereo or all the bullshit. Just ‘Did it sound alright? Let’s have it.’ It doesn’t matter whether something’s prominent or not prominent. If it sounds good to you as a layman or as a human, take it. Don’t bother whether this is like that or the quality of this. That suits me fine.”

Four stereo mixes were made in total that night at Abbey Road Studios, the final of the four was used for the UK single pressing. A fifth mix was also created by Spector a few days later in Los Angeles and was released for the US single version.

Phil Spector indeed was the perfect fit for the session with his honest and straightforward talent for mixing records. Harrison and Lennon would be so pleased with Spector’s work on the record that they would ask him to work with them on the final Beatles album “Let It Be” later that year.

In the evening of the 27th, the track was recorded in ten takes between 7pm and midnight. With the ideal of urgency prevailing, for the next three hours until 3am, the overdubs were added to give the record its final flare and texture. The overdubs consisted of three backing vocal tracks that were also hurriedly (or instantly) produced at the will of Billy Preston who gathered up anyone who happened to be loitering in the studio as well as a few people from the local nightclub.

Just two weeks after its recording, Lennon performed ‘Instant Karma!’ on the BBC’s ‘Top Of The Pops’ in a strange production that saw Yoko Ono sat to the side of Lennon, blindfolded, while he played the piano and sung. Both Lennon and Ono were wearing armbands that read ‘People for Peace’. While in one of the four filmed performances, Ono would hold up signs bearing instructions, in another, she opted instead to get on with her knitting. The imagery of the set was clearly intent on supplementing the agenda for world peace set out in the music.

‘Instant Karma!’ was released, and it wasn’t long before it peaked at number five, spending a total of nine weeks on the UK singles chart. For the B-side of the record, Yoko Ono’s song ‘Who Has Seen The Wind?’ was used; it was recorded and produced by Lennon himself in a private session.

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