It was 43 years ago today that “Instant Karma! (We All Shine On)” sprang from John Lennon’s head fully formed.
John Lennon wrote and recorded “Instant Karma!” in a single day. He famously stated “I wrote it for breakfast, recorded it for lunch, and we’re putting it out for dinner.” The single, which bore the legend “PLAY LOUD,” came out ten days after the recording session; practically no other pop song has as short a gestation period.
The remarkable turnaround for this song was based partially on the fortuitous presence of Phil Spector at EMI studios. The two men bumped into one another in the studio. Lennon and the band rehearsed it a few times, and Spector put his patented “Wall of Sound” production on it, and that, my friends, is how you make a hit.
This was on January 27 of 1970, in the short period between the last ever Beatles session and their official breakup. In the previous year, the Beatles had recorded Let It Be and Abbey Road, and John had recorded and released “Give Peace a Chance” and “Cold Turkey.” “Instant Karma!” was the kicker to this year of incredible productivity.
I love “Instant Karma!” because it features all of John’s insightfulness with little of his off-putting eccentricity. It’s a simple song, and it rocks . They didn’t cover up any of the multiple flub-ups in the recording (you can hear a particularly onerous bass gaffe right at the 1:00 mark), and they didn’t even bother to put a solo in the eight bars at the end of the song where there should clearly be a solo of some sort.
Check out the youtube video below, on which John and the band mime along with the song for British television. You’ve got Yoko Ono knitting blindfolded, Klaus Voormann playing one of the two (!) basses, Mal Evans (former Beatles road manager) playing tambourine for some reason, a drummer, and John. John shaved his head a week before writing and recording “Instant Karma!”; the length of his hair is another indication of just how instant this song was.
But wait! There’s more! You should not be surprised to learn that this song has a literary connection. Stephen King chose his title for The Shining from this song’s refrain that “we all shine on.” And you should read The Shining, because it’s really, really scary. I used to read it once a year to remind myself how terrifying a book can be, and a little bit of that creepiness has seeped its way into the wide-open spaces of this song.
“John Lennon Writes and Records ‘Instant Karma’ in a Single Day.” This Day in History:
History. January 27. Web. 27 January 2013