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Instant Karma

by

John Lennon



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

Karma is the belief that your actions effect 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.
John Lennon wrote and recorded this song in one day, which was either January 26 or 27, 1970, depending on the source. 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 turn around: "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."
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.
In 2007 U2, Christina Aguilera, R.E.M. and Black Eyed Peas all contributed to an album of John Lennon cover songs called Instant Karma.
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. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
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?"
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 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." Instant Karma is also the title of Mark Swartz' 2002 novel.
John Lennon
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Comments (52):

On February 12th 1970, a video of John Lennon performing "Instant Karma (We All Shine On)" was aired on the BBC-TV program 'Top of the Pops' (it was taped the day before)...
Ten days later on February 22nd it entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #65; and on March 22nd it peaked at #3 (for 3 weeks) and spent 13 weeks on the Top 100 (for 8 of those 13 weeks it was on the Top 10)...
For its first two weeks at #3, the #2 record was "Let It Be" by the Beatles...
It reached #2 on the Canadian RPM Singles chart and #6 on the Australian Kent Music chart...
R.I.P. Mr. Lennon (1940 - 1980).
- Barry, Sauquoit, NY
Lennon shaved his head and declared 1970 to be 'Year One' and then recorded this. Seems like the Rothschilds weren't impressed. Nothing has changed.
- Jim, West Palm Beach, FL
I was just hearing a song from Yes, "I've Seen All Good People" (from The Yes Album). There are two references for John Lennon in this song: the verse "Send an instant karma to me" and backing vocals singing "All we are saying is give peace a chance".
- Carlos Eduardo, Santa Clara, CA
If you listen to the beat and Bass you will be interested to note that John's old friend from the Hamburg days Klaus Voorman plays Bass on this track (Instant Karma)
- Gary, Logan, Australia
What can't John Lennon do? He's amazing.
- Layton, Paris, TX
Hmmm, speaking of instant karma, answer this question: Which Beatle got shot and which Beatle got knighted?
- Pat, Los Angeles, CA
I remember the 45 record said to "play Loud" on this song....the flip side said to "play soft" as it was Yoko singing something about the wind....
- Rick, Belfast, ME
This song is directed at Paul. John considered his songs fluff (Laughing in the face of love). Who in the hell do you think you are, a superstar, well alright you are! We ALL(Beatles) shine on. Like the moon(John, Mr. Moonlight) and the Stars(Ringo Starr) and the Sun(George-Here comes the sun). It is a typically brilliant John song. Sounding like he was writing about some sort of cosmic, peace loving concept when he was actually taking a pot shot at Paul.
- Bob, New York, NY
John was completly right, karma wil get you, example my friend was mean to me, he fell off his seat at lunch right after I said "Instant Karmas gonna get you!"
- Breanna, Henderson, NV
Thought this song was about an unfortunate meeting I had with John Lennon in the Sand Piper bar on Grand Bahama Island The Bahamas July 10, 1973 (I know the exact day as it was the Bahamas Independence day) I did not recognize him at the time but found out later who it was.
I was happy and a little tipsy . John Lennon had come into the Sandpiper Bar at 2am and was dancing (he was not a good dancer and a little tips as well).
He thought wrongly that I was laughing at him and came up to me with the sign of the cross made with two fingers (the hexing sign) he was mouthing the words "Who do you think you are" I found out later the song was written 3 years before . I guess I did not inspire it however I might have motivated John to do what he did, by making him angry by mistake.
Pity as I would have enjoyed having a bear with him instaed.
- John, Vancouver, BC
I have the John Lennon Converse:)
- Claire, Miller's, MD
Love to here this on the My Name is Earl show - about a man righting all the wrongs in his life - but I doubt it will get approval... :)
- Linc, Beaumont, TX
Pauls songs were not 'fluff' thats utter bull. paul was the force and brains behind the revolution of music. and he likes to write fun songs as well as serious ones. yeah johns had a deeper meaning of peace but so did pauls, but not every one had to be all serious, and paul just likes to keep his opinions and beliefs to himself. his political views dont have to be put into a song to be as relevant
- Catherine, Essex, United Kingdom
He was just trying to put out a message of being a good person because life can be short. He did it in a cool,artistic,edgey way. That was what he did for a living and I admire it because it's smart, rocks your socks and makes most feel better about whatever.
- jeff, phoenix, AZ
I always liked it. During school i said to this mean chick," instant karma's gonna get you! its gonna get you rite in the face!" she walked away in a puff and i started laughing. Thanks john :)
- Tay, San Diego, CA
John and paul may have been fighting at this time but the RAM album didn't come out until 1971. I read that the song on RAM 'too many people' really miffed off John Lennon cuz it mentions Yoko in a bad light. Anyway, in retrospect, it sounds like two relatively young songwriters with overactive Egos, though their music is great.
- bill, arlington heights,il, IL
Lennon is the man no question, i like the part when he just makes a wierd noise, my favorite part of the song, spread the word of mr. lennon what he was trying to say.


PEACE.
- Cody, Janesville , WI
the song 'instant karma' didn't really mean much to me at the time . it wasn't untill i seen the song on television what this song really meant & was all about. it was a peace movement song to me. i acually saw the origiginal first released in 1970 with john lennon wearing long hair. thank you for this oppitunity & very appriciated.
- peter, clare. sth. aust. australia., Australia
lol instant karma is gonna get ya, John was vegetarian from 1966 till he died, he knew meat eating is the easiest way to get bad karma, this was ignored by listeners of this song x
- Rasa Bihari Das, Tamworth, UK, England
The song was credited to Lennon-McCartney because Lennon was contractually obliged to do this. Give Peace A Chance is the same. MCCartney had nothing to do with either song.
- kevin, london, England
Have to take issue with this: "Lennon used his fame to try to make the world a better place; his songs had deep meaning. Paul uses his to make money; his songs are "fluff"
John wrote "political" music from 69 to 72 only. Once Sometime in New York City bombed and it stopped selling records he dropped it like a hot potato.John tried to go back to writing hits but couldn't. Each album after gets progressively worse until the dreadful fullstop of Rock'n'Roll. Double Fantasy is as inane and irrelevant as any of McCartney's musical transgressions.
- kevin, london, England
I believe that on the original recording of this song, it was credited to Lennon/McCartney because McCartney helped write a small part of it like all Beatles songs. Aftwards the writing credit was changed. At least I think... I read it somewhere...
- Domenico, Wenham, MA
I agree (with Mike, Chicago, IA); it seems the lyrics are directed at Paul. John & Yoko were inseparable. Yoko's presence in the studio was resented by the others, and no doubt, John felt that the couple was being laughed at ("...laughing in the face of love..."). John Lennon used his fame to try to make the world a better place; his songs had deep meaning. Paul uses his to make money; his songs are "fluff". (Just compare their "Christmas" songs.)
- Jim, Houston, TX
thereĀ“s a cover by U2 on this song in the album Instant Karma: The Campaign to Save Darfur.
- ariana, lima, Peru
This song was featured in a Nike commercial circa 1992. That commercial actually made me listen to John Lennon and Beatle songs again, as opposed to going out at buying Nike gear, as I imagine the commercial was intended.
- Lefty_2ndbaseman, Chicago, IL
err, I heard Paul McCartney played piano on this in...but I doubt that is true - what I read said Paul played on the piano with John in 1968 or something when he was first working on the song
- joey, Nowhere Land, CA
I love this song! John's voice sounded great!
- Jonathon, Clermont, FL
WOW! What a great song by mr. Lennon, and in my opinion this is the song that starts the lennon-mccartney war. In this song John says that Karma will get paul for breaking up the beatles. He also says that even though they will not be together they will still shine on in their solo carrers.
- Zack, Dublin, OH
There is a video of a this song from the year it was released.
John is playing electric piano, Klaus Voorman is playing bass, and I believe Jim Keltner on drums. They are at a party of some kind, with some girls dancing from what I remember, but I believe the recording from the video is the actual basic track of the record - meaning that it was a live performance being recorded, not lip-synching. Can anyone else confirm this?
- DREW, MOUNT LAUREL, NJ
i love where it says 'who do you think you are? a superstar? well right you are!'
- NAME, nowhere, CO
Argentines have Che Guvara, Cubans Fidel Castro,Rasta's have Marley and some people have Martin Luther King, Us WORKING CLASS English people have John. RIP my friend, you are and always will be an icon to us all.
- gary, chester, England
Have you guys read the theory that it was actually Stephen King who killed John Lennon? I'm not saying I agree with Steve Lightfoot (the author of the book that presented this theory), but just like the Paul is Dead hoax, it gives good points. This just adds fuel to that fire. You don't have to buy this guy's book, because you can basically get the gist of it by exploring the website. http://www.lennonmurdertruth.com/
- Loony Moony Lupin, Virginia
To Patrick in CA: The following is from the Wikipedia entry for the novel "The Shining": "The title came from the John Lennon song 'Instant Karma!'. In the song is the line 'We all shine on'. King wanted to call the book 'The Shine' but changed it when he realized that 'shine' was a derogatory name for black people." Stephen King is a huge music fan and makes heavy use of song lyrics in all his books.
- Chris, Portland, OR
Yea Leon, you are incorrect lol. Alan White played drums on this number.
- Kevin Murphy, Ridgewood, NJ
Didn't Ringo play drums on this as well? I might be incorrect...
- Leon, Waterbury, CT
Ivonne, while this is a great song, and while john lennon or whomever may have inspired alicia keys, the idea of karma is not new. she could've gotten the inspiration for that song from anywhere, especially since her song is more situational and lennon applies the term "instant karma" in a broader sense.
- Cristin, Boston, MA
Instant Karma is awesome. Song is great, idea I totally believe. What could go wrong?
- Johnny, Los Angeles, CA
Instant Karma shines on as one of John Lennon's early solo successes.
- Howard, St. Louis Park, MN
In my opinion, this is the best song that has ever been done from Lennon
- Dan, Grand Isle, ME
Yes your 100% right! Johnn Lennon got the idea of "Instant Karma" from the Book "The Shining" even though Steven King wrote "The Shining" in
1977 and Lennon wrote and released "Instant Karma" in 1970 little quick fact for you guys.

P.S. sorry if i sounded like a jerk thats just how I talk

GO JOHNNY CASH I MISS YOU!!!!!!!!
- Giovanni, Denver, CO
It was John Lennon who wanted to work with Phil Spector, it's also John Lennon who wanted Phil Spector to do "Let it be". I think he considered Phil Spector as the best producer, very easy to understand, after all Spector is the BEST.
- Teresa, Mechelen, Belgium
No one here has yet stated the fact what a great song this is!!!!!!!!!! It's so good! I loved it the first time I heard it. Lennon lives on!!!!!
- olivia, Perth, Australia
Actually the whole stephen king thing was mixed up. The Shining in the book, is the ability to read minds and communicate telepathically. Okay? So it doesn't really have anything to do with karma. Although, in the movie Riding the Bullet, taken from the stephen king short story, this song is used as a reference to an event in the movie. (Alan misses a John Lennon concert to be with his mother) And also the story is themed around death. So if you really want to talk about this song and stephen king, you want to talk about Riding the Bullet. Not the Shining.
- Patrick, Sutter Creek, CA
Does anyone think these lyrics are directed at McCartney? "Join the human race". "Who do you think you are? A superstar. Well alright you are"

It sounds a bit angry and he was just that at McCartney due to the songs on the Ram LP.
- Mike, Chicago, IA
Orginally the title of the Stephen King novel was "The Shine" but then King found out that "Shine" is a racist term for black people so he changed it to "The Shining".
- Tony, Roanoke, VA
Instant Karma is mentioned in Yes' I've seen all good people, which is a song about peace. It also mentions give peace a chance in the background at about the 3 minute mark, and The yes album came out the same year as Imagine by John Lennon
- sean, newmarket, Canada
Interesting fact. The "choir" is not a choir at all but a group of patrons from a pub nearby Abbey Road that Allen Klein rounded up on the spot.
- Sam, Chicago, IL
This was Phil Spector's "audition". He wanted to work with the Beatles and John told him that he could produce this song and if he - John - liked it, Spector could re-mix the Beatles' "Get Back/Let It Be" session tracks that had been shelved since early 1969.
- Ken, Louisville, KY
John Lennon belived that music should be spontanius. This song was accualy written and recorded in one day and released 6 latter. And he saw that it was good.
- john, shelby, NV
The following are lines from Alicia Keys's "Karma" : "What goes around, comes around, what goes up, must come down." It seems as if Alicia was truly inspired by John Lennon's "Instant Karma".
- Ivonne, Los Angeles, CA
What Paulo is saying makes sense...probably the book "The Shining" by Stephen King takes its title from "We all shine on".
- Billy, Pittsburgh, PA
I'm confused by that last blurb: The title of the Jack Nicholson film The Shining was inspired by the refrain in Instant Karma "We all shine on." Huh? The movie is based on the book by Stephen King. Maybe THAT's inspired by the refrain in "Instant Karma"?
- Paulo, New York, NY
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