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"Instant Karma!"
Single by John Lennon
B-side "Who Has Seen the Wind?"
Released 6 February 1970
Format 7" vinyl
Recorded 27 January 1970
Genre Rock
Length 3:18
Label Apple Records
Writer(s) John Lennon
Producer Phil Spector
John Lennon singles chronology
"Cold Turkey"
"Instant Karma!"
"Mother" (US only, 1970); "Power to the People"
Alternate cover
French 7-inch single cover

"Instant Karma!" is John Lennon's third solo single on Apple Records. The song is one of three Lennon solo songs, along with "Imagine" and "Give Peace a Chance", in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 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 coming out only ten days later. Lennon remarked to the press, he "wrote it for breakfast, recorded it for lunch, and we're putting it out for dinner." The record was produced by Phil Spector, the first of many solo recordings by The Beatles that Spector worked on through 1970.

The track features a version of the ever-changing Plastic Ono Band — Lennon on lead vocals, acoustic guitar and electric piano, Billy Preston on grand piano, Klaus Voorman on bass guitar and backing vocals, Alan White on drums, George Harrison on electric guitar and backing vocals, Yoko Ono on backing vocals, Beatles assistant Mal Evans on chimes and handclaps, Beatles then-manager Allen Klein and a dozen or so late-night pub revellers from Hatchetts Pub on overdubbed backing vocals — it was released on 6 February 1970. Backed by Ono's "Who Has Seen the Wind?" (which Lennon produced), it peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US and number five on the UK Singles Chart. The pair appeared on Top of the Pops to perform the song live.

Harrison would later remark that he was enticed and interested by Lennon's idea of an instant single release, and this partially contributed to Harrison's willingness to participate. Harrison felt that it related in some way to his devotion to the Hindu religion (karma) and he therefore felt Lennon could use the single to promote it.

The single was released with a standard green Apple label (UK number: APPLES 1003; US number: 1818), with the words "Play Loud" printed above and beneath the spindle. (The B-side label, by contrast, carried the words "Play Soft.")

Chart performance

  • #1 – France
  • #3 – United States
  • #5 – UK

Cover versions

Cultural references

  • The title for Stephen King's The Shining comes from Lennon's line in this song, "We all shine on..." King has said he was going to call the book The Shine, before realising that "shine" has been used as a derogatory term for black people. King also uses the line at the end of The Gunslinger. Throughout King's works, "the Shine" or "the Shining" is used to refer to various telepathic abilities
  • In the "Your Move" part of the Yes song "I've Seen All Good People", written by Jon Anderson for the 1971 album The Yes Album, the background singers sing "All we are saying, is give peace a chance" (from Give Peace a Chance). Alan White, who performed drums on "Instant Karma!", went on to join Yes the following year.
  • In Tom DiCillo's 2006 movie Delirious the protagonist Toby falls in love with a beautiful singer named K'harma Leeds Alison Lohman who is repeatedly called "Instant K'harma" Her character releases a fragrance line also called "Instant K'harma".
  • An episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 featured Joel Robinson and his robot companions pitching "Instant Karma", dissolve-in-water tickets that would yield rewards or punishments dependent on the user's karma. (Tom Servo's karma was bad, and he received Michael Bolton concert tickets.) Lennon and the song were directly referenced as the inspiration for the skit.
  • Midnight Oil performed the song live on the streets of New York City on 20 May 1990 in front of the Exxon building. The live recording was released on the B'side to the Midnight Oil EP 'King of the Mountain'.
  • For its entry into the California banking market in 2009, Chase used a remake of this song, and particularly the song's chorus, in various television and radio commercials that played throughout California in 2009.
  • Season 6, episode 4 of the TV-show House M.D. is titled 'Instant Karma'. The title derives from the fact that the father of a dying child believes the cause of his illness is his bad karma.

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