Jun 112011

Following up on the recent Phil Spector thread… I will posit this:

Instant Karma” is TOTALLY overrated.

The reasons: the drum sound is horrible and sloppy, like they couldn’t get drums but decided to bang on big cardboard boxes. Lennon’s Elvis-like singing, which is a big smirk. The lame piano playing, as if Billy Preston forgot the soul that made him Billy Preston. Harrison on guitar? Is the guitar plugged in? And the overall production and playing is sloppy — it sounds like a demo, and not a demo tinged with wonder (The Modern Lovers come to mind) but a demo they were obviously too high to do another take on. You can actually hear them lagging behind and trying to catch up. And did I mention the drumming, which has some of the worst — THE WORST — fills in the known musical world.

I know the whole “written for breakfast, put out for dinner” mystique — but it’s bad. And don’t get me started on the song itself: bumper sticker lyrics with no melody. The song goes nowhere except to get to the big chorus — oh wow, the manager is singing along too. And the hand claps — the lame hand claps.

If anyone but Lennon had put this out, it would never have seen the light of day. It’s trite ’70s coked-up crap.

Thank you and goodnight.


  27 Responses to “Will this get me kicked out of the Hall?”

  1. tonyola

    I like “Instant Karma”. It’s spirited, thrilling, and nervy – Lennon at his simple, sloganeering best. I’d rather listen to it than “Imagine” (lugubrious and plodding), “Don’t Let Me Down” (aimless, grooveless, and sloppy – it really sounds like a demo), or “Power to the People” (unintentional self-parody).

  2. For years the drums – both in sound and execution (possibly made to sound worse executed thanks to the heavy slapback) – bugged me, but I’ve since loved the song for its rocking (as in how we rock a baby), comforting qualities, which is something Lennon specializes in as far as my psyche is concerned. Plus, I love it when Lennon slips into his Elvis voice. No harm, no foul on some of those bad fills; I’ll save my criticisms along those lines for Rick Buckler.

  3. Yeah. You may be stuck on an island on this one, Mac. I love Instant Karma. The piano part is cool. Love his singing on it. The “we all shine on” chorus is great. I find most of Lennon’s slogans hit just the right mark of universality without being trite. It’s a fine line as they say. All you need is love, nothing’s gonna change my world, give peace a chance, we all shine on… I love them all.

  4. Power to the People . . . I’ll give you . . . but I love Imagine. Put a scratched, but listenable, copy that a friend’s brother had on when Howard Cosell broke the news . . . still very painful.

  5. tonyola

    “Imagine” is a fine song that has earned its anthem status. It’s good for quiet, reflective moods. It’s just that I’ve heard it 1,476,398 times and now it floats through my head without making much contact. “Instant Karma” can still set my head nodding and get me out of the chair.

  6. “Ouch!”, “Love Life”, “Cheese & Onions”, “Piggy In The Middle” (well, the “Do a poo poo!” line, anyway), “The Knicker Elastic King” …the list is endless, really.

  7. cherguevara

    In some of the podcasts that went long with the Lennon NYC documentary a while back…

    (Found here: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/episodes/lennonyc/filmmaker-interview-and-podcast-extra/1703/ )

    …a few people make comments that the records could’ve been better if Lennon only cared to fix a few things, to go a little slower and take the time to get it sounding right and played right. But I guess once you’ve played Ob-La-Di-Ob-La-Da ten billion times to get the recording right, you’re going to be more inclined to just bang out the tunes and put it out warts and all. Having said that, I like Instant Karma.

    I’ve heard Imagine ten billion times and I instinctively turn it off, though I realize now that in doing this I actually deprive my children the opportunity to hear the song, and other songs that have reached “old saw” status.

    I’m not sure what you’d have to do to get kicked out of the hall. But I can say that The Move owe their entire career to Bread. David Gates’ songwriting is so much better than Roy Wood’s.

  8. trigmogigmo

    “Cheese and Onions” nails the sonic vibe so perfectly it is just beautiful. Do I have to spell it out? … Funny!

  9. On the subject of bad drum sounds – Jeff Lynne is a serial offender. His default setting has the tonal thud of a bucket being struck with a sausage, a sound that makes any back-beat sound like a stodgy plod. Why did they ever let him near The Threetles Anthology newies..

  10. mockcarr

    I got your back Machinery.

    I love Lennon’s voice, but he is trying to thwart my appreciation in this song.

    I hate the production. The rushed verses irritate me. The drums suck. The bass can’t decide which part of the beat to be on or if it even matters. The only thing I really like is the fade out.

    I agree that Power to the People is worse as a Lennon single, but this sounds like Nobody Told Me There’d Be Days Like These with reverb and messy playing.

  11. hrrundivbakshi

    I think most solo Lennon is overrated. Speaking for myself, though I can take or leave this song, I actually *like* the weird, sloppy, slap-back echo drums. But then I’m a jaded music nerd who has a hard time getting a rock boner these days.

  12. I actually *like* the weird, sloppy, slap-back echo drums.


  13. tonyola

    Don’t forget National Lampoon’s far nastier Lennon parody – “Magical Misery Tour”.


  14. 2000 Man

    I usually like sloppy, lo-fi stuff, but I’m with ya, machinery. I don’t own any Lennon solo material anymore, because I think it just sucks. Imagine is a nice song, but I hardly play 45’s so I can live with the eight times a day I can listen to it on Oldies radio. People bitch about McCartney’s solo output, but Band on the Run is better than everything the other three did combined.

  15. machinery

    you complete me m.carr.

  16. machinery

    I will give props to that first plastic ono band album. I like the klaus voorman bass.

  17. Will this get me kicked out of the hall? “Cold Turkey” is what the Plastic Ono Band album should’ve sounded like. That’s right, I think that album needed Eric Clapton.

  18. ladymisskirroyale


  19. ladymisskirroyale

    I like this song. But I agree, the production doesn’t work with his voice. John is going for a big stadium sound but the band sounds more like a cheap honky-tonk band. I want a richer, T-Rex sound to go with his voice.

    I’m surprised no one has commented on the white elephant in the living room, Yoko. What the hell is she doing in this video? Knitting? What is she wearing? A blindfold? A Kotex visor? Is this some performance art piece? If so, the juxtaposition with John’s singing is making me really cranky.

  20. Production doesn’t change my opinion of most solo Lennon. I’m still fond of “Instant Karma” possibly since Shaved Fish was an early album I remember. “70’s coked-up crap” would be “Power to the People” or “Whatever Gets You Through the Night”.

    Can any drummers confirm that the numerous mini drum fills on “Instant Karma” are a standard early exercise when practicing on a drum pad?

  21. That’s Tony Hendra, who went on to play Spinal Tap manager, Ian Faith, doing Lennon on “Magical Misery Tour”. In fact, I think the time he spent working on The National Lampoon Radio Hour was where he first hooked up with Christopher Guest – also a contributor.


  23. alexmagic

    I’m several days late on this, but I love Instant Karma and it holds up for me even after having heard it countless times. I agree with those who have said it’s Lennon displaying his skill to really sell a simple slogan, making it effective because he sounds like he means it. He was probably also already losing his vocal fastball by this point, but he uses it in exactly the right way here, and just nails the “Why in the world are we here? Surely not to live in pain or fear” part. I don’t think anybody else could make that work like he did.

    The production’s not great, but I love the piano at the beginning, and I think the drum fills are really endearing, especially that one really lopsided one that comes spilling out in the middle of the song. It just feels like he suddenly got caught up in buying into John’s gusto and decided “screw it, I’m going for one here!”

    Imagine is definitely the more “significant” song, but Instant Karma is the one that works best for me as an example of Lennon’s ability to promote a simple, commendable idea and really execute it in a song that people could rally around in a way that still plays great on the radio.

  24. hrrundivbakshi

    I’d also like to give it up for Lennon’s delivery of the line:

    “Who in the hell do you think you are? A superstar?! Well right you are!”

    I don’t even know what that’s supposed to mean, but it’s one of those rare transcendant moments in rock singing-dom where the delivery imbues something with an, I dunno, implicit meaning, or something. I’m sure Mwall or Drjohn could explain in academic terms what I mean here. It’s like Lennon’s delivery makes it easy for me to pump my fist and ascribe meaning to the line — MY meaning — and that’s okay. It’s a very empowering thing, both in the result it achieves for *this* listener — and in the words sung. Me likey!

  25. alexmagic

    Yeah, I think that part is the real peak, and the best example of Lennon doing something that nobody else in rock ever really could, at least not to that extent. Knittin’ Yoko aside, Instant Karma feels like him realizing the bed-in stuff was nice, but that he could also sell the same ideas with a little more fire that would inspire that fist pump reaction.

    Also, I remain of the opinion that the Instant Karma clip-era was Lennon’s best look. The buzz cut kind of fits that “get out of bed and go to work” vibe of the song. It didn’t really end up going anywhere for him, but I think it’s Lennon looking his coolest.

  26. misterioso

    Perhaps in the spirit of better late than never, I want to add to what I hope is the consensus that Instant Karma is great and I second alexmagic’s views. In fact, I heard the song last week and found myself thinking, as I often do, that it may be the best Lennon solo song. It is a song that for me sums up everything that is great about Lennon: assertive, funny, relentlessly forward looking, empathetic, and catchy as hell. And I have always thought the drum fills are supposed to be a little clunky.

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