I think I begged my first grade school teacher to take me to the record store to get this single. Funnily enough I was unaware at the time that John had shaved his head. At the beginning of that year he and Yoko was vacationing in Aalborg, Denmark to be with Yoko’s daughter Kyoko, which was where the young girl was living with Yoko’s second husband Tony Cox and his new wife Melinde.
For reasons unknown, possibly to keep up the profile with their peace campaign, John and Yoko cropped their hair the shortest it’d ever be in John’s adult life. On February 4th, 1970, they swapped their shorn locks for a pair of Muhammed Ali’s boxing shorts, which they said they intended to auction off to raise money for peace. That’s the crew cut you’ll see in their Top of the Pops gig.
John was mostly quiescent as far as live appearances go in 1970. That’s okay, he’d make up for it in 1971. He was continuing the peace campaign he and Yoko had begun at the Amsterdam bed-in the year before. He was also undergoing primal scream therapy with Dr. Janovich. This would inevitably led to the quality and intensity of his masterpiece John Lennon Plastic Ono Band.
“Instant Karma” was recorded in a single night, January 27, 1970, in a single nine-hour session. The producer was Phil Spector, and this led to a long-standing working relationship between him and John and George as well. This would also lead to Spector invitation to remix the Let It Be album.
“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.”
-from Lennon Remembers, Jann S. Wenner
John recruited George Harrison on lead guitar, Billy Preston on electric piano, Alan White driving the thundering drums & Klaus Voorman as bass man. John provided acoustic guitar on the single. The mass chorale and handclaps closing the single was provided by Yoko and the patrons from Hatchetts, a local London nightclub.
On Feb. 11 1970, the Plastic Ono Band taped two versions of “Instant Karma” for an appearance on the BBC program Top of the Pops, for later broadcast on Feb. 12 and 19th, respectively. Technically , this was not a live performance apart from the actual appearance of the band. Actually it wasn’t even the same band.
John sang a new vocal on top of a single-track vocal and instrumentation from the January 27th EMI recording session. The prime difference between the two versions being that in one Yoko would be seen knitting, while in the second she was holding cue cards. John sat in and sang behind piano while Yoko did her things, blindfolded with a sanitary towel, beside it. Neither George nor Preston were present. BBC DJ BP Fallon mimicked sitting in on bass, Mal Evans in a business suit was on tambourine, along with actual bass player Klaus Voorman. The first version with Yoko knitting was broadcast Feb. 11 while the second was transmitted on Feb. 19th, the following week.
For the cue card performance John bangs on the piano in a denim jacket with a “People For Peace” band wrapped on arm while go-go dancers frolic in the background. (By the way, the cards say ‘smile’, ‘peace’, ‘love’ ‘hope’ and ‘breathe’. With reverb over the microphone he delivers a very intense vocal, gritting his teeth for the final verses while Klaus and BP mime on bass.
Available on: It’s hard NOT to find this on home video. The ‘cue card’ version appeared on The John Lennon Video Collection VHS from October 1992. The ‘knitting’ performance shows up most on DVD, first on Lennon Legend: The Very Best of John Lennon, a 2003 set accompanying the CD of the same name. Apparently for this collection, they changed the original audio track, replacing the live vocal with the clean studio track. This version was also released on Power to the People: the Hits, the CD/DVD Experience Edition from 2010.
Beatles Bible Instant Karma link:
“We got this phone call on a Friday night that there was a rock ‘n’ roll revival show in Toronto with a 100,000 audience, or whatever it was, and that Chuck was going to be there and Jerry Lee and all the great rockers that were still living, and Bo Diddly, and supposedly the Doors were top of the bill. They were inviting us as king and queen to preside over it, not play–but I didn’t hear that bit. I said, “Just give me time to get a band together,” and we went the next morning.”
–John Lennon, 1969
Well, almost. Toronto promoter John Brower was the man who made this historic phone call. But while everyone else had convened at Leeds Airport the following morning, John and Yoko were still in bed, and guitarist Eric Clapton apparently was unaware of the plan. He soon received a call from Brower: “Eric, you may not remember me, but I’m the promoter who lost $20,000 on your Blind Faith show last month. Please call John Lennon, and tell him he must do this or I will get on a plane, come to his house, and live with him, because I will be ruined.”
For this show John had collared a handful of people he knew. Eric Clapton had played the classic guitar line on George Harrison’s song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” on The White Album the year before, as well as providing lead guitar for John’s performance nine months earlier at the Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus. Klaus Voormann he’d known since the Beatles’ days rocking Hamburg at the Kaiserkeller club, as well as designing the album cover for Revolver, for which he won a Grammy Award for Best Album Cover, Graphic Arts. Klaus became an accomplished cover artist and from 1966 to 1969 was bassist for Manfred Mann.
At seventeen years age, Alan White chose music over technical school and toured with Billy Fury’s Gamblers and Griffin, the band where John Lennon saw him in a club. At first White disbelieved the call he got from John, thinking he was a prankster, but luckily chose to accept the invitation to play. In 1972 he joined Yes as their permanent drummer.
(Clapton, Lennon & Voorman on the plane to Toronto, 1969)
John reluctantly crawled out of bed. Long story short, they arrived backstage around 10 p.m. and waited in their dressing room before they were announced by guest emcee Kim Foley at midnight. I can’t imagine the kick this concert must’ve been for John, and nerve wracking, since he’d be following on from the idols who’d inspired him to play rock and roll. Actually, I can imagine, since John said as much to Jann Wenner in his historic Rolling Stone interview in 1970:
“I just threw up for hours until I went on. I nearly threw up in ‘Cold Turkey’–I had a review in Rolling Stone about the film of it–which I haven’t seen yet, and they’re saying, ‘I was this and that’. And I was throwing up nearly in the number. I could hardly sing any of them, I was full of shit.”
The Doors headlined the one-day event at the Varsity Stadium of Toronto University. The Toronto Rock and Roll Festival included an all-star lineup featuring legends Bo Diddly, Chuck Berry, Gene Vincent, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, plus Jr. Walker and the All-Stars. Among the up-and-comers were relative unknowns like Alice Cooper and Chicago Transit Authority, as well as lesser known acts such as Cat Mothers and the All Night Newsboys, Doug Kershaw, Screaming Lord Sutch, Nucleus, Milkwood, Tony Joe White and Whiskey Howl.
It’s not often noted but the other performers were also having a good time. At this point only fifteen years had passed since the birth of rock and roll, and a lot of these guys were relatively young. While this may sound strange to the young people of today, by the standards of the 1960’s rock crowd, they were ancient. The oldest artist was Bo Diddly at age 41, followed by Little Richard at 37; both Gene Vincent and Jerry Lee Lewis clocked in at a youthful 34. Chuck Berry was 43 but he could still play and duckwalk. Yeah, at my age I say people that age are still in diapers. What would that say about John Lennon, who was less than one month away from his 29th birthday?
John stepped in front of a live audience for the first time in three years and said, “We’re just going to do some numbers we know, you know, because we’ve never played together before.” And thar’s how the Plastic Ono Band was born.
While he might have pulled this band out of his ass, and the total rehearsal time encompassed their flight from London to Toronto, they put on a decent performance. They started off with the classics–“Blue Suede Shoes”, “Money” and ‘Dizzy Miss Lizzy”. This would be the second and last time John would perform “Yer Blues” live, again with Clapton as lead guitar, and boy does he love that fuzz guitar.
Then John cut in and said, “This is a song about pain”, before launching into the live debut of “Cold Turkey”. John had not officially recorded the song yet; that would come eight nights later on September 25 at EMI Studios. And thus began a pattern of performing a song live before he’d committed it to vinyl, as he would with his later song “John Sinclair”. It’s not all that unusual; Pink Floyd auditioned future songs from Dark Side of the Moon for months before sitting down to record that classic album. The band managed to hash their way through, though the moaning and shrieking at the end of the upcoming single would be remarkably abbreviated tonight.
Yoko…ah Yoko does her usual performance art wailing. “This is what we really came here for,” John said as he led the audience through a loose rendition of “Give Peace a Chance.”
Then it was Yoko’s turn. For the first two tunes she’d laid on stage in a white bag. Well, now the cat was out of the bag. “Don’t Worry Kyoko” was mercifully short at 4:18 minutes, though it might have felt longer. For her second number, “John, John (Let’s Hope for Peace)”, Clapton grooved on a single riff while Yoko inflicted new dimensions of pain for 12:39 minutes. To be fair the keening was at least tolerable while supported by John’s guitar feedback.
“At the end of “John, John”, all the boys placed their guitars against the speakers of their amps and walked to the back of the stage. Because they had already started the feedback process, the sound continued while John, Klaus, Alan and Eric grouped together and lit ciggies. Then I went on and led them off-stage. Finally I walked on again and switched off their amps one by one.”-
(Group photo of the Plastic Ono Band, 1969)
Toronto was a turning point for John. It gave him the confidence to step beyond the outsized shadow of the Beatles. On the plane ride over he’d already confided to Allen Klein that he was leaving the group. A week after the festival, John told the group, “I want a divorce.”
the Toronto Dreams Project Historical Ephemera blog:
Beatles Bible entry on the Toronto Festival:
Available on: On September 25, on the eve of the release of Abbey Road, the actual final album by the Beatles, John mixed the tapes of the Toronto concert into stereo at EMI Studios. These were taken to Apple by Geoff Emerick. The album cover was gorgeous in its simplicity, a single puffy cloud on a sky-blue backdrop. Live Peace in Toronto 1969, the first record by the Plastic Ono Band, was released on December 12, 1969.
An early version of “John, John” could be heard at the beginning of “Amsterdam”, which is a collage of musical interludes and dialogue taken from their first bed-in earlier in 1969. That track takes up the entire second side of John & Yoko’s Wedding Album, released October 20, 1969.
Famed filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker was on hand to record most of the concert, released in 1971 as Sweet Toronto. Then at one early screening Janis Joplin called out during a song by Chuck Berry, “Keep On Rockin’!”, which became the title of the 1973 version without the John & Yoko sequences. The full film would not be seen again until its re-release in 1988 for television and home video as John Lennon & the Plastic Ono Band Live in Toronto ’69 by Shout Factory.
Mikes’ latest book, FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS, is available at amazon.com.
Mike’s Amazon page:
This is one of those things you stumble onto in researching another topic. To wit, I was looking for stuff on John & Yoko’s collaborations in the 1970’s, before the legendary Lost Weekemd; I don’t recall exactly what I was looking for, but in my searches came across this reference. Yoko Ono was invited to speak at the First International Feminist Conference at Harvard University in Cambridge Massachusetts on June 3, 1973. She spoke of how her role in society as a woman, as a person in general was reductive because she was seen only in her role as John Lennon’s spouse.
I say this is interesting because I had to piece what little I’ve shared together from bits and crumbs. If you want to find out about the First International Feminist Conference at Harvard in June 1973, well, good luck. There is practically NO information. It’s as though the Phyllis Schlaflys of the world collaborated to erase all traces of that gathering. Luckily we have at least part of her speech preserved as bonus tracks on the reissue of Yoko’s 1973 album Feeling the Space. After her speech she sang “Coffin Car” with John as backing musician, and well, let’s let Yoko herself explain:
This disc has all the songs from Feeling The Space and songs which were dropped from it to make it into a single album. In June of ’73, I was invited by the National Organization of Women to their International Women’s Conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I was asked to give a concert there for the Sisters. John and I took this very seriously. I made a booklet of my songs and statements specially for the occasion and carried copies of them with me. John carried his guitar. He was to be my band. The conference was incredibly memorable for both of us. I never will forget how all the women at the concert suddenly stood up and joined me in singing the chorus of WOMAN POWER. Their power at that moment was so strong that it stopped the video camera from running! Our photographer did not know why his flashbulb suddenly did not work. Things like that happened a few times in my life. This was one of them. During the conference, when some sisters gathered to have coffee, I met a woman who had come from Middle America. She said she had left her husband and her children and was not intending to go back to them. She was a sweet girl with large frightened eyes. Those eyes have seen stuff our mothers never taught us to be part of the deal in life, I thought. I asked her how she felt. She said she missed her children, and sometimes she heard them crying in her dreams, but she felt okay because she knew her husband was not bad to her kids. She also said she was having a hard time finding a job because she had no skills. A classic case. That was how ANGRY YOUNG WOMAN came to me. John and I visited Salem, Massachusetts. on our way home from the conference. We went to a house where a witch was believed to have lived. It turned out she had not been a witch but a doctor (of course!) and her beautiful, clean but rather austere house seemed appropriate to have once encased an astute and intellectual mind. We went up the hill where she, supposedly, had been burnt on a cross. The grass on the hill seemed dry and flattened out by kids playing baseball. We walked through the main streets of the town. It was a summer evening, the high ceilinged shops, probably built in the 30’s, were closed, and the shadows of street lamps were long on the dusty pavement, with not many people around. John and I felt as though we were walking in the town of The Visit, an old Ingrid Bergman film, where all the factories were closed because of the anger of one woman who had sought justice. We walked for a while and then went back to our car where our driver, Peter, was waiting. I was very touched by our visit and wrote the song WOMAN OF SALEM. When I started to sing the song in the studio, a musician pointed out that in my lyrics I had referred to the time as being 1692 and that I should probably change the date since Salem would not have existed then. He must be right, I thought.
But I decided not to touch the lyrics because the song had come to me
like an automatic writing. “The song could be about Salem in England-if
there was such a place,” I said to the musician. My first vision of the
song was quite vivid. A woman sat in a darkish room, at a table under a
window from which the morning light was coming through and you could
hear the birds chirping amongst the summer green. Then I was the woman
quietly closing her diary. Anyway, it was a symbolic song. If the time
was a bit off – even a century or so – it didn’t really matter. I was
going to push it through with that and I did. I don’t know why I didn’t
think of checking the year, which would have been an easy thing to do.
Had I simply been stubborn for being told of my possible mistake? An unsettling feeling had lingered at the time and then it was forgotten.
It was only last year, ’91, I found out that in the year 1992, Salem
would be observing the 300th anniversary of it’s 1692 trials! With ANGRY
YOUNG WOMAN in my pocket and the other songs I took to the International
Women’s Conference, I felt it was time for me to go into the studio
again. I felt I had to get a new set of musicians for the kind of sound
I had in mind. So I hired session guys with jazz backgrounds. The first
day I walked into the studio, I noticed there was some nervous tension.
To break the ice, I suggested we do a jam to get to know each other.
That’s how IT’S BEEN VERY HARD was made. It was the first take of the
first day. They didn’t know me from Adam. I think the song shows how
brilliant these musicians were. From then on we were like a family. That
summer, John and I moved to the Dakota. Some of the Sisters from the
Conference visited us in our new apartment. A woman representative from
Norway taught John how to type. So John said he would be playing with
his newfound toy, the typewriter, while I made the album- and he did (it
was the beginning of Skywriting By Word Of Mouth). Every day John waited
for me to bring back a rough remix of what I had done that day. He
started to say he wanted to play on a couple of my songs. “You should
call me in when you’re ready, just like you would call in a session
guitarist and I’ll come and play.” I knew I could not get a better
guitarist than John for WOMAN POWER. So I called him in for that-like he
said. He did an overdub guitar on WOMAN POWER and SHE HITS BACK that
afternoon. Sean’s friends, who heard WOMAN POWER for the first time in
the 90s, say this track sounds contemporary. John would have been
pleased to hear that. One day I came home and heard John playing a
beautiful song which was later to become STEEL AND GLASS. “It’s great
that you’re doing this (recording) because now I feel like I want to go
in and make mine,” he said. After Feeling The Space was done, John went
into the studio and made Mind Games with the same musicians.
taken from http://imaginepeace.com/archives/6364
notes from Yoko Ono’s Onobox, 1992 6-disc collection from Rykodisc
More Yoko at Genius lyrics:
While john is setting up the amp…
What happened to me was that I was living as an artist and, who had relative freedom as a woman and was considered the bitch in the society. Since I met John, I was upgraded into a witch and I was…and I think that that’s very flattering Anyway, what I learned from being with john is that the society solely treated me as a woman, as a woman who belonged to a man who is one of the most powerful people in our generation, and some of his closest friends told me that probably I should stay in the background, I should shut up, I should give up my work and that way I’ll be happy
And I got those advises, I was luck, I was over thirty and it was too late for me to change
But still, still, this is one thing I want to say, sisters, because, with the wish that you know
You’re not alone, i…because the whole society started to attack me and the whole society wished me dead, I started accumulating a tremendous amount of guilt complex and in result of that I started to stutter. and I consider myself a very eloquent woman and also an attractive woman all my life and suddenly, because I was associated to john, that was considered an ugly woman, ugly jap, who took your monument or something away from you
And that’s when I realised how hard it is for woman, if I can start to stutter, being a strong woman and having lived thirty years by then, learn to stutter in three years of being treated as such, it is a very hard road. Now the next song is called coffin car and this is a song that I observed in myself and also in many sisters who are riding on coffin cars…
I appreciate Yoko’s comments and may we all take them to heart.
Available on: The studio track “Coffin Car” first appeared on Yoko’s N1973 album Feeling the Space with the Plastic Ono Band, Apple SW-3412. John Lennon is billed as ‘John O’ Cean’ in the credits. He provides guitar on “Woman Power” & “She Hits Back”, as well as backing vocals on “Men, Men, Men”. Oddly enough, coming as it did on the verge of the Lost Weekend, this was released around the same time as John’s Mind Games.
It was twice reissued, first on Rykodisc in the UK and Japan; two of the bonus tracks were taken from her appearance at the First Feminist Conference in 1973, “I Learned to Stutter” & “Coffin Car”. For the 2017 reissue in the U.S. & Europe it appeared on the Secretly Canadian & Chimera label.