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:
So many blogs have been written about the last legendary concert appearance by John Lennon, alongside Elton John in Madison Square Garden on Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1974. Clearly you’d think there was nothing new to say. The problem with all these pieces is that they all say THE SAME DAMN THINGS–it’s John Lennon’s last live show, he and Yoko got back together after the show, he’d done it after a bet over his hit single “Whatever Gets You Through the Night”, yada yada. No one ever talks about the actual performance.
Ya know what? I’m not going over all that crap again. We know it. I’m going to leave some links at the end of this blog, if that’s the kind of background you want. This is my blog, my observations. The rest you can easily find elsewhere.
Among the frequent hand-me-downs from my brother Kenny was an Elton John Band single from 1975, “Philadelphia Freedom” (MCA-40364), a damn good song in its own right. The B-side, ‘Recorded Live’ the year before, was “I Saw Her Standing There”. Beneath the song title in small letters it read ‘Featuring John Lennon’.
I didn’t know he’d done a live show with Elton John, beyond that one song. I wasn’t reading a lot of the nascent rock music press; I was barely aware there WAS one. Oh I knew about Rolling Stone, peripherally. My thing was comic books, Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 and the CBS Radio Mystery Theatre. Those were my ways of distracting myself from my dad’s marriages and divorces, our frequent moving back in forth between two towns. From the time my mom and dad split up to the beginning of high school, I’d attended three elementary schools and bounced three times between two junior highs. I was also learning how to impale myself with insulin shots, after five years of having them inflicted on me.
-two examples of the inevitable bootlegs-
Putting the foregoing aside, I think I was very lucky, certainly better off because of my parents and siblings. Back to cases, that single was the only official release of that singular performance, outside of the inevitable bootlegs. Elton’s live LP Here and Now (1976) was a contract-fulfillment item. While good, it was a truncated single-LP collection culled from two performances done a year apart. Side One was taken from a London performance for invalid children at the Royal Festival Hall in May1974; Side Two from the aforementioned Madison Square Garden show.
In the 1970s an Elton John concert was a thing not to be missed. And because I was underage, I always did; I didn’t turn 16 years old until May of 1980. In 1995 Gus Dudgeon compiled a 2-CD album of both concerts in their entirety. CD-2 features that long-lost three-song set featuring John and Elton: “Whatever Gets You Through the Night”, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and “I Saw Her Standing There”. I’ve just finished listening to those CDs today in my car. I’m here to rate that performance while it’s still strong in my head.
Just to start with right after Elton’s introduction, while John is tuning his guitar I heard a few bars of “I Feel Fine”. I’d listened to this deluxe CD before and I’d never noticed that before. Both Johns give an energetic performance of “Whatever gets You Through the Night”, and I’ll bet John Lennon was having more fun doing this than he’s had in years. No politics, no preaching, just two guys duetting beautifully together, jamming on pure rock ‘n’ roll.
John is less prominent on “Lucy In The Sky”, but it IS Elton’s cover. He’s there for backing vocals and reggae rhythm guitar; you can hear his guitar in the right channel on your stereo. What’s never mentioned is the fact that this is the ONLY time John Lennon performed “Lucy” live in any capacity. The Muscle Shoals Horns blowing in the chorus add an extra zest to the live version.
Finally John announces “a number from an old estranged fiancée of mine called Paul”, the first and only time he sang “I Saw Her Standing There”, as it was always Paul’s vocal. With Elton’s band behind him, John gives a roaring performance, vastly superior to the pussified version that Tiffany foisted on us in 1988. Really, how DARE she emasculate a Beatles classic that way? There were tears all around, and Elton allowed the pandemonium to go on and on, even though he still had 40 minutes left to go in his concert.
That was John’s last glory moment on a live stage, almost the last anyone would hear of him for five years. The times we would have with him during his brief comeback season in 1980 would be too tragically short.
Available on: “I Saw Her Standing There”, released as the B-side to Elton John’s single “Philadelphia Freedom”, MCA 40364, released February 24, 1975.
The entire set with both Johns appeared on the complete 2-CD reissue of Elton’s 1976 live album, Here and There (1996 Rocket)
I’ve just realized why Rubber Soul was never one of my favorite Beatles albums growing up. I had no way of knowing better of course; did any of us know in the fall of 1965? You see the problem was, we were getting the Americanized version.
A sign of a great work of art is its openness to more than one interpretation. In his blog Psychobabble, Mike Segretto gave the impression that certain alterations were an improvement on the original British LP; that these substitutions were more in line with the folk-rock stylings of the majority of the set. On that count, I respectfully disagree. The rock numbers [“Drive My Car” & “Nowhere Man”] I feel balanced out the introspection of “Norwegian Wood” & “In My Life”. There is very little question that the British album was the better of the two versions.
Granted the classics were all in their proper places—“Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”, “Michelle”, “In My Life”, even “The Word”. The point is, I grew up listening to what was provided by Capitol Records. Capitol was the American distributor for EMI-Parlophone Records in the U.S. And they butchered Rubber Soul.
The back cover of the UK release, at least the remastered CD from 2009
Running order of the Capitol Records release
The first sin they committed was to strip four songs from the original LP, ie “Drive My Car”, “Nowhere Man”, “What Goes On” & “If I Needed Someone”. This was standard practice for Capitol: take a few songs off one Beatles album and collect as many as possible into a ‘new’ album. Something New [July 1964] may be the most egregious example of such mash-ups, and I’m saying this as someone who does in fact prefer some of the American LPs over their British counterparts.
Here’s what rubs me; two of those songs were among the strongest tracks the Fabs had done in this period; and they substituted two of the weaker tracks from the British Help! LP. If I may digress, Capitol got s lot of mileage out of that record. Over the following two years they managed to spread those six Side-2 songs over three different albums. Most of us who grew up in the ‘60’s didn’t realize how badly we’d been gipped until the official British albums saw their first CD release in 1987. That was the year we in America finally received Rubber Soul in its full glory, as God [or the Fab Four anyway] intended.
The UK version opened with a strong lead-in, ‘Drive My Car”; the Capitol album had the temerity to replace that with the significantly weaker number, “I’ve Just Seen a Face”. Worst of all, “Nowhere Man” was also taken off the Capitol release. I never knew it was supposed to be on Rubber Soul until I listened to that damn CD for the first time. George Harrison had originally been allotted two numbers, “Think For Yourself” & “If I Needed Someone”. I don’t know why I’m so taken with the latter number; that riff just seemed to hook me. It’s mostly the guitar. These are both decent songs, but at a time when George was just beginning to flex his songwriting muscles, Capitol cut his contributions by half.
Adding insult to injury, the one song allotted to Ringo Starr, ‘What Goes On”, the first instance in which he actually received any songwriting credit, was swapped with “It’s Only Love’, a song even John Lennon said was abysmal. Which meant Ringo got NO vocal numbers at all on our side of the Atlantic. In fact, in 1965 Ringo would appear on two, count ‘em, two tracks for U.S. release. One was “Act Naturally”, the B-side of the “Yesterday” single. “Boys” [from The Early Beatles, March ‘65] was part & parcel of the re-re-release of the Beatles’ first Parlophone album Please Please Me–from 1963.
That leaves fully half of the album dominated by Lennon compositions—on either side of the Atlantic—“Norwegian Wood”, “Nowhere Man”, “The Word”, “What Goes On”, “Girl”, “In My Life” & “Run For Your Life”. John Lennon songs tended to dominate Beatles albums up to this point. Rubber Soul would actually be the last time this was the case until the White Album sessions three years later—honestly, mostly on account of John’s growing, admitted laziness.
The four tracks that were stripped from the Capitol album would eventually conglomerate in July 1966 on the Yesterday and Today set, along with the final two orphans from Help!, Side 2, plus three more recent cuts stolen from the upcoming Revolver. And that would be the last time such butchery would be committed against a Beatles long-play.
–“It’s Only Love” was mine. I always thought it was a lousy song. The lyrics were abysmal. I always hated that song.
-John Lennon to David Sheff, The Playboy Interviews with John Lennon & Yoko Ono, @ 1981 Playboy Press