John Lennon “Instant Karma! (We All Shine On)” – The full in bloom Chronicles
George Harrison: John phoned me up one morning in January and said, ‘I’ve written this tune & I’m going to record it tonight and have it pressed up and out tomorrow. That’s the whole point – “Instant Karma!” – you know?’ So I was in. I said, ‘OK, I’ll see you in town.’
“Instant Karma” reached the top five in the British and American singles charts, competing with the Beatles’ ‘Let It Be’ in the US, where it became the first solo single by a member of the band to sell a million copies. It was was conceived, written, recorded and released within a period of ten days, making it one of the fastest-released songs in pop music history.
The recording session took place at Abbey Road Studios in North West London, on the evening of January 27, 1970. Lennon’s fellow musicians at the session were George Harrison, Klaus Voormann, Alan White, and Billy Preston – all of whom had performed at the December 1969 Peace for Christmas Concert, as part of the Plastic Ono Supergroup. The recording engineer for “Instant Karma!” was EMI mainstay, Phil McDonald. Phil Spector produced the session, arriving late after Harrison had found him at Apple’s office and persuaded him to attend.
According to author Bruce Spizer, the line-up for the basic track, before overdubs, was Lennon (vocals, acoustic guitar), Harrison (electric guitar), Preston (organ), Voormann (bass), and White (drums). Lennon later recalled of the recording: “Phil (Spector) came in and said, ‘How do you want it?’ And I said, ‘1950s’ and he said ‘Right’ and BOOM! … he played it back and there it was.” The song uses a similar amount of echo to 1950s Sun Records recordings.
The musicians recorded ten takes, the last of which was selected for overdubbing. To create what Spector biographer Mark Ribowsky terms a “four-man Wall of Sound” production, Lennon added grand piano onto the basic track, while Harrison and White shared another piano and Voormann played electric piano. In addition, Beatles aide Mal Evans overdubbed chimes (or tubular bells) and White added a second, muffled drum part. Rather than an instrumental solo over the third verse, Lennon vocalized a series of what Urish and Bielen term “grunts and moans”. Lennon felt that the chorus was missing something, and so Preston and Evans were sent to a nearby nightclub to bring in a group of people to provide backing vocals. These newcomers and all the musicians, along with Allen Klein, then added chorus vocals, with Harrison directing the singing.
Although Lennon and Spector disagreed over the bass sound, Lennon was delighted with the producer’s work on “Instant Karma”. White’s drums assumed the role of a lead instrument, positioned prominently in the mix. Spector biographer Richard Williams wrote in 1972: “No Beatles record had ever possessed such a unique sound; Spector had used echo to make the drums reverberate like someone slapping a wet fish on a marble slab, and the voices sounded hollow and decayed.” Spector wanted to add a string section to the track in Los Angeles, but Lennon insisted that the recording was complete. –Wikipedia