“Hey! What did you do today?” When was the last time you really had a mind-blowing answer to that question? Be honest… Sure, some people do some pretty neat things sometimes, and we are all encouraged to make everyday count, but have you had this conversation? “Hey, what did you do today?” “Eh, I wrote, rehearsed, recorded, and released a hit single.” Now, imagine saying that when you have are dealing with a falling out of your best friends, balancing two bands, a large corporation, and are at the head of one of the biggest snowballs in recent cultural history. John Lennon didn’t have to imagine. That was just a day at the office for John, January 27th, 1970 when he recorded “Instant Karma”
While exact records of the day’s timetable don’t exist, Lennon offered this to the press regarding what is one of, if not the, fastest out-out pop singles in history, “wrote it for breakfast, recorded it for lunch, and we’re putting it out for dinner.” What can be for certain is that in less than 24 hours, Lennon had written the piece, gotten a hold of a crew made up no less than master of the organ Billy Preston, George Harrison accompanying Lennon on guitar, Klaus Voorman on bass, and Allen White on drums, rehearsed, and recorded the single. They got it out to the powers that be that night, and it was on shelves in only 10 days. Soon after, or maybe even between that time, a video was recorded to promote the song and its message. Lennon can be seen sporting a shorter haircut than the Lennon we know and love from the era, and that is believed to be the point: he had cut it off as a publicity stunt tp promote his messages of world and inner peace.
10 days. What stared out as probably a little singing in the shower went to reach #3 on the US charts, #5 in the UK, #2 in Canada, and #1 in France. It is notable that its competition for the top spots was the Beatles’ own “Let it Be” classic, and Simon and Garfunkels’ “Bridge over Troubles Water” among others. What is more incredible, though not at all uncommon for the man, is that beyond being deemed epic and relevant enough to be used in a Nike commercial 20 years down the road, it inspired the title of Stephen King’s 1977 novel The Shining. The song continues to deliver its philosophical and humanitarian punch to the present, being covered by such acts as U2 and headlining the Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Initiative to Save Darfur of 2007.As far as message and impact, it ranks besides such Lennon masterpieces as “Imagine” and “Give Peace a Chance”. Not too shabby for a days work, eh?
Now it’s not like he just woke up one morning and started pumping out iconic songs in a single shot, as a Beatle, he was very experienced in impacting generations in a single bound. The Beatles most successful single (and a constant on “greatest songs ever” lists), “Hey Jude” was recorded in a single take. Although the overall timing of the song is not as impressive as the instant hit “Instant Karma”, and getting songs right the first time is not unheard of, the song has its own reasons to brag. (now, to be fair, the band recorded 4 takes, but it was the first that was chosen for the final cut)
First of all, it IS one of the best songs in popular music, if not ever. Not only was it done in one attempt, but Ringo Starr (drummer) wasn’t even in the room for the first minute of recording. Their recording set up had the drummer’s box set up right by the bathroom. This said, no one noticed when Ringo slipped out to use the facility, and they started recording. One can imagine his reaction when he was, pardon the pun, caught with his pants down when the song was heard form down the hall. Being Ringo Starr, and by definition one extremely slick cat, he was able to slip back into the room without a sound, and take his seat at the drum seconds before the drum cue, and come in right one time.
Also noteworthy about one of the “Best songs ever recorded” is that in the last 20 seconds of the second minute, someone (John blames Paul) can be barely heard to utter “Fucking hell”, probably stemming from a missed note. The band (again, probably John) insisted the oopsie be left in the final mix, albeit turned down to a level where the general public has yet to catch on. Here are two videos of the song. The first is a simple slideshow video found on Youtube. If you don’t have the song, see if you can spot the oopsie. The second is the official video for the song, included simply because it’s neat, and it’s the Beatles. You gotta respect.