While only a few might say that Instant Karma is John Lennon’s greatest song, many would agree that it’s one of his best solo works.
No matter where one ranks it (if one needs to do that to begin with) most songs do not happen in one day, but with Instant Karma, one day it was. The way John describes it: “I wrote it for breakfast, recorded it for lunch and we’re putting it out for dinner.”
Only the dinner reference is hyperbole. It took ten days to release!
Instant Karma was the third Lennon single to appear before the official Beatles breakup.
According to the Beatles Bible site, “Its title came from Melinde Kendall, the wife of Yoko Ono’s former husband Tony Cox. She had used the phrase in conversation during Lennon and Ono’s stay with them in Denmark during December 1969 and the following month.”
John Lennon Instant Karma
According to Lennon himself, “It just came to me. Everybody was going on about karma, especially in the Sixties. But it occurred to me that karma is instant as well as it influences your past life or your future life. There really is a reaction to what you do now. That’s what people ought to be concerned about. Also, I’m fascinated by commercials and promotion as an art form. I enjoy them. So the idea of instant karma was like the idea of instant coffee: presenting something in a new form. I just liked it.” [from David Sheff’s All We Are Saying]
It was January 27, 1970. Phil Spector was visiting George Harrison in London and John called George about the project. George suggested Phil produce. They booked time at the studio that evening. There were just four people: John on piano, George on acoustic guitar, Klaus Voormann on bass, and Alan White on drums. Very late that night, Billy Preston and some friends helped add vocal backgrounds.
The flip side was Yoko Ono’s Who Has Seen the Wind.
“The flutter of wings, the sounds of the night, the shadow across the moon, as the Nightbird lifts her wings and soars above the earth into another level of comprehension, where we exist only to feel. Come fly with me, Alison Steele, the Nightbird…”
(According to Jimi Hendrix’s manager, Michael Jeffery, the song “Night Bird Flying”, recorded by Hendrix and released posthumously on the album, The Cry Of Love, was inspired by Allison’s late night Manhattan radio program.)
WNEW FM DJ Alison Steele
For those of us in the New York metropolitan area who discovered FM rock music in the 60s, WNEW-FM is the station we think of. Yes, WOR-FM had preceded ‘NEW with a rock format and later there was WPLJ-FM where John Zacherle and Vin Scelsa initially were. But WNEW-FM really was where rock and our hearts lived.
And Alison Steele became one of those voices forever embedded in our hearts.
She began her time at ‘NEW in 1966 as part of an all female DJ line-up. An interesting legal adjustment WNEW made since FM stations in large markets could no longer simulcast what was being broadcast on the AM side. The experiment lasted 13 months.
WNEW FM DJ Alison Steele
WOR-FM, another NYC station, dropped free-form rock in the late fall of 1967 and WNEW-FM hired ex-WOR-FM jocks Rosko (Bill Mercer) and Scott Muni and added Jonathan Schwartz and Dick Summer. Alison Steele remained and became “The Nightbird.”
The wonder and beauty of WNEW-FM’s format was that the DJ’s were far more than disc jockeys. While certainly playing music–vinyl and likely albums–they also spoke to us. They commented on current events. They read poetry. They told stories.
In 1971, a New York Times article wrote, “In the radio world, Alison Steele is something of a rarity. As WNEW-FM’s self-proclaimed “Nightbird,” she is the only full-time woman disk jockey in the city and one of the few in the country.”
WNEW FM DJ Alison Steele
Valentine’s Day, 1977
She left WNEW in 1979, but her voice continued to be her presence.
Alison died in 1995 of cancer. Our Nightbird had flown >>> NYT obit
Stefano Santucci, a childhood conker buddy and fellow vinyl collector, recommended that I read Follow the Music: The Life and High Times of Electra Records In The Great Years of American Pop Culture by Jac Holzman and Gavan Daws.
He said that it was “…the cat’s pajamas. Highly recommend how this guy Jac Holzman discovered and produced some of the most amazing bands and songwriters, but also found their proper producer and engineers to get their best stuff out…not only the proper sound, but also elected the album art and logos.”
Among Boomers, a common complaint regarding today’s recordings is the size of liner notes while holding a CD or, worse, no liner notes with a download.
Album covers we could read, but today’s font sizes (did anyone even know what the word “font” meant in the 60s?) (if one actually purchases a “hard” copy of a recording and not simply downloads it) are lilliputian.
When I did read those covers, I always saw the name Jac Holzman on the back of my Elektra Records and gradually realized that Elektra Records was a company that could be depended upon to produce great music.
Holzman founded Elektra Records on October 10 1950 out of his St John’s College (Maryland) dorm room. (Sounds like Crawdaddy! founder Paul Williams, eh?)
Holzman had $300 bar mitzvah money, but needed $300 more.College friend and Navy vet Paul Rickholt put in his veterans bonus. To make the Elektra logo, Holzman turned two Ms on their side for the Es and used a K instead of a C. Voila.
Elektra’s first album was an album of German art poems set to music by John Gruen and sung by Georgiana Bannister. Holzman left St John’s College and stepped into Greenwich Village’s nascent folk scene. He recorded Josh White (folk blues), Jean Ritchie (Appalachian folk) and Theodore Bikel (Israeli folk).
He recorded Judy Collins and Tom Paxton.
Record companies need income and Jac Holzman was creative. He could support the fledgling folk artist because he also released a series of albums aimed at branches of the military and various other groups’ interests and hobbies.
According to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame site: Another of Holzman’s inspirations was a series of sound effects records. The first volume was released in 1960. Numbering 13 in total, they sold well and were extremely popular with the movie industry and radio programmers. Never had such a gallery of sounds and noises, including a definitive car crash, been so painstakingly recorded. Moreover, they were highly profitable because there were no performers’ royalties involved.
Another way he subsidized his Elektra label was by creating Nonesuch records in 1963. He made classical music available by licensing titles from overseas labels and marketing the records at a lower price than American labels selling the same titles.
As the music of the 60’s evolved, so did Elektra. Acoustic folk continued to be part of the label, but electricity too.
The Incredible String Band. David Ackles, Carly Simon. Harry Chapin. Bread. Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Love. The Doors. Clear Light. The MC5. The Stooges. Queen.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
John Densmore spoke at Jac Holzman’s March 14, 2011 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. Densmore said, “Without Jac Holzman, Jim Morrison’s lyrics would not be on the tip of the world’s tongue.”
Music continues to benefit from Holzman. Nowadays he is now Senior Technology Adviser to Warner Music Group as “a wide-ranging technology ‘scout’, exploring new digital developments and identifying possible partners.”
References:Rock and roll Hall of Fame bio >>> R & R H o FDerek Sivers site >>> Sivers