Fifty years ago today saw John Lennon add yet another milestone on to his illustrious career. On this day, he became the first member of The Beatles to appear on the legendary chart show, Top of the Pops, since 1966 when he arrived with the Plastic Ono Band to perform ‘Instant Karma!’.
The track has gone on to become a symbol of The Beatles’ disbandment and the seedling growth of Lennon’s all-too-short solo career. It remains to this day as one of Lennon’s finer works either in or outside of one of the world’s biggest band of all time.
‘Instant Karma!’ was an alignment of sorts. Though Lennon could enact his will across The Beatles, with the Plastic Ono Band, Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono could have total creative control and finally propel their message across the airwaves for all to hear. After ‘Instant Karma!’ had found radio play it was now time to bring it to the masses sitting at home in front of their televisions.
There was no better place than on Top of the Pops, the legendary UK chart show. The show has welcomed some of the music business’ greatest talents, the Beatles had appeared on the show five times, yet still, when Lennon arrived a quiet hush fell over the studio.
As part of the show, the larger acts invited to perform had often contributed videos or mimed performances, The Beatles, for example, had pre-recorded 4 out of 5 of their times on the show. But Lennon was keen to do a live take of the song, partly because he was desperately trying to rush release the single and had no time to shoot a video.
It meant that joining Klaus Voormann on bass guitar, Mal Evans on tambourine, Alan White on drums, and Apple employee and music journalist BP Fallon on bass guitar and tambourine, was John Lennon on piano and Yoko Ono on crochet needles. The rest of the band had mimed the song but Lennon’s vocals are live.
Four takes of the song were recorded and only two of which have ever seen the light of day. Takes three and four would be used by the BBC on Top of the Pops which saw Lennon and the band change attire, switching from black turtle necks to denim jackets and also see Ono changing instrument.
Having previously worn a sanitary towel across her eyes while crocheting, on take four, Ono was instead holding various cue cards with one-word statements: “Smile”; “Peace”; “Love”; “Hope”; “Breathe”. She and Lennon both wore denim jackets with armbands saying “People for peace”.
Below we’re bringing you both of those takes as John Lennon belts out his decree of singular genius, ‘Instant Karma!’. Watch as Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band perform on Top of the Pops in 1970.