As chosen by Roger Daltrey, Ray Davies, Brian Wilson, Alex Turner and more…
3 INSTANT KARMA
John Lennon single (February 1970). Highest UK chart position: 5
Written, recorded and released in 10 days, “Karma” illustrated the volcanic rush of idea’s experienced by the newly-free Beatle. “We wrote it for breakfast, recorded it for lunch, and we’re putting it out for dinner!” he announced…
Chris Frantz, Talking Heads/Tom Tom Club: I distinctly remember the first time I heard it, driving across the Highland Park Bridge in Pittsburgh and this fantastic heavy drum sound came on the radio. I turned it up and thought, wow, this is cool and was surprised to hear Lennon’s voice. I was a big fan of The Beatles, but I guess by that time they’d broken up and I was more interested in experimental stuff. I certainly wasn’t looking to Beatles solo projects as a source of inspiration, but that track caught my attention. I’m a sucker for the production, the shuffle beat of the drums, with plenty of gated reverb on the mikes, and that echo on the vocal. The message of the lyric – emphasizing a personal spiritual odyssey – is wonderful, but the appeal is more about the production, which I suppose was all Phil Spector’s work. The song is so highly rhythmic and heavy.
2 YER BLUES
From The Beatles album, The Beatles (November, 1968)
Taut, Dylan-referencing slice of dues-payin’, sex’n’death blues – a fuck-you to the more purist critics.
Frank Black, Pixies: Someone in the British music press had commented that it was too bad The Beatles would never be able to tackle the blues. And John Lennon was so incensed that he set about proving them wrong. “Yer Blues” has a lot of rhythm and blues moves, almost showbiz style. The tempo changes and even some of the guitar motifs are like that. There’s one descending guitar line that’s almost humorous, but it has a beautiful grit to it. But then to balance it out, the main guitar riff is just scary. Call me a stupid white guy, but that guitar line is as scary and provocative as anything you’re going to hear on a Howlin’ Wolf record. It’s totally legitimate. There’s nothing white about it at all. It has so much attitude and confidence. It’s almost like he’s saying “Yeah, I know I’m really bad. Get the fuck out of my way.” That combination of strength and swagger is what makes it so powerful, elevating it to the next level. The lyric is just beautiful, contemporary and modern. I mean, he references Bob Dylan in it. That line [sings] “If I ain’t dead already / Ooh girl you know the reason why” is just so fucking bad. It’s sexual, but references death at the same time. It just doesn’t get any better than that.
Some years later, Ringo had a hit with a song that went “Got to pay your dues if you wanna sing the blues” [“It Don’t Come Easy”] and “Yer Blues” is a perfect example of The Beatles doing that. When they played The Star Club in Hamburg all those years before, four or five sets a night on speed and trying to keep drunk servicemen happy, that’s where they really paid their dues. Some of those Star Club recordings came out here in the US as a double-live album and was one of the first records I had as a kid. You can hear it all in there. They were tough mutherfuckers.