In her introduction, Yoko Ono says that John Lennon would be proud of Instant Karma. The CD, featuring cover of Lennon’s songs, is a pop star, rock superstar-driven benefit album which supports Amnesty International's efforts to end the atrocities in Darfur, Sudan. Since the crisis in Darfur began, as many as 400,000 people have been killed with another 2.5 million displaced.
Yes, social consciousness should drive all music fans to this album. But like most benefit albums, it’s still about the selling the music to the masses. Why else would anyone allow Big & Rich and Avril Lavigne to mangle classic Lennon songs like “Nobody Told Me” and “Imagine,” respectively?
With that in mind, Instant Karma can claim to be the first true benefit album for the iTunes generation. I found myself cringing at Lavigne’s version of “Imagine,” but adored the mellow, whimsy of Jack Johnson’s version on disc two of the 23 song album. I was able to choose, even delete the songs I didn't want when I imported the CD into my iTunes player.
The same dynamic occurs with “Gimme Some Truth,” which is performed by Jakob Dylan with Dhani Harrison, as well as Jaguares. And on other versions of the album (most easily available on iTunes here and here) there are duplicate covers of “Instant Karma” (U2 and Duran Duran), three more versions of “Imagine” (Me’Shell Ndegeocello, Josh Groban and Afroreggae), two “Jealous Guy” (Youssou N’Dour and Deftones) and many others.
Sure, there are certain covers on Instant Karma that I just can’t stomach, but I realized that all of the ones I liked (Green Day’s “Working Class Hero,” Snow Patrol’s “Isolation,” Ben Harper’s “Beautiful Boy) all skewed toward artists I’m already inclined to like. It’s difficult for anyone to get away with covering a John Lennon song, let along artists a listener may not like in the first place.
It’s also hard to say not to buy an album, when it benefits an organization that wants to end a genocide. Thankfully, in the digital age, we have the option of skipping Lenny Kravitz’s too-funky version of “Cold Turkey” without worry about bad karma.
U2 – “Instant Karma”
Christina Aguilera – “Mother”
Green Day – “Working Class Hero”
Ben Harper - “Beautiful Boy”
Snow Patrol – “Isolation”
Regina Spektor – “Real Love”