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Blackbird (Beatles song)

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Cover of the Northern Songs sheet music
Song by the Beatles
from the album The Beatles
Released22 November 1968
Recorded11 June 1968
StudioEMI, London
Producer(s)George Martin
Audio sample

"Blackbird" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles from their 1968 double album The Beatles (also known as "the White Album"). It was written by Paul McCartney and credited to Lennon–McCartney, and performed as a solo piece by McCartney. When discussing the song, McCartney has said that the lyrics were inspired by hearing the call of a blackbird in Rishikesh, India, and by the civil rights movement in the Southern United States.



McCartney explained on Chaos and Creation at Abbey Road that the guitar accompaniment for "Blackbird" was inspired by Johann Sebastian Bach's Bourrée in E minor, a well-known lute piece, often played on the classical guitar. As teenagers, he and George Harrison tried to learn Bourrée as a "show off" piece. The Bourrée is distinguished by melody and bass notes played simultaneously on the upper and lower strings. McCartney said that he adapted a segment of the Bourrée (reharmonised into the original's relative major key of G) as the opening of "Blackbird", and carried the musical idea throughout the song. The first three notes of the song, which then transitioned into the opening guitar riff, were inspired from Bach.[1][2][3][4]

The first night his future wife Linda Eastman stayed at his home, McCartney played "Blackbird" for the fans camped outside his house.[5]

Meaning and interpretation


Since composing "Blackbird" in 1968, McCartney has given various statements regarding both his inspiration for the song and its meaning.[6] He has said that he was inspired by hearing the call of a blackbird one morning when the Beatles were studying Transcendental Meditation in Rishikesh, India and also[7] writing it in Scotland as a response to the Little Rock Nine incident and the overall Civil Rights movement, wanting to write a song dedicated to people who had been affected by discrimination.[8][9]

In May 2002, following a show in Dallas, Texas, McCartney discussed the song with KCRW DJ Chris Douridas, saying:

I had been doing some [poetry readings] in the last year or so because I've got a poetry book out called Blackbird Singing, and when I would read "Blackbird", I would always try and think of some explanation to tell the people … So, I was doing explanations, and I actually just remembered why I'd written "Blackbird", you know, that I'd been, I was in Scotland playing on my guitar, and I remembered this whole idea of "you were only waiting for this moment to arise" was about, you know, the black people's struggle in the southern states, and I was using the symbolism of a blackbird. It's not really about a blackbird whose wings are broken, you know, it's a bit more symbolic.[10]

In 2018, McCartney further elaborated on the song's meaning, explaining that "blackbird" should be interpreted as "black girl",[11] in the context of the civil rights troubles in southern 1960s US.

His stepmother, Angie McCartney, [7] has claimed that McCartney wrote it for her elderly mother, Edith Stopforth, who was staying at Jim McCartney's house while recovering from a long illness. Angie recalled that McCartney visited the house and sat at Edith's bedside, where Edith told him that she would listen to a bird singing at night.[7]

Although McCartney has been consistent in the meaning, there are still varied interpretations – as a nature song, a message in support of the Black Power movement, or a love song.[12] Writing in the 1990s, Ian MacDonald noted the theory that "Blackbird" was intended as "a metaphor for the black civil rights struggle",[5] but pointed to the composition's romantic qualities, arguing that the early-morning bird song "translates … into a succinct metaphor for awakening on a deeper level".[13] However, during an informal rehearsal at EMI Studios on 22 November 1968, before he and Donovan took part in a Mary Hopkin recording session, McCartney played "Blackbird", telling Donovan that he wrote it after having "read something in the paper about the riots" and that he meant the black "bird" to symbolise a black woman.[14]

Along with McCartney's "Helter Skelter", "Blackbird" was one of several White Album songs that Charles Manson interpreted as the Beatles' prophecy of an apocalyptic race war that would lead to him and his "Family" of followers ruling the US on countercultural principles. Manson interpreted the lyrics as a call to black Americans to wage war on their white counterparts, and instructed his followers to commit a series of murders in Los Angeles in August 1969 to trigger such a conflict.[15]

Composition and recording

"Blackbird" includes the sound of a male common blackbird singing

The song was recorded on 11 June 1968 at EMI's Abbey Road Studios in London,[16] with George Martin as the producer and Geoff Emerick as the audio engineer.[17] It is a solo performance with McCartney playing a Martin D-28 acoustic guitar. The track includes recordings of a male common blackbird singing in the background.[17][18]

Apart from the blackbird, only three sounds were recorded: McCartney's voice, his guitar, and a tapping that keeps time on the left channel.[19] This tapping "has been incorrectly identified as a metronome in the past", according to engineer Geoff Emerick, who says it is actually the sound of Paul tapping his foot. McCartney also said the same in The Beatles' Anthology documentary. Emerick recalls [Paul's foot-taps, presumably] as being mic'd up separately.[20] Footage included in the bonus content on disc two of the 2009 remaster of the album shows McCartney tapping both his feet alternately while performing the song.

The mono version contains the bird sounds a few seconds earlier than the stereo recording, and was originally issued on a mono incarnation of The Beatles (it has since been issued worldwide as part of The Beatles in Mono CD box set). The song appears on 2006 remix album Love with "Yesterday", billed as "Blackbird/Yesterday". "Blackbird" provides an introduction to "Yesterday".

Live performances


In 1973, McCartney included the song, along with the Beatles track "Michelle",[21] as part of his acoustic medley in the television special James Paul McCartney.[22] Starting with his 1975–76 world tour with the band Wings, McCartney has performed "Blackbird" on every one of his concert tours.[23] A solo performance of the song, followed by "Yesterday", appears on Wings' 1976 live album Wings Over America.

McCartney also included "Blackbird" in his set at the Party at the Palace concert in June 2002. In 2009, McCartney performed the song at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, commenting prior to singing it on how it had been written in response to the Civil Rights Movement, and added, "It's so great to realise so many civil rights issues have been overcome."[24]

A live version appears in the multi-CD collection Good Evening New York City, which was released in 2009 and recorded inside the American stadium Citi Field.



Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of its release, Jacob Stolworthy of The Independent listed "Blackbird" at number five in his ranking of the White Album's 30 tracks. He said that its "beautiful calmness" was at odds with the growing racial tensions that allegedly inspired the song, and concluded: "For many, it's the apotheosis of McCartney's career and remains a standout in his solo live shows."[25] Although the 1985 Mr. Mister song "Broken Wings" contains an identical lyric, "Take these broken wings and learn to fly", Mr. Mister member Richard Page has described this as "a mindless unintentional reference" attributable to songwriter John Lang being inspired by Kahlil Gibran's 1912 book Broken Wings.[26]



According to Ian MacDonald:[27]


Chart (2010) Peak
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[28] 91
US Billboard Hot 100 Recurrents[29] 20

Certifications and sales

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Denmark (IFPI Danmark)[30] Gold 45,000
United Kingdom (BPI)[31] Platinum 600,000
United States
digital sales

Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

Cover versions


"Blackbird" was the eighth-most-recorded song of all time as of December 2008.[33]

Crosby, Stills & Nash recorded a version in February of 1969 during sessions for their debut album; it was later released on their box set of 1991. Concert versions by the trio can also be found on the document of their 1974 tour as well as the 2019 expanded set of performances from the Woodstock Festival.

In 2021, Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr released their first new studio album in over a decade, titled Blackbird Lennon-McCartney Icons. The album is composed of songs penned by McCartney and Lennon, and was inspired by the social and political climate of the time and its similarities to the 1960s. "Blackbird" was released as the only single from the album, with an accompanying music video produced.

In 2024, Beyoncé covered the song for her album Cowboy Carter, titled "Blackbiird", featuring country singers Brittney Spencer, Reyna Roberts, Tanner Adell and Tiera Kennedy.[34] Her version uses the original Beatles instrumental.[35] McCartney expressed admiration for Beyoncé's cover, stating: "I think she does a magnificent version of it and it reinforces the civil rights message that inspired me to write the song in the first place. I think Beyoncé has done a fab version and would urge anyone who has not heard it yet to check it out. You are going to love it!"[36]

Scottish folk singer and multi-instrumentalist Julie Fowlis sang '"Blackbird" in Scottish Gaelic in a cover version commissioned by Mojo magazine to celebrate The White Album's fortieth anniversary.[37] The song was released as a download single from Fowlis' own website in October 2008.


  1. ^ Halliday, Ayun (2 January 2023). "Paul McCartney Explains How Bach Influenced "Blackbird"". OpenCulture. Retrieved 17 December 2023.
  2. ^ Tanenbaum, Ross (3 January 2023). "Paul McCartney Shares How Bach Inspired 'Blackbird'". Showbiz Cheat Sheet. Retrieved 17 December 2023.
  3. ^ Michelangelo CC (25 June 2021). Paul McCartney Explains Blackbird. Retrieved 4 July 2024 – via YouTube.
  4. ^ Top 2000 a gogo (4 December 2017). Paul McCartney – Blackbird (The Beatles) | Het verhaal achter het nummer. Retrieved 4 July 2024 – via YouTube.{{cite AV media}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  5. ^ a b MacDonald 1998, p. 256fn.
  6. ^ Flemming, James (11 November 2009). "The Records, Day Four: 1968–1969". PopMatters. Retrieved 21 December 2015.
  7. ^ a b c Turner 1999, p. 160.
  8. ^ Everett 1999, p. 190.
  9. ^ Hopper, Alex (23 July 2022). "Behind the Civil Rights Message Of "Blackbird" by The Beatles". American Songwriter. Retrieved 17 December 2023.
  10. ^ Douridas, Chris (25 May 2002). "NewGround: Paul McCartney". KCRW. Event occurs at 17:50–19:00. Retrieved 21 March 2021.
  11. ^ "Paul McCartney Breaks Down His Most Iconic Songs | GQ". YouTube. 11 September 2018. Archived from the original on 12 December 2021. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  12. ^ Miles 2001, p. 317.
  13. ^ MacDonald 1998, pp. 256, 256fn.
  14. ^ "Paul McCartney & Donovan – Postcard Sessions 1968". YouTube. 13 April 2016. Archived from the original on 13 April 2017.
  15. ^ Miles 1997, pp. 489–90.
  16. ^ MacDonald 1998, p. 255.
  17. ^ a b Lewisohn 1988, p. 137.
  18. ^ "Blackbird". Rolling Stone. 10 April 2020.
  19. ^ "Blackbird by The Beatles - Songfacts". www.songfacts.com.
  20. ^ Recording the Beatles, pg. 484
  21. ^ Madinger & Easter 2000, p. 180.
  22. ^ Badman 2001, p. 96.
  23. ^ Womack 2014, p. 153.
  24. ^ Bychawski, Adam (18 April 2009). "Paul McCartney gets emotional during marathon Coachella set". nme.com. Archived from the original on 22 December 2015. Retrieved 21 December 2015.
  25. ^ Stolworthy, Jacob (22 November 2018). "The Beatles' White Album tracks, ranked – from Blackbird to While My Guitar Gently Weeps". The Independent. Retrieved 27 March 2019.
  26. ^ "19 of the greatest power ballads of all time". Smooth. 2 July 2018.
  27. ^ MacDonald 1998, p. 291.
  28. ^ "The Beatles – Blackbird". dutchcharts.nl.
  29. ^ "The Beatles Chart History (Hot 100 Recurrents)". Billboard. Retrieved 16 December 2021.
  30. ^ "Danish single certifications – Beatles – Blackbird". IFPI Danmark. Retrieved 4 October 2022.
  31. ^ "British single certifications – Beatles – Blackbird". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 3 November 2023.
  32. ^ "Nielsen SoundScan charts – Digital Songs – Week Ending: 11/16/2014" (PDF). Nielsen SoundScan. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 21, 2015. Retrieved June 16, 2021.
  33. ^ Elmes, John (5 December 2008). "The 10 Most Covered Songs". The Independent. Retrieved 3 April 2019.
  34. ^ Simpson, Dave (29 March 2024). "A new moment to arise: Beyoncé's cover of the Beatles' Blackbird is a timely masterstroke". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 30 March 2024.
  35. ^ Willman, Chris; Aswad, Jem (2 April 2024). "Beyoncé Used Original Beatles Backing Track for 'Blackbird' on New 'Cowboy Carter' Version, With Paul McCartney's Blessing". Variety. Retrieved 3 April 2024.
  36. ^ Kreps, Daniel (4 April 2024). "Paul McCartney 'So Happy' With Beyoncé's 'Magnificent' Version of 'Blackbird'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 9 April 2024.
  37. ^ Adams, Rob. "Julie Fowlis – on Brave, Gaelic, flowers and couture". Rob Adams Journalist. Retrieved 18 June 2024.