Blackbird (Beatles song)
Cover of the song's sheet music
|Song by the Beatles|
|from the album The Beatles|
|Released||22 November 1968|
|Recorded||11 June 1968|
|Studio||EMI Studios, London|
"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 alternatively by the unfortunate state of race relations in the United States in the 1960s.
McCartney explained on Chaos and Creation at Abbey Road, aired in 2005, 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 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 night his future wife Linda Eastman stayed at his home, McCartney played "Blackbird" for the fans camped outside his house. The fingerpicking technique that McCartney uses in the song was taught to him by folk singer Donovan.
Meaning and interpretation
Since composing "Blackbird" in 1968, McCartney has given differing, contradictory statements regarding both his inspiration for the song and its meaning. In one of these scenarios, he has said he was inspired by hearing the call of a blackbird one morning when the Beatles were studying Transcendental Meditation in Rishikesh, India. In another, he recalls writing it in Scotland as a response to racial tensions escalating in the United States during the spring of 1968.
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.
A third scenario came from the recollection of his stepmother, Angie McCartney. She said 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.
The lyrics have invited similarly varied interpretations – as a nature song, a message in support of the Black Power movement, or a love song. Writing in the 1990s, Ian MacDonald dismissed the idea that "Blackbird" was intended as "a metaphor for the black civil rights struggle". Noting instead the composition's romantic qualities, MacDonald said that the early-morning bird song "translates … into a succinct metaphor for awakening on a deeper level". 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.
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' repetition of the word "rise" 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.
Composition and recording
The song was recorded on 11 June 1968 at EMI's Abbey Road Studios in London, with George Martin as the producer and Geoff Emerick as the audio engineer. 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.
Only three sounds were recorded: McCartney's voice, his Martin D-28 acoustic guitar, and a tapping that keeps time on the left channel. 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 as being mic'd up separately. 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 bird sounds different from 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 Love with "Yesterday", billed as "Blackbird/Yesterday". "Blackbird" provides an introduction to "Yesterday".
In 1973, McCartney included the song, along with the Beatles track "Michelle", as part of his acoustic medley in the television special James Paul McCartney. Starting with his 1975–76 world tour with the band Wings, McCartney has performed "Blackbird" on every one of his concert tours. 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."
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."
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|Single by The Dandy Warhols|
|Released||31 July 2009|
|Label||Beat the World|
|The Dandy Warhols singles chronology|
According to music journalist John Elmes of The Independent, "Blackbird" was one of the top ten most recorded songs of all time up to December 2008. The following artists have recorded "Blackbird" in a variety of styles:
- Jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis used it to close his record of songs from the Beatles' White Album, titled Mother Nature's Son.
- Pop/jazz singer Kenny Rankin covered "Blackbird" on his 1974 album Silver Morning.
- Pop rock/R&B singer Dionne Farris included an acoustic interpretation of the song on her debut album Wild Seed – Wild Flower.
- "Blackbird" appears on the Crosby, Stills & Nash 1991 box set, having been recorded during the sessions for the album Crosby, Stills & Nash. They performed it often in concert, also at their performance at Woodstock festival 1969 and a live version appeared in 2014 on the CSNY 1974 album.
- The Dandy Warhols released a recording of the song in July 2009 following the death of Michael Jackson, fulfilling a promise made in the first and title track of their 2003 album Welcome to the Monkey House ("When Michael Jackson dies, we're coverin' 'Blackbird'"). The line was thought to partially reference Jackson's ownership of the Beatles' back catalogue of songs when he bought Associated Television (ATV), which had previously acquired Northern Songs, in the mid-1980s.
- Sarah Darling recorded the song in November 2011 for the album Let Us In: Nashville – A Tribute to Linda McCartney, and it was released as a single. Darling's version was later featured in the 200th episode of Criminal Minds.
- Neil Diamond interpreted the song for his 2010 album Dreams.
- Justin Hayward recorded the song for his 1994 Classic Blue album.
- In 2001, Canadian musician Sarah McLachlan recorded a cover version of "Blackbird" for the I Am Sam film soundtrack. It also appears on her 2008 compilation album Rarities, B-Sides and Other Stuff Volume 2.
- Bobby McFerrin released an a cappella version on his 1984 album The Voice.
- Jazz pianist Brad Mehldau recorded what has been described as a "haunting version of the Beatles' classic" for his 1997 album The Art of the Trio Volume One.
- Swedish classical mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter recorded the song for her "Love Songs" album, with Brad Mehldau in 2010.
- The Paragons featuring Rosalyn Sweat recorded a ska/rocksteady version in 1973.
- Jaco Pastorius recorded the song in 1981.
- "Blackbird" is performed by Phish on the band's 1994 Halloween album, Live Phish Volume 13, which includes a rendition of each song on the Beatles' White Album.
- The song is sung by various members of the Templeton family in the animated film The Boss Baby.
- In 1972, Billy Preston released a version of the song on his Music Is My Life album.
- Carly Simon recorded a version for her 2007 album Into White.
- Sylvester included the song on his live Living Proof album in 1979.
- Evan Rachel Wood vocalised the song in the 2007 film Across the Universe.
- Dave Grohl performed the song during the In Memoriam tribute at the 88th Academy Awards.
- Sara Gazarek recorded it as part of a jazz medley with Bye Bye Blackbird on her 2005 album Yours and her 2016 album Dream in the Blue.
- Jon Batiste performed a version of the song during a taping for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, in honour of the 52nd anniversary of the Beatles' American television debut at The Ed Sullivan Theatre.
- Marillion did a version for their live album Unplugged at the Walls.
- Petula Clark covered the song on her 2016 album From Now On.
- The Waterboys' 1988 album Fisherman's Blues includes a cover of Van Morrison's "Sweet Thing" which ends with Mike Scott singing the lyrics of "Blackbird" to the tune of "Sweet Thing".
- The Guess Who performed the song on their Canadian TV show Let's Go and released it on their 2014 compilation Let's Go, featuring recordings from the show.
- American singer Chase Holfelder performed the song in a minor key version in 2015 on his YouTube channel for his album "Major to Minor: Vol. 1"
- Julie Fowlis performed a Scottish Gaelic version of the song in 2008.
- MacDonald 1998, p. 256fn.
- Flemming, James (11 November 2009). "The Records, Day Four: 1968–1969". PopMatters. Retrieved 21 December 2015.
- Turner 1999, p. 160.
- Everett 1999, p. 190.
- Paul McCartney, Interview with KCRW's Chris Douridas, 25 May 2002 episode of New Ground (17:50–19:00)
- KCRW, "New Ground" with Chris Douridas, 25 May 2002 (17:50–19:00), "KCRW Archive", "Audio"
- Miles 2001, p. 317.
- MacDonald 1998, pp. 256, 256fn.
- "Paul McCartney & Donovan – Postcard Sessions 1968". 13 April 2016.
- Miles 1997, pp. 489–90.
- MacDonald 1998, p. 255.
- Lewisohn 1988, p. 137.
- "Blackbird". Rolling Stone.
- Recording the Beatles, pg. 484
- Madinger & Easter 2000, p. 180.
- Badman 2001, p. 96.
- Womack 2014, p. 153.
- 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.
- 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.
- Elmes, John (5 December 2008). "The 10 Most Covered Songs". The Independent. Retrieved 3 April 2019.
- Hoffman, K. Ross. "Michael Jackson's death causes The Dandy Warhols to cover The Beatles". NME. IPC Media. Retrieved 3 June 2014.
- "The Dandy Warhols Are Sound – The Dandy Warhols". AllMusic. Retrieved 3 June 2014.
- Price, Deborah Evans (April, 2012). "Cover Set Soars". Billboard - The International Newsweekly of Music, Video and Home Entertainment. ProQuest 1030338784.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- Tamashiro, Tim (3 August 2012). "Jazz for Dabblers: 'Blackbird,' the Beatles and Brad Mehldau". CBC Music. Retrieved 22 January 2014.
- The Art of the Trio, Vol. 1 at AllMusic. Retrieved 22 January 2014.
- "Live Phish, Vol. 13: 10/31/94, Glens Falls Civic Center, Glens Falls, NY - Phish". AllMusic. Retrieved 7 September 2017.
- Spanos, Brittany (29 February 2016). "Dave Grohl Plays Touching 'Blackbird' Cover at Oscars 2016". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 8 December 2018.
- Stone, Natalie (28 February 2016). "Oscars: Dave Grohl Performs Paul McCartney's 'Blackbird' for "In Memoriam"". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 8 December 2018.
- "Watch Jon Batiste's gorgeous cover of The Beatles' 'Blackbird' on 'Colbert'". For The Win. 11 February 2016. Retrieved 14 December 2016.
- Frometa, RJ. "The Iconic Petula Clark Releases 'Blackbird' Ahead of New Album". Vents Magazine. Vents Magazine. Retrieved 11 October 2017.
- "Classic Album Of The Week: Fisherman's Blues By The Waterboys". Her.ie. Retrieved 30 July 2018.
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- Lewisohn, Mark (1988). The Beatles Recording Sessions. New York: Harmony Books. ISBN 0-517-57066-1.
- MacDonald, Ian (1998). Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties. London: Pimlico. ISBN 978-0-7126-6697-8.
- Madinger, Chip; Easter, Mark (2000). Eight Arms to Hold You: The Solo Beatles Compendium. Chesterfield, MO: 44.1 Productions. ISBN 0-615-11724-4.
- Miles, Barry (1997). Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now. New York, NY: Henry Holt & Company. ISBN 0-8050-5249-6.
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- Turner, Steve (1999). A Hard Day's Write: The Stories Behind Every Beatles Song (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Carlton/HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-273698-1.
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