Paint It Black

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"Paint It Black"
Single by the Rolling Stones
from the album Aftermath (US release)
  • 7 May 1966 (1966-05-07) (US)
  • 13 May 1966 (UK)
Recorded6–9 March 1966
StudioRCA, Hollywood, California
  • 3:19 (mono single mix)
  • 3:22 (stereo album mix)
Producer(s)Andrew Loog Oldham[5]
Rolling Stones US singles chronology
"19th Nervous Breakdown"
"Paint It Black"
"Mother's Little Helper" / "Lady Jane"
Rolling Stones UK singles chronology
"19th Nervous Breakdown"
"Paint It Black"
"Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?"
Audio sample
Music video
"Paint It Black" (lyric video) on YouTube
Alternative cover
US picture sleeve
US picture sleeve

"Paint It Black" (originally released as "Paint It, Black") is a song by the English rock band the Rolling Stones. Jointly credited to the songwriting partnership of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, it was first released as a single on 7 May 1966, and later included as the opening track to the US version of their 1966 album Aftermath.[6] The song reached No. 1 in both the Billboard Hot 100 and the UK Singles Chart,[7][8] becoming the band's third No.1 hit single in the US and sixth in the UK.[9][10]

Since its initial release, the song has remained influential as the first number-one hit featuring a sitar, particularly in the UK, where it has charted on two other occasions, and has been the subject of multiple cover versions, compilation albums and film appearances.[11]

It is one of the band's most popular songs and is on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list. It was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2018 and it is the 79th best ranked song on critics' all-time lists according to Acclaimed Music.

Background and composition[edit]

The song's lyrics are, for the most part, meant to describe depression through the use of colour-based metaphors. Initially, "Paint It Black" was written as a standard pop arrangement, humorously compared by Mick Jagger to "Songs for Jewish weddings".[12] The song describes the extreme grief suffered by one stunned by the sudden and unexpected loss of a wife, lover or partner. It is often claimed that Jagger took inspiration from novelist James Joyce's 1922 book Ulysses, taking the excerpt "I have to turn my head until my darkness goes", referring to the novel's theme of a worldwide view of desperation and desolation.[11] It was the first song to feature a sitar to peak No. 1 in the United States.[13]

"Paint It Black" came at a pivotal period in the Rolling Stones' recording history, a time that saw the songwriting collaboration of Jagger and Richards assert itself as the principal composer of the band's original material. This is evident from the sessions for the album Aftermath, where for the first time the duo penned the complete track list.[14] In addition, Jones, overshadowed by Jagger and Richards, grew bored with attempting to write songs, as well as conventional guitar melodies.[15] To alleviate the boredom, Jones explored eastern instruments, more specifically the sitar, to bolster the group's musical texture and complexity. A multi-instrumentalist, Jones was able to develop a tune from the sitar in a short amount of time; Jones had a background with the instrument as far back as 1961, largely due to his studies under Harihar Rao, a disciple of Ravi Shankar.[16] Not long after a discussion with George Harrison, who had recently recorded sitar on "Norwegian Wood", Jones arranged basic melodies with the instrument that, over time, morphed into the one featured in "Paint It Black".[17]

In a 1995 interview, when commenting on the musical styles found on Aftermath, Jagger described "Paint It Black" as a "kind of Turkish song".[18] According to the music scholar James E. Perone, while the introductory sitar passage is played in an Indian fashion, "the rhythmic and melodic feel of the Eastern-sounding phrases actually call to mind the Middle East more than India." He adds that the lyrical content – a character "so entrenched in his depression and rage that he has lost all hope" – establishes the concept for Aftermath's American edition, with each of the following songs offering insight into "the darkness of his psyche".[19]


The master take of "Paint It Black" was recorded on 8 March 1966, at RCA Studios in Los Angeles, with record producer Andrew Loog Oldham present throughout the process.[20] Much of the early recorded arrangements, and keys of the track were modeled after The Animals' version of "The House of the Rising Sun", but The Rolling Stones were dissatisfied with the song, and considered scrapping it. However, while twiddling with a Hammond organ, Bill Wyman searched for a heavier bass sound, while playing the part on his knees. Wyman's playing clicked with the group, and inspired the up-tempo and Eastern pentatonic melody. By all accounts, the sitar was brought into the mix when Harihar Rao happened to walk in the studio with the instrument in hand.[12]

In his book Brian Jones: The Making of the Rolling Stones, Paul Trynka has noted that the influence of Harrison's sitar playing, and, in particular, the Beatles' song "Norwegian Wood" on the Rubber Soul album, draws parallels in "Paint It Black"—most noticeably in Jones' droning sitar melody.[21] In response to claims that he was merely imitating the Beatles, however, Jones said: "What utter rubbish!" His sitar part on the track immediately became influential in developing a whole subgenre of minor-key psychedelic music.[16] The striking motif on the sitar is complemented by Jagger's droning, and slight nasal singing.[11] In addition, "Paint It Black" was highlighted by Wyman's heavy bass, Charlie Watts's low-pitch drumming, and Richards' bolero-driven acoustic guitar outro.

Soon after the recording session, Richards noted that the conclusion of the track was over-recorded, and that a different guitar could have potentially improved the song.[12][16]

Commercial performance[edit]

"Paint It Black" was released in the US on 7 May 1966, reaching number one on the Billboard Hot 100 during a stay of 11 weeks.[7][9] In the UK, the song was released on 13 May 1966 and also became a number-one hit on the UK Singles Chart throughout a chart stay of ten weeks.[10] It was originally released as "Paint It, Black", the comma being an error by Decca Records, but, nonetheless, stirred controversy among fans over its racial interpretation.[22] The Stones performed "Paint It Black" live on the Ed Sullivan Show on September 11, 1966.[23] Upon further reissues to the UK in 1990 and 2007, "Paint It Black" charted at number 61 and 70 respectively.[10]

"Paint It Black" has appeared on numerous Stones compilations, including Hot Rocks 1964–1971 (1971),[24] Singles Collection: The London Years (1989),[25] Forty Licks (2002),[26] and GRRR! (2012).[27] Live recordings are featured on the concert albums Flashpoint (1991),[28] Live Licks (2004),[29] Shine a Light (2008),[30] Hyde Park Live (2013),[31] and Havana Moon (2016).[32] The song has been featured in the soundtracks to multiple video games, including Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock,[33] Guitar Hero Live,[34] and Mafia III.[35]

The song has seen widespread commercial use in film, video games, and other entertainment mediums. "Paint It Black" plays during the end credits of the films Full Metal Jacket and The Devil's Advocate. In TV, it was used as the opening theme song to the series Tour of Duty and for the end credits to part five of The Vietnam War documentary series. It was featured in the Call of Duty: Black Ops III and The Mummy trailers. The Pittsburgh Pirates of Major League Baseball used the song as part of their "Black Out" promotions.[36] An orchestral arrangement of the song has been used in multiple episodes of the TV series Westworld. R&B singer Ciara would later cover the song for the soundtrack of the 2015 film The Last Witch Hunter.[37]

An instrumental version was used in 2018 as background in a TV spot The Future is Built for Ford Motor, featuring Bryan Cranston, as a subtle nod to Henry Ford's famous comment: "Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black." The first stanzas have been used in a Coca-Cola ad.

Critical reception[edit]

"Paint It Black" is considered by Rolling Stone to be the Rolling Stones' sixth greatest song of all time[38] and is ranked number 176 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list.[39] According to Acclaimed Music, it is the 79th most celebrated song in popular music.[40] In 2018, the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.[41]


According to Philippe Margotin and Jean-Michel Guesdon's book All the Songs. The authors add a question mark after Jones's guitar contribution and credit "tambourine, bongos, castanets" to "unidentified musicians".[42]


Weekly charts[edit]

Chart (1966) Peak
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[43] 2
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[44] 3
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[45] 1
Ireland (IRMA)[46] 2
Germany (Official German Charts)[47] 2
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[48] 1
New Zealand (Listener)[49] 4
Norway (VG-lista)[50] 2
South Africa (Springbok)[51] 3
Spain (AFE)[52] 4
UK Singles (OCC)[53] 1
US Billboard Hot 100[54] 1
Chart (1990) Peak
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[44] 11
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[48] 1
UK Singles (OCC)[53] 61
Chart (2007) Peak
Germany (Official German Charts)[47] 49
Chart (2012) Peak
France (SNEP)[55] 127

Year-end charts[edit]

Chart (1966) Rank
UK [56] 30
US Billboard Hot 100[57] 21


Region Certification Certified units/sales
Germany (BVMI)[58] Gold 250,000^
Italy (FIMI)[59] Platinum 50,000double-dagger
United Kingdom (BPI)[60] Platinum 1,000,000double-dagger

^shipments figures based on certification alone
double-daggersales+streaming figures based on certification alone

Cover versions[edit]

The song has been covered by multiple artists, including U2[61] and Rick Wakeman.[62] In 1966, French singer and actress Marie Laforêt recorded a French language version with new lyrics. Laforêt's version is entitled "Marie-douceur, Marie-colère"[63] In 1970, Eric Burdon & War's cover reached No. 31 on the Dutch Top 40 singles chart.[64]

"Paint It Black"
Single by Eric Burdon & War
from the album The Black Man's Burdon
B-side"Nights in White Satin"
Released1971 (1971)
Producer(s)Jerry Goldstein
Eric Burdon & War singles chronology
"Tobacco Road"
"Paint It Black"
"They Can't Take Away Our Music"

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1971) Peak
Dutch Top 40[64] 31


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External links[edit]