Paint It Black

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"Paint It Black"
The band members are in a grassy area. From left to right (standing) are: Charlie Watts, Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, and Bill Wyman. Laying down in front of the others with his head resting against Mick Jagger's left leg is Keith Richards. The title of the song, "Paint It, Black", and its UK B-side, "Long Long While" are in orange text with a black background on the top of the cover. Below a white horizontal line (still with the black background) is the band name, "The Rolling Stones", in white text.
UK picture sleeve
Single by the Rolling Stones
from the album Aftermath (US release)
B-side
Released
  • 7 May 1966 (1966-05-07) (US)
  • 13 May 1966 (1966-05-13) (UK)
Recorded6–9 March 1966
StudioRCA (Los Angeles)
Genre
Length
  • 3:46
Label
Songwriter(s)Jagger–Richards
Producer(s)Andrew Loog Oldham
Rolling Stones US singles chronology
"19th Nervous Breakdown"
(1966)
"Paint It Black"
(1966)
"Mother's Little Helper"
(1966)
Rolling Stones UK singles chronology
"19th Nervous Breakdown"
(1966)
"Paint It Black"
(1966)
"Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?"
(1966)
Lyric video
"Paint It Black" (lyric video) on YouTube
Alternative cover
The band members are in a wooded area. From left to right (standing) are: Charlie Watts, Brian Jones, Bill Wyman, and Mick Jagger. Sitting down behind and between Jones and Jagger is Keith Richards. The title of the song, "Paint It, Black", is in orange text with a black background on the top of the cover. Below a white horizontal line (still with the black background) is the band name, "The Rolling Stones", in white text.
US picture sleeve

"Paint It Black"[a] is a song recorded in 1966 by the English rock band the Rolling Stones. A product of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards' songwriting partnership, it is an uptempo song with Indian, Middle Eastern and Eastern European influences and features lyrics about grief and loss. London Records released the song as a single on 7 May 1966 in the United States; Decca Records released it on 13 May in the United Kingdom. London Records included it as the opening track on the American version of the band's 1966 studio album Aftermath.

Reviews at the time were mixed and some music critics believed its sitar sound was an attempt to copy the Beatles. Retrospectively, critics have considered "Paint It Black" more favourably, and Rolling Stone magazine has ranked it one of the greatest songs of all time. A chart success for the Stones, the song spent eleven weeks – including two at number one – on the US Billboard Hot 100, and spent 10 weeks – including one atop the chart – on the Record Retailer chart in the UK. It was in the UK Singles Chart for 11 weeks in 2007. It was the band's third number-one single in the US and sixth in the UK. The song also topped charts in Canada and the Netherlands. It received a platinum certification in the UK from the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) and gold from Italy's Federazione Industria Musicale Italiana (FIMI).

Many artists have covered "Paint It Black"; it is included on compilation albums, and appeared on film soundtracks. The Rolling Stones have played the song on several tours. The record was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2018.

Background and development[edit]

"Paint It Black" came at a pivotal period in the Rolling Stones' recording history. The Mick Jagger/Keith Richards songwriting collaboration was producing more original material for the band, culminating in the sessions for Aftermath (1966) where, for the first time, the duo penned every track on the album.[2] Brian Jones, overshadowed by Jagger and Richards, grew bored attempting to write songs, and with conventional guitar melodies.[3] To alleviate his boredom, he explored Eastern instruments, specifically the Indian sitar,[4] with a view to bolstering the musical texture and complexity of the band's sound. A multi-instrumentalist, Jones could develop a tune on the sitar in a short time; he had a background with the instrument largely from his studies under Harihar Rao, a disciple of Ravi Shankar, since 1961.[5] Following a discussion with the Beatles' lead guitarist George Harrison, who had recently recorded the sitar on "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" in October 1965, Jones arranged basic melodies with the instrument that morphed over time into that featured in "Paint It Black".[6]

Writing and recording[edit]

Jagger and Richards wrote "Paint It Black" on tour with the Stones in Australia.[7] Sound engineer Dave Hassinger recorded the song on 6 and 9 March 1966 at RCA Studios in Los Angeles.[8][9][10] Andrew Loog Oldham produced each Aftermath track, including "Paint It Black".[9]

"Paint It Black" follows a simple verse form that lacks a refrain. It starts with five consecutive 16-bar verses before relaxing into a chanted section and finishing in a frantic coda.[11] The song was written originally as a standard pop arrangement in a minor key similar to "The House of the Rising Sun", which Jagger humorously compared to "songs for Jewish weddings".[12] The Stones were dissatisfied with this version and considered scrapping the song altogether. During a session break, Bill Wyman twiddled with a Hammond organ in search of a heavier bass sound; Wyman's playing inspired the uptempo and Eastern pentatonic melody. The sitar was brought into the mix when Harihar Rao walked into the studio with one in hand.[12] Soon after the recording session, Richards felt the track's conclusion was over-recorded and that it could have been improved.[5][12]

Wyman was later critical of Oldham listing Jagger and Richards as songwriters to the exclusion of the rest of the Stones.[13] He felt "Paint It Black" should have been credited to the band's pseudonym, Nanker Phelge, rather than Jagger–Richards, since the song originated from a studio improvisation by Jones and Watts and himself, Jones providing the melody line.[14][15] In the view of pop historian Andrew Grant Jackson, "Paint It Black" bears a strong resemblance to the Supremes' 1965 hit "My World Is Empty Without You", which used "a foreboding minor key with harpsichord and organ".[16]

Music and lyrics[edit]

In a 1995 interview, commenting on the musical styles found on Aftermath, Jagger described "Paint It Black" as "this kind of Turkish song".[17] According to music scholar James E. Perone, although 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".[6] Jagger's droning and slightly nasal singing complement the motif Jones plays on the sitar.[18] Wyman's heavy bass, Charlie Watts' low-pitch drumming and Richards' bolero-driven acoustic guitar outro drive "Paint It Black".[5][12] Commentators and reviewers have classified "Paint It Black" as raga rock,[19][20] psychedelia,[21][22][23] and psychedelic rock.[24]

Using colour-based metaphors, the song's lyrics describe the grief suffered by someone stunned by the sudden and unexpected loss of a partner.[12][25] The lyrics have also given rise to alternate interpretations scholars consider less likely, ranging from a bad trip on hallucinogens to the Vietnam War.[26] Perone noted in 2012 that the lyrical content – a character "so entrenched in his depression and rage that he has lost all hope" – established the concept for Aftermath's American edition, the following songs offering insight into "the darkness of his psyche" and possible reasons for its darkness.[6] Commentators often speculated that Jagger took inspiration from novelist James Joyce's 1922 book Ulysses, particularly the excerpt "I have to turn my head until my darkness goes", referring to the novel's theme of a world view of desperation and desolation.[18]

Release[edit]

London Records released "Paint It Black" as a single in the US on 7 May 1966; Decca Records released it on 13 May in the UK.[27] "Paint It Black"'s UK B-side featured "Long, Long While" and "Stupid Girl" as its US B-side.[26] The song was added to the American release of Aftermath,[28] as its opening track,[29] replacing "Mother's Little Helper".[7] Its delayed North American release allowed pirate radio stations to play the single up to two weeks before the album appeared.[30] The song was originally released as "Paint It, Black", the comma being an error by Decca, which stirred controversy over its racial interpretation.[1] The Stones performed "Paint It Black" live on The Ed Sullivan Show on 11 September.[31][32]

"Paint It Black" has appeared on several Stones compilations, including Hot Rocks 1964–1971 (1971),[33] Singles Collection: The London Years (1989),[34] Forty Licks (2002),[35] and GRRR! (2012).[36] Live recordings are on the concert albums Flashpoint (1991),[37] Live Licks (2004),[38] Shine a Light (2008),[39] Hyde Park Live (2013),[40] and Havana Moon (2016).[41]

Critical reception and legacy[edit]

Initial reaction to "Paint It Black" was mixed. Some music critics found the addition of the sitar to be simply a case of the band copying the Beatles.[28] In his book Brian Jones: The Making of the Rolling Stones, Paul Trynka comments on the influence of Harrison's sitar playing on the Beatles' song "Norwegian Wood" from the Rubber Soul album and draws parallels with Jones' droning sitar melody on "Paint It Black".[42] Responding to claims that he was imitating the Beatles, Jones replied: "What utter rubbish", comparing the argument to saying that all groups using a guitar copy each other merely by using the instrument.[12] Jonathan Bellman, an American musicologist, agreed with Jones, writing in a 1997 issue of The Journal of Musicology that the events are an example of concurrent musical and instrumental experimentation.[43] Jones' sitar part on the track influenced the development of a whole subgenre of minor-key psychedelic music.[5]

Lindy Shannon of the La Crosse Tribune felt "Paint It Black", the Byrds' "Eight Miles High" and the Beatles' "Rain" were straying from the "commercial field" and instead "going into a sort of distorted area of unpleasant sounds".[44] Staff at Melody Maker lauded the track, calling it "a glorious Indian raga-riot that will send the Stones back to number one".[7] Writing for Disc and Music Echo, Penny Valentine praised Jagger's singing, writing that it was "better than ever" but was critical of the track's sitar.[45] Guitar Player's Jesse Gress cited "Paint It Black" as originating the 1960s ragarock craze.[46] In a review for New Musical Express (NME), Keith Altham considered "Paint It Black" the band's best single since "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" was released the previous year.[47] A reviewer for Billboard predicted that Aftermath would become another hit for the band, citing "Paint It Black" as the focal point of this hard rock album and praising Oldham's production.[48] The Herald News considered the song a "top record ... for teeners",[49] and in The Sunday Press Nancy Brown described it as a "pulsating, blues-soaked romantic tear-jerker".[50] In the San Francisco Examiner, Ralph J. Gleason lauded the song for its "hypnotizing tone" and "same qualities of ambiguity and obscurity as some of the previous Stones hits".[51]

In a retrospective review, Richie Unterberger of AllMusic called the song an "eerily insistent" classic that features some of "the best use of sitar on a rock record",[29] and in another AllMusic review wrote it is "perhaps the most effective use of the Indian instrument in a rock song".[52] Writing on the song's 50th anniversary in 2016, Dave Swanson of Ultimate Classic Rock considered the song, like its parent album Aftermath, to be a major turning point in artistic evolution for the band, noting: "'Paint It, Black' wasn't just another song by just another rock group; it was an explosion of ideas presented in one neat three-minute package."[23] In 2017, ranking Aftermath as one of the best albums of the 1960s, Judy Berman of Pitchfork described the song as "rock's most nihilistic hit to date".[53] David Palmer, editor of the Cullman Times, wrote that the "attitude" songs on Aftermath – particularly "Paint It Black" – influenced the nihilistic outlook of punk music.[54]

"Paint It Black" inspired almost four hundred covers.[26] It has placed on many "best of" lists including those by Rolling Stone, Vulture magazine,[55][56] NME, and Pitchfork. The Recording Academy inducted the song into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2018.[57] It is ranked number 213 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time,[58] and according to Acclaimed Music it is the 115th most celebrated song in popular music history.[59]

Commercial performance[edit]

In the UK, "Paint It Black" peaked at number one on the Record Retailer chart during a 10-week stay, becoming the Rolling Stones' sixth UK number one.[9][60] Seven days after its UK release, "Paint It Black" had sold 300,000 advance copies; the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) later certified it platinum.[61] In 2007, the song entered the UK Singles chart at number 70 for an 11-week stint.[62][63] In Germany, "Paint It Black" peaked at number two on the Musikmarkt Hit-Parade;[64] the Bundesverband Musikindustrie (BVMI) certified the 2018 re-issue gold.[65] The single was a top five hit in other European countries, peaking at number two in Austria, Ireland, and Norway; number three in Belgium; and number four in Spain. After its 1990 reissue, "Paint It Black" charted at number 61.[60] The single's 2007 re-issue charted at number 49 on the Official German Charts[66] and its 2012 re-issue charted number at 127 in France.[67]

"Paint It Black" debuted at number 48 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart for the week of 14 May 1966.[68] The song took three weeks to rise to number one,[69] where it stayed for two consecutive weeks,[70][71][72] being replaced by Frank Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night."[73] Its stint at number one made it the band's third in the US[28] and the first song to feature a sitar to peak at number one in the country.[74] By June, it had sold more than a million copies.[75][76] It rose to number one in a "violent shakeup" of the list where 10 of its 20 songs appeared for the first time.[77] "Paint It Black" remained on the chart for 11 weeks.[78] The song was ranked 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 of 1966.[79] Further re-issues of the single have not peaked on the Billboard Hot 100,[80] but 2008 sales saw "Paint It Black" reach number 73 on the Billboard Hot Canadian Digital Song Sales.[81] According to the pop historian Richard Havers, Aftermath's 1966 US chart run was assisted by the success of "Paint It Black".[82] "Paint It Black" also topped singles charts in Canada and the Netherlands.[83][84]

In a KEYS national survey taken in June 1966, "Paint It Black" was number one in the United States.[85] Surveys conducted by the Associated Press and United Press International identified the song as ranking No. 1 in the US the week of 12–19 June 1966.[86][87] On the 1966 year-end charts, "Paint It Black" ranked number 21 on the US Billboard Hot 100[88] and number 30 on the Record Retailer chart.[89] The 1990 re-issue of "Paint It Black" topped the Netherlands Single Top 100[90] and peaked at number 11 in Belgium.[91]

Live performances and other versions[edit]

The Rolling Stones have performed "Paint It Black" during the Steel Wheels/Urban Jungle Tour (1991),[37] Licks Tour (2002–2003),[38] A Bigger Bang Tour (2005–2007),[39] 50 & Counting (2012–2013),[40][92] 14 On Fire (2014),[93] América Latina Olé Tour 2016,[94] and the No Filter Tour (2017–2020).[95][96]

American funk-rock band Eric Burdon and War released a cover of the song in 1970, which reached number 31 on the Dutch Top 40 singles chart.[97][98][99] Irish rock band U2 included a cover of "Paint It Black" as the B-side to their 1992 single "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses"[98] and did so again with the 20th anniversary rerelease of their album Achtung Baby in 2011.[100] The London Symphony Orchestra performed a cover of the song in their 1994 "Symphonic Music of the Rolling Stones" performance.[101] American singer Tracy Lawrence covered "Paint It Black" for the compilation album Stone Country: Country Artists Perform the Songs of the Rolling Stones in 1997.[102] American singer-songwriter Vanessa Carlton included a cover of the song on her 2002 debut album Be Not Nobody, which was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.[103][104] Canadian rock band Rush played one minute and ten seconds of the song during their 2003 performance at Molson Canadian Rocks for Toronto.[105] American singer-songwriter Ciara recorded a cover version for the 2015 film, The Last Witch Hunter.[106]

The song has seen commercial use in film, video games and other entertainment media. "Paint It Black" plays during the end credits of the films Full Metal Jacket (1987)[107] and The Devil's Advocate (1997),[108] and was a plot device in the supernatural horror film Stir of Echoes (1999).[109] The trailers for both the video game Call of Duty: Black Ops III (2015)[110] and the film The Mummy (2017) feature "Paint It Black".[111] Multiple episodes of the TV series Westworld use an orchestral arrangement of the song by Ramin Djawadi.[112] The song features on the soundtracks to multiple video games, including Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (2007)[113][114] and Guitar Hero Live (2015).[115]

Personnel[edit]

According to authors Andy Babiuk and Greg Prevost,[116] except where noted:

The Rolling Stones

Additional musicians and production

In Philippe Margotin and Jean-Michel Guesdon's book The Rolling Stones All the Songs, they add a question mark after Jones' guitar contribution and credit "tambourine, bongos, castanets" to "unidentified musicians".[119] In the book Rolling Stones Gear by Babiuk and Prevost, they credit an acoustic guitar contribution to Jones, maracas and cowbell to Wyman and tambourine and castanets to Watts.[120]

Studio locations

Charts[edit]

Certifications[edit]

Certifications for "Paint It Black"
Region Certification Certified units/sales
Denmark (IFPI Danmark)[137] Gold 45,000double-dagger
Germany (BVMI)[65] Gold 250,000double-dagger
Italy (FIMI)[138] Gold 25,000double-dagger
United Kingdom (BPI)[139] Platinum 1,000,000double-dagger

double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

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Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The song was originally released as "Paint It, Black" due to a typographical error.[1]

Sources[edit]