Paint It Black

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"Paint It Black"
Single by The Rolling Stones
from the album Aftermath (American version)
B-side "Long, Long While" (UK)
"Stupid Girl" (US)
Released 6 May 1966 (US)
13 May 1966 (UK)
Format 7"
Recorded 8 March 1966, RCA Studios, Hollywood, California
Length 3:45 (mono single mix)
3:22 (stereo album mix)
Label Decca F.12395 (UK)
London 45-LON.901 (US)[2]
Songwriter(s) Jagger/Richards
Producer(s) Andrew Loog Oldham[2]
The Rolling Stones singles chronology
"19th Nervous Breakdown"
"Paint It Black"
"Mother's Little Helper/Lady Jane"
"19th Nervous Breakdown"
"Paint It Black"
"Mother's Little Helper/Lady Jane"
US cover
Audio sample
"Paint It, Black"

"Paint It Black" (originally released as "Paint It, Black") is a song by the English rock band The Rolling Stones, written by the songwriting partnership of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and first released as a single on 6 May 1966. It was later included as the opening track to the US version of their 1966 album, Aftermath.[3]

"Paint It Black" reached number one in both the Billboard Hot 100 and UK Singles Chart. The song became The Rolling Stones' third number one hit single in the US and sixth in the UK.[4][5] 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 in two other instances, and has been the subject of multiple cover versions, compilation albums, and film appearances.[6]

Background and composition[edit]

The song's lyrics are, for the most part, meant to describe bleakness and 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".[7] The song describes the extreme grief suffered by one stunned by the sudden and unexpected loss of 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.[6] The song itself came to fruition when band leader Brian Jones took an interest in Moroccan music. It was their first song to feature a sitar instrumental. "Paint It Black" came at a pivotal period in The Rolling Stones' recording history, a time that saw the songwriting collaboration of Jagger and Keith Richards assert itself as the principal composer of the band's original material. This is evident in the Aftermath sessions, where, for the first time, the duo penned the complete track list.[8] In addition, Brian Jones, overshadowed by Jagger and Richards, grew bored with attempting to write songs, as well as conventional guitar melodies.[9] To alleviate the boredom, Jones explored eastern instruments, more specifically the sitar, to bolster the group's musical texture and complexity. A natural multi-instrumentalist, Jones was able to develop a tune from the sitar in a short amount of time, largely due to his studies under Ravi Shankar's disciple, Harihar Rao.[10] Not long after a discussion with George Harrison, who had recently recorded sitar in "Norwegian Wood", Jones arranged basic melodies with the instrument that, over time, morphed into the one featured in "Paint It Black".[11]


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.[12] 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 unsatisfied 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.[7]

The sitar was featured in the song. However, contrary to popular belief, the opening riff is played by Keith Richards on guitar, as seen on The Ed Sullivan show and other live performances of the time. Jones' sitar is still heard throughout the song. 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.[13] 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.[10] Coupled with this striking instrumental motif, it is complemented by Jagger's droning, and slight nasal vocalization.[6] 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, Richards noted that the conclusion of the track was over-recorded, and a different guitar could have potentially improved the song.[7][10]


"Paint It Black" was released to the US on 7 May 1966, reaching number one on the Billboard Hot 100 during a stay of 11 weeks. 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.[4][5] 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.[14] Upon further reissues to the UK in 1990 and 2007, "Paint It Black" charted at number 61 and 70, respectively.[5]

"Paint It Black" has appeared on numerous Stones compilations, including Hot Rocks 1964-1971 (1971), 30 Greatest Hits (1977), Singles Collection: The London Years (1989), Forty Licks (2002), and GRRR! (2012). Live recordings are featured on the concert albums Flashpoint (1991), Live Licks (2004), Shine a Light (2008), and Sweet Summer Sun: Hyde Park Live (2013). The song was featured in the music video games Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, Guitar Hero Live, and Rocksmith 2014, as well as the video games Twisted Metal: Black and Mafia III.

The song 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. It was featured in the Call of Duty: Black Ops III and The Mummy trailers. The Pittsburgh Pirates of Major League Baseball use the song as part of their "Black Out" promotions.[15] The song also appeared arranged for a symphony orchestra in the premiere of HBO's Westworld.[16]


Charts and certifications[edit]

Eric Burdon & War version[edit]

"Paint It Black"
Single by Eric Burdon & War
from the album The Black Man's Burdon
B-side "Nights in White Satin"
Released 1971
Format 7" single
Recorded 1970
Genre Latin, psychedelic, R&B, funk
Length 4:04
Label Liberty
Songwriter(s) Jagger/Richards
Producer(s) Jerry Goldstein
Eric Burdon & War singles chronology
"Tobacco Road"
"Paint It Black"
"They Can't Take Away Our Music"
"Tobacco Road"
"Paint It Black"
"They Can't Take Away Our Music"

Before Eric Burdon & War's 1970 version reached the charts in Netherlands, Eric Burdon covered it on the 1967 Eric Burdon & The Animals debut album, Winds of Change. They also performed a 12:40 version on German TV in 1970.[31] The original album version of Eric Burdon & War had a length of 13:41.

Eric Burdon & The Animals performed it at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. This version was cut and included in the motion picture of the festival. They performed it also on the BBC.

Eric Burdon performed it also on his "Hippiefest" tour in 2008.

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1971) Peak
Dutch Top 40[32] 31

Other cover versions[edit]

Single releases
  • In 1966, Marie Laforêt recorded a French cover called "Marie-douceur, Marie-colère".
  • In 1966, Hungarian band, Omega recorded a cover of This song on SP in Hungary.
  • In 1967, Chris Farlowe released a cover version, produced by Mick Jagger, as a single excerpt of the already on his 1966 released album 'The Art of Chris Farlowe' version.
  • The Mo-dettes released a version on the Deram label in 1980. It reached number 42 on the UK singles chart.
  • Punk band the Avengers released a cover of the song in 1983, first as the A-side of a single, then on their self-titled album.
  • Indie bubblegum girl band Supercute! covered the song, and filmed a music video for it in 2011.
  • Caterina Caselli had some success with an Italian version of "Paint It Black", titled "Tutto nero", in 1966.
  • Smack (Finnish band) released a cover version in 1986.
Album tracks and single B-sides


  1. ^ "Paint It, Black" a glorious Indian raga-rock riot that will send the Stones back to #1", Nicholas Schaffner, The British invasion: from the first wave to the new wave, (McGraw-Hill, 1982) ISBN 0-07-055089-1
  2. ^ a b Rice, Jo (1982). The Guinness Book of 500 Number One Hits (1st ed.). Enfield, Middlesex: Guinness Superlatives Ltd. p. 101. ISBN 0-85112-250-7. 
  3. ^ Richie Unterberger. "Aftermath - Review". Retrieved June 1, 2015. 
  4. ^ a b "Rolling Stones - Hot 100". Retrieved June 3, 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c "Official Charts - Rolling Stones". officialcharts.con. Retrieved June 3, 2015. 
  6. ^ a b c Viscounti, Tony (2014). 1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die (4th ed.). New York, NY: Universe Publishing. p. 175. ISBN 9780789320896. 
  7. ^ a b c JanovitzIt, Bill (2013). Rocks Off: 50 Tracks That Tell the Story of the Rolling Stones. (1st ed.). New York, New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 92–95. ISBN 9781250026316. Retrieved June 1, 2015. 
  8. ^ "Aftermath (UK)". Retrieved June 1, 2015. 
  9. ^ Bryan Wawzenek. "Top 10 Brian Jones Rolling Stones Multi-Instrumentalist Songs". Retrieved June 1, 2015. 
  10. ^ a b c Brend, Mark (2005). Strange Sounds: Offbeat Instruments and Sonic Experiments in Pop. (1st ed.). San Francisco, CA: Backbeat Books. pp. 151–152. ISBN 9780879308551. Retrieved June 2, 2015. 
  11. ^ Perone, James E. (2012). The Album. (1st ed.). Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. p. 92. ISBN 9780313379062. Retrieved June 2, 2015. 
  12. ^ Sullivan, Steve (2013). Encyclopedia of Great Popular Song Recordings, Volume 2. (1st ed.). Plymouth, UK: Scrarecrow Press Inc. ISBN 9780810882966. Retrieved June 2, 2015. 
  13. ^ Trynka, Paul (2014). Brian Jones: The Making of the Rolling Stones (1st ed.). New York, New York: Viking Penguin. ISBN 9781101614723. 
  14. ^ Robert Greenfield, The Rolling Stone Interviews, p. 172. St. Martin's Press/Rolling Stone Press, 1981, ISBN 0312689551. 1971. 
  15. ^ "Team Music |". 2016-01-20. Retrieved 2016-09-29. 
  16. ^ a b "Westworld Soundtrack (Season 1)". Lyricsoundtrack. Retrieved October 3, 2016. 
  17. ^ " – The Rolling Stones – Paint It, Black" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40. Retrieved 17 June 2016.
  18. ^ a b " – The Rolling Stones – Paint It, Black" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved 17 June 2016.
  19. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 5762." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 17 June 2016.
  20. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Rolling Stones". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved 17 June 2016.
  21. ^ a b " – The Rolling Stones – Paint It, Black". GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved 17 June 2016.
  22. ^ a b " – The Rolling Stones – Paint It, Black" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved 17 June 2016.
  23. ^ "flavour of new zealand - search listener". Retrieved 2016-09-29. 
  24. ^ " – The Rolling Stones – Paint It, Black". VG-lista. Retrieved 17 June 2016.
  25. ^ a b "Rolling Stones: Artist Chart History" Official Charts Company. Retrieved 17 June 2016.
  26. ^ "The Rolling Stones – Chart history" Billboard Hot 100 for The Rolling Stones. Retrieved 17 June 2016.
  27. ^ " – The Rolling Stones – Paint It, Black" (in French). Les classement single. Retrieved 17 June 2016.
  28. ^ "Top 100 Hits of 1966/Top 100 Songs of 1966". Retrieved 2016-09-29. 
  29. ^ "Italian single certifications – The Rolling Stones – Paint It Black" (in Italian). Federazione Industria Musicale Italiana. Retrieved 21 November 2016.  Select Online in the field Sezione. Enter The Rolling Stones in the field Filtra. Select 2016 in the field Anno. The certification will load automatically
  30. ^ "British single certifications – The Rolling Stones – Paint It Black". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 21 November 2016.  Enter Paint It Black in the field Keywords. Select Title in the field Search by. Select single in the field By Format. Select Gold in the field By Award. Click Search
  31. ^ "Eric Burdon & War: ‘Paint It Black’". Dangerous Minds. 28 February 2012. Retrieved 18 August 2012. 
  32. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40, week 20, 1971 (Dutch)". Retrieved 26 April 2009. 
  33. ^ Vineyard, Jennifer (October 5, 2016). "Why You’ll Hear Modern Songs Playing on Westworld". Vulture. Retrieved October 26, 2016. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"Pretty Flamingo" by Manfred Mann
UK number-one single
26 May 1966
Succeeded by
"Strangers in the Night" by Frank Sinatra
Preceded by
"When a Man Loves a Woman" by Percy Sledge
Billboard Hot 100 number-one single
June 11, 1966 (2 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Paperback Writer" by The Beatles
Preceded by
"Good Lovin'" by The Young Rascals
RPM Top 100 number-one single
June 13, 1966
Succeeded by
"Green Grass" by Gary Lewis
Preceded by
"Sloop John B" by The Beach Boys
Dutch Top 40 number-one single
May 28, 1966 (1966-05-28)
Succeeded by
"Paperback Writer" by The Beatles
Preceded by
"Kingston Town" by UB40
Dutch Top 40 number one single
May 12, 1990 (1990-05-12)
Succeeded by
"What's a Woman?" by Vaya Con Dios