Paul McCartney was inspired to write Blackbird as a reaction to 1968′s race riots and civil rights struggle in America.
“I had in mind a black woman, rather than a bird…this was really a song from me to a black woman, experiencing these problems in the States: ‘Let me encourage you to keep trying, to keep your faith, there is hope.’ As is often the case with my things, a veiling took place so, rather than say ‘Black woman living in Little Rock’ …she became a bird, became symbolic, so you could apply it to your particular problem.” – McCartney, Many years from now.
For a simple song with few lyrics, Blackbird has quite a legend.
The song was written on McCartney’s farm in Scotland. Shortly afterwards, on the first night his future wife Linda Eastman stayed at his house in London, McCartney performed the song to the fans waiting outside the gates.
McCartney says the song was inspired by Bach’s “Bouree in E Minor”, one of the first riffs he learned to play on guitar. The song was issued on the double-disc album The Beatles, aka The White Album.
McCartney recorded “Blackbird” alone on June 11, 1968, with just a guitar and a metronome for accompaniment. It was taped in Abbey Road’s studio two, while John Lennon worked on “Revolution 9” next door in studio three.
Only three things were recorded: Paul’s voice, his acoustic guitar, and a tapping—bird tweets were dubbed in later.
The tap you hear is not a foot or metronome, it is a record scratch. According to The Complete Beatles video, the master was intentionally scratched. McCartney recorded 32 takes of “Blackbird”, only 11 of which were complete.
“Blackbird” features a number of time signature changes. The phrase “Blackbird singing in the dead of night” is in 3/4, while much of the remainder of the song switches between 4/4 and 2/4. McCartney’s guitar tuning was also unorthodox, with the E strings dropped a tone to D.
Charles Manson believed “Helter Skelter” and “Blackbird” had hidden messages of an impending race war that would destroy the world and leave Manson and his “family” to inherit the earth.
“Blackbird” was one of five Beatles songs McCartney performed on his 1976 Wings Over America tour. Blackbird Singing is the title of a book of poems written by McCartney.
Blackbird is one of the most covered songs of all time.
Some of the more notable are: Drake Bell, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Dave Matthews Band, Chris De Burgh, Doves, Dionne Farris, Julie Fowlis (a Scottish Gaelic version, entitled “Lon Dubh / Blackbird”), The Grateful Dead, The Dandy Warhols, Dave Grohl, The Guess Who, Aimee Mann, Bobby McFerrin, Phish, Carly Simon, Elliott Smith, Sarah McLachlan and the list goes on.
Portions of lyrics have re-appeared in many songs over the years, “Broken Wings” by Mr. Mister, Savage Garden’s “Gunning Down Romance” and U2′s Beautiful Day during their set at the Live 8 concert in Hyde Park as well as some of the Vertigo Tour. Dynamite Hack references it at the end of their Eazy-E Boyz-N-The-Hood cover.
In the song “Welcome to the Monkey House” by the Dandy Warhols, the final line of the lyrics says,
“When Michael Jackson dies, we’re covering Blackbird.”
Presumably this was in reference to Jackson’s purchase of the Beatles’ catalog rights and a desire to deny Jackson any royalties. On July 31, 2009, after Jackson died, the Dandy Warhols released this cover:
Miles Carroll is a psychology, music and life major. Visit her at rootedgrass.com.
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Assistant ed: Catherine Monkman