The Paul McCartney Project

Blackbird

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Album This song officially appears on the The Beatles (Mono) Official album.
Timeline This song has been officially released in 1968
Sessions This song has been recorded during the following sessions

Other Beatles songs where Paul McCartney is the only Beatle playing

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Song facts

From Wikipedia:

Blackbird” is a song by the Beatles from their 1968 double album The Beatles (also known as “the White Album”). The song was written and performed as a solo effort by Paul McCartney, though credited to Lennon–McCartney. McCartney has stated that the lyrics of the song were inspired by the unfortunate state of race relations in the United States in the 1960s.

Origins

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.

Meaning

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.

In May 2002, following a show in Dallas, Texas, McCartney discussed the song with KCRW DJ Chris Douridas, saying:

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.

Before his acoustic guitar set during the same US tour, McCartney explained that “bird” is British slang for girl, making “blackbird” a synonym for “black girl”.

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 birdsong “translates … into a succinct metaphor for awakening on a deeper level“. In his discussion of “Blackbird“, author Andrew Hickey writes that McCartney only began citing the civil-rights issue as his inspiration after some commentators had raised the possibility; Hickey considers this to be an example of revisionism on McCartney’s part in an effort to assign greater profundity to his lyrics.

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 blackbird singing in the background.

The accompaniment consists of guitar, tapping, and birdsong overdub. The 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, which 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“.

Live performances

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.

McCartney included the song in his set at Party at the Palace in 2002.

In 2009, McCartney performed this 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.” […]

Paul McCartney in "Many Years From Now", by Barry Miles:

Part of its structure is a particular harmonic thing between the melody and the bass line which intrigued me. Bach was always one of our favourite composers; we felt we had a lot in common with him… I developed the melody on guitar based on the Bach piece and took it somewhere else, took it to another level, then I just fitted the words to it.

I had in mind a black woman, rather than a bird. Those were the days of the civil rights movement, which all of us cared passionately about, so 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’ and be very specific, she became a bird, became symbolic, so you could apply it to your particular problem.

From The Usenet Guide to Beatles Recording Variations:

  • [a] stereo 13 Oct 1968.
    UK: Apple PCS 7067 white album 1968.
    US: Apple SWBO 101 white album 1968.
    CD: EMI CDP 7 46443 2 white album 1987.
  • [b] mono 13 Oct 1968.
    UK: Apple PMC 7067 white album 1968.

The overdubs of bird sounds were done differently, during mixing.

From Anthology 3 liner notes:

Recorded by Paul alone – as indeed was the White Album master version – this is Take 4 of Blackbird, an unadorned acoustic guitar and vocal performance that captured well the essence of his new song, and may even have been usable at the time were it not for unwanted background noises. The completed “best” recording of Balckbird was Take 32, with the verse/chorus order revised and a second acoustic guitar track and bird song effects added before the end of this session.

Last updated on May 13, 2017

Lyrics

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free

Blackbird fly, blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night

Blackbird fly, blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night

Officially appears on


The Beatles (Mono)

Official album • Released in 1968

2:18 • Studio versionB • Mono

Paul McCartney:
Acoustic guitar, Vocals
George Martin:
Producer
Geoff Emerick:
Engineer

Session Recording:
Jun 11, 1968
Studio:
EMI Studios, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Oct 13, 1968
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road


The Beatles (Stereo)

Official album • Released in 1968

2:18 • Studio versionA • Stereo

Paul McCartney:
Acoustic guitar, Vocals
George Martin:
Producer
Geoff Emerick:
Engineer

Session Recording:
Jun 11, 1968
Studio:
EMI Studios, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Oct 13, 1968
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road


Wings Over America

Official live • Released in 1976

2:27 • LiveL1

Paul McCartney:
Acoustic guitar, Producer, Vocals
Mark Vigars:
Assistant mixing engineer
Phil McDonald:
Mixing engineer, Overdubs recording
Jack Maxson:
Recording engineer
Tom Walsh:
Assistant recording engineer

Concert From the concert in Boston, USA on May 22, 1976


Unplugged (The Official Bootleg)

Official live • Released in 1991

2:06 • LiveL2

Concert From "MTV Unplugged" in Wembley, United Kingdom on Jan 25, 1991


Anthology 3

Official album • Released in 1996

2:19 • OuttakeC • Stereo • Take 4. Recorded by Paul alone - as indeed was the White Album master version - this is Take 4 of Blackbird, an unadorned acoustic guitar and vocal performance that captured well the essence of his new song, and may even have been usable at the time were it not for unwanted background noises [...]

George Martin:
Producer
Geoff Emerick:
Engineer

Session Recording:
Jun 11, 1968


Back In The U.S.

Official live • Released in 2002

2:31 • LiveL3

Paul McCartney:
Executive producer
Performed by:
Paul McCartneyRusty AndersonAbe Laboriel Jr.Paul WickensBrian Ray
David Kahne:
Producer
Michael Brauer:
Engineer
Ricardo Chavarria:
Assistant engineer

Concert From the concert in Boston, USA on Apr 19, 2002


Back In The World

Official live • Released in 2003

2:31 • LiveL3

Paul McCartney:
Executive producer
Performed by:
Paul McCartneyRusty AndersonAbe Laboriel Jr.Paul WickensBrian Ray
David Kahne:
Producer
Michael Brauer:
Engineer
Ricardo Chavarria:
Assistant engineer

Concert From the concert in Boston, USA on Apr 19, 2002


Love

Official album • Released in 2006

2:31 • Studio versionD

George Martin:
Producer
Giles Martin:
Producer
Paul Hicks:
Remix engineer
Sam Okell:
Remix engineer assistant
Chris Bolster:
Remix engineer assistant
Mirek Stiles:
Remix engineer assistant

Session Mixing:
Circa 2004-2006
Studio:
EMI Studios, Abbey Road


Good Evening New York City

Official live • Released in 2009

2:42 • LiveL4 • Could have been record on 17, 18 or 21 July 2009

Paul McCartney:
Executive producer
Performed by:
Paul McCartneyRusty AndersonAbe Laboriel Jr.Paul WickensBrian Ray
Geoff Emerick:
Audio mixing
Paul Hicks:
Audio mixing
Jonas Westling:
Additional engineering
Richard Lancaster:
Additional engineering
John Henry:
Recording

Concert From the concert in New York, USA on Jul 17, 2009


Wings Over America - Archive Collection

Official live • Released in 2013

2:27 • LiveL1.2013 • 2013 remaster

Paul McCartney:
Acoustic guitar, Producer, Vocals
Mark Vigars:
Assistant mixing engineer
Phil McDonald:
Mixing engineer, Overdubs recording
Jack Maxson:
Recording engineer
Tom Walsh:
Assistant recording engineer
Guy Massey:
Remastering
Steve Rooke:
Remastering
Simon Gibson:
Remastering

Concert From the concert in Boston, USA on May 22, 1976


Bootlegs


MoMac's Hidden Tracks Vol. 7

Unofficial album

5:56 • Studio version

Recording:
August 1974


Live At The Camden Roundhouse

Unofficial live

2:53 • Studio version


Acoustic

Unofficial album

2:46 • Outtake


Pull the Plug and Go Mad!

Unofficial live

2:06 • Live



Live performances

“Blackbird” has been played in 480 concerts and 5 soundchecks.

Latest concerts where “Blackbird” has been played


Glasgow • SSE Hydro

Dec 14, 2018 • Part of Freshen Up Tour


Liverpool • Echo Arena

Dec 12, 2018 • Part of Freshen Up Tour




Krakow • Tauron Arena

Dec 03, 2018 • Part of Freshen Up Tour



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