Blackbird

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Album This song officially appears on the The Beatles (Mono) LP.
Timeline This song has been officially released in 1968

Master album


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Officially appears on Help! (Mono)



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Song facts

From Wikipedia:

“Blackbird” is a song by the English rock band the Beatles from their 1968 double album The Beatles (also known as “the White Album”). It was written by Paul McCartney and credited to Lennon–McCartney, and performed as a solo piece by McCartney. When discussing the song, McCartney has said that the lyrics were inspired by hearing the call of a blackbird in Rishikesh, India, and alternatively 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. The fingerpicking technique that McCartney uses in the song was taught to him by folk singer Donovan.

Meaning and interpretation

Since composing “Blackbird” in 1968, McCartney has given various 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.”

In 2018, McCartney further elaborated on the song’s meaning, explaining that “blackbird” should be interpreted as “black girl”, in the context of the civil rights troubles in southern 1960s US.

A third scenario came from the recollection of his stepmother, Angie McCartney. She said that McCartney wrote it for her elderly mother, Edith Stopforth, who was staying at Jim McCartney’s house while recovering from a long illness. Angie recalled that McCartney visited the house and sat at Edith’s bedside, where Edith told him that she would listen to a bird singing at night.

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 bird song “translates … into a succinct metaphor for awakening on a deeper level”. However, during an informal rehearsal at EMI Studios on 22 November 1968, before he and Donovan took part in a Mary Hopkin recording session, McCartney played “Blackbird”, telling Donovan that he wrote it after having “read something in the paper about the riots” and that he meant the black “bird” to symbolise a black woman.

Along with McCartney’s “Helter Skelter“, “Blackbird” was one of several White Album songs that Charles Manson interpreted as the Beatles’ prophecy of an apocalyptic race war that would lead to him and his “Family” of followers ruling the US on countercultural principles. Manson interpreted the lyrics’ repetition of the word “rise” as a call to black Americans to wage war on their white counterparts, and instructed his followers to commit a series of murders in Los Angeles in August 1969 to trigger such a conflict.

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 common blackbird singing in the background.

Only three sounds were recorded: McCartney’s voice, his Martin D-28 acoustic guitar, and a tapping that keeps time on the left channel. This 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. McCartney also said the same in The Beatles’ Anthology documentary. 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 the bird sounds a few seconds earlier than 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. A solo performance of the song, followed by “Yesterday”, appears on Wings’ 1976 live album Wings Over America.

McCartney also included “Blackbird” in his set at the Party at the Palace concert in June 2002. In 2009, McCartney performed the 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.”

A live version appears in the multi-CD collection Good Evening New York City, which was released in 2009 and recorded inside the American stadium Citi Field.

Legacy

Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of its release, Jacob Stolworthy of The Independent listed “Blackbird” at number five in his ranking of the White Album’s 30 tracks. He said that its “beautiful calmness” was at odds with the growing racial tensions that allegedly inspired the song, and concluded: “For many, it’s the apotheosis of McCartney’s career and remains a standout in his solo live shows.” […]

When first interviewed about “Blackbird“, in November 1968, Paul McCartney didn’t make reference to the civil rights movement in the US being the inspiration for it:

Well, it’s simple in concept because you couldn’t think of anything else to put on it. And that’s what I was saying about the ‘Sgt Pepper’ thing– Maybe on Pepper we would have sort of worked on it until we could find some way to put violins or trumpets in there. But I don’t think it needs it, this one. You know, it’s just… There’s nothing to the song. It is just one of those ‘pick it and sing it’ and that’s it. The only point where we were thinking of putting anything on it is where it comes back in the end…. sort of stops and comes back in… but instead of putting any backing on it, we put a blackbird on it. So there’s a blackbird singing at the very end. And somebody said it was a thrush, but I think it’s a blackbird!

Paul McCartney – from interview with Radio Luxembourg, 1968

However, at the same period (November 1968), Paul McCartney was in the studio with Donovan, and mentioned “Blackbird”:

Paul: I sang it to Diana Ross the other night. She took offense.

Everyone laughs.

Paul: Not really. But I did mean it like that originally.

Donovan: Really?

Paul: Yeah, I remember… I’d just read something in the paper about riots and then (singing briskly) Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken wings and learn to fly, all your life, you were only waiting…

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.

In 2016, Paul McCartney met two of the women who were members of the Little Rock Nine group and had inspired “Blackbird“. From paulmccartney.com, December 2016:

At his Little Rock gig in April, Paul met Mrs. Thelma Mothershed Wair and Ms. Elizabeth Eckford of the ‘Little Rock Nine’

Paul: Yeah, that was important, meeting two of the ‘Little Rock Nine’. At the concerts, I had always remembered this story about ‘Blackbird’ and the writing of it, which came from me doing poetry readings. I’d been encouraged by my friend who helped me on that poetry book I did [‘Blackbird Singing’] to tell a story, if I could remember anything about the song and then read the poem. So I did that and I thought, “That’s probably a nice idea for concerts”.

I remembered this story of the Civil Rights thing. How ‘Blackbird’ was really meant to try and communicate with people going through those struggles, and to see if it could help them. “You were only waiting for this moment to arise”. It had a, “We will overcome,” kind of aspect. So, it was like coming full circle going to Little Rock, where we’d only ever heard of as being the sort of place where the first kids went into the school that had previously been segregated. And to meet two of the kids who are now grown ups, and to see how well they’d done, and that it had all worked, was very moving. I was glad to be some tiny part of that. That was a nice evening. 

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 Facebook - Incredible to meet Mrs. Thelma Mothershed Wair and Ms. Elizabeth Eckford of the Little Rock Nine--pioneers of the civil rights movement and inspiration for 'Blackbird'
From Facebook – Incredible to meet Mrs. Thelma Mothershed Wair and Ms. Elizabeth Eckford of the Little Rock Nine–pioneers of the civil rights movement and inspiration for ‘Blackbird’

Last updated on May 24, 2021

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)

LP • Released in 1968

2:18 • Studio versionB • Mono

Paul McCartney :
Acoustic guitar, Backing vocals, Foot taps, Lead vocals
George Martin :
Producer
Geoff Emerick :
Recording 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)

LP • Released in 1968

2:18 • Studio versionA • Stereo

Paul McCartney :
Acoustic guitar, Backing vocals, Foot taps, Lead vocals
George Martin :
Producer
Geoff Emerick :
Recording 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

Paul McCartney :
Acoustic guitar, Producer, Vocals
Robbie McIntosh :
Acoustic guitar
Hamish Stuart :
Acoustic bass
Blair Cunningham :
Drums
Geoff Emerick :
Mixing engineer, Recording engineer
Eddie Klein :
Assistant engineer
Gary Stewart :
Assistant engineer
Peter Craigie :
Assistant engineer
Gary Bradshaw :
Monitor engineer

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 :
Recording 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 :
Recording 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 :
Recording 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


The Beatles (Mono - 2009 remaster)

Official album • Released in 2009

2:18 • Studio versionB2009 • Mono • 2009 mono remaster

Paul McCartney :
Acoustic guitar, Backing vocals, Foot taps, Lead vocals
George Martin :
Producer
Geoff Emerick :
Recording engineer
Paul Hicks :
Remastering
Guy Massey :
Remastering
Sean Magee :
Remastering
Allan Rouse :
Project co-ordinator

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 - 2009 remaster)

Official album • Released in 2009

2:18 • Studio versionA2009 • Stereo • 2009 stereo remaster

Paul McCartney :
Acoustic guitar, Backing vocals, Foot taps, Lead vocals
George Martin :
Producer
Geoff Emerick :
Recording engineer
Guy Massey :
Remastering
Steve Rooke :
Remastering
Allan Rouse :
Project co-ordinator

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

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


Live performances

“Blackbird” has been played in 508 concerts and 9 soundchecks.

Latest concerts where Blackbird has been played







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John Mackintosh 4 months ago

Interesting to read about the meaning of this song and whether Paul's statement on its relationship to the Black civil rights movement was applying meaning well after the fact of composition. Perhaps the best answer to this question exists on the November 1968 tape of the Post Card Sessions with Donovan and Mary Hopkin when the three of them were "messing about" in the studio. I have heard it on my copy of No 3 Abbey Road N.W. but a full transcript exists on this website under "Postcard" session-Improvisation with Donovan. Paul sings a relaxed version of Blackbird and afterwards quips that "I sang it to Diana Ross the other night. She took offense" The others laugh and then he says "Not really. But I did mean it like that originally." After Donovan asks "Really? he then states "Yeah, I remember...I'd just read something in the paper about riots and then goes back into singing quickly "Blackbird singing in the dead of night...." Although not as detailed as what he states about the song prior to doing it live in recent years, this is significant in that this conversation from November 1968 (according to the note on the CD case) and thus took place in the SAME month as the studio version on the White Album came out, thus firmly placing the higher meaning of this beautiful song in the context of the very time it was released.


The PaulMcCartney Project 4 months ago

How, thank you @John !! I didn't know, will try to find out this interview ! All the best.


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