"Blackbird" is a song by the Beatles from their 1968 double album The Beatles (also known as "the White Album"), which was performed as a solo effort by Paul McCartney. The song was also written by McCartney, although it is credited to Lennon-McCartney. McCartney has stated that the lyrics of the song were inspired by hearing the call of a blackbird in Rishikesh, India, as well as by the unfortunate state of race relations in the United States in the 1960s.
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.
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 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.
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".
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.
"Blackbird" is, by one count, one of the top ten most recorded songs of all time. The following artists have recorded "Blackbird" in a variety of styles:
- Jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis uses the song to close his 1968 record of White Album songs, Mother Nature's Son.
- Pop/jazz singer Kenny Rankin covered "Blackbird" on his 1974 album Silver Morning.
- Pop rock/R&B singer Dionne Farris included an acoustic interpretation of the song on her debut album Wild Seed - Wild Flower.
- Actor/Pop rock singer Drake Bell has performed Blackbird live on multiple occasions.
- "Blackbird" appears on the Crosby, Stills & Nash 1991 box set, having been recorded during the sessions for the album Crosby, Stills & Nash. They performed it often in concert, also at their performance at Woodstock festival 1969 and a live version appeared in 2014 on the CSNY 1974 album.
- The Dandy Warhols released a recording of the song in July 2009 following the death of Michael Jackson, fulfilling a promise made in the first and title track of their 2003 album Welcome to the Monkey House ("When Michael Jackson dies, we're coverin' 'Blackbird'"). The line was thought to partially reference Jackson's ownership of the Beatles' back catalogue of songs when he bought Associated Television (ATV), which had previously acquired Northern Songs, in the mid-1980s.
- Sarah Darling recorded the song in November 2011 for the album Let Us In: Nashville - A Tribute to Linda McCartney, and it was released as a single. Darling's version was later featured in the 200th episode of Criminal Minds.
- Neil Diamond interpreted the song for his 2010 album Dreams.
- Ara Dinkjian recorded the song with Night Ark.
- Justin Hayward recorded the song for his 1994 Classic Blue album.
- In 2001, Canadian musician Sarah McLachlan recorded a cover version of "Blackbird" for the I Am Sam movie soundtrack. It also appears on her 2008 compilation album Rarities, B-Sides and Other Stuff Volume 2.
- Bobby McFerrin released an a cappella version on his 1984 album The Voice.
- Jazz pianist Brad Mehldau recorded what has been described as a "haunting version of the Beatles' classic" for his 1997 album The Art of the Trio Volume One.
- Swedish classical mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter recorded the song in her "Love Songs" album, with Brad Mehldau in 2010.
- The Paragons featuring Rosalyn Sweat recorded a ska/rocksteady version in 1973.
- Jaco Pastorius recorded the song in 1981.
- "Blackbird" is performed by Phish on the band's 1994 Halloween album, Live Phish Volume 13, which includes a rendition of each song on the Beatles' White Album.
- The song is sung by various members of the Templeton family in the animated movie The Boss Baby.
- In 1972, Billy Preston released a version of the song on his Music Is My Life album.
- Carly Simon recorded a version for her 2007 album Into White.
- Sylvester included the song on his live Living Proof album in 1979.
- Evan Rachel Wood vocalized the song in the 2007 film Across the Universe.
- Dave Grohl performed the song during the In Memoriam tribute at the 88th Academy Awards.
- Sara Gazarek recorded it as part of a jazz medley with Bye Bye Blackbird on her 2005 album Yours and her 2016 album Dream in the Blue
- Jon Batiste performed a version of the song during a taping for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, in honor of The Beatles' 52nd anniversary of their American television debut at The Ed Sullivan Theatre.
- Marillion did a version for their live album Unplugged at the Walls.
- Jon Lajoie did a parody version for YouTube depicting the breakup of the Beatles being John and Yoko Ono's fault, Paul McCartney being the star of the group and Paul's life and career post-Beatles.
- Petula Clark covered the song on her 2016 album From Now On.
- Sia (musician) performs it in the season 1 finale of Beat Bugs in 2016.
- The Waterboys' 1988 album Fisherman's Blues includes a cover of Van Morrison's "Sweet Thing" which ends with Mike Scott singing the lyrics of "Blackbird" to the tune of "Sweet Thing".
- ^ Flemming, James (11 November 2009). "The Records, Day Four: 1968-1969". PopMatters. Retrieved 2015.
- ^ Paul McCartney, Interview with KCRW's Chris Douridas, 25 May 2002 episode of New Ground (17:50-19:00)
- ^ KCRW, "New Ground" with Chris Douridas, 25 May 2002 (17:50-19:00), "KCRW Archive", "Audio"
- ^ "Paul McCartney & Donovan - Postcard Sessions 1968". 13 April 2016.
- ^ "'Blackbird'". Rolling Stone.
- ^ Recording the Beatles, pg. 484
- ^ Bychawski, Adam (18 April 2009). "Paul McCartney gets emotional during marathon Coachella set". nme.com. Retrieved 2015.
- ^ "The 10 Most Covered Songs". The Independent.
- ^ Hoffman, K. Ross. "Michael Jackson's death causes The Dandy Warhols to cover The Beatles". NME. IPC Media. Retrieved 2014.
- ^ "The Dandy Warhols Are Sound - The Dandy Warhols". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014.
- ^ Price, Deborah Evans (April, 2012). "Cover Set Soars". Billboard - The International Newsweekly of Music, Video and Home Entertainment. Retrieved 2017.
- ^ Tamashiro, Tim (3 August 2012). "Jazz for Dabblers: 'Blackbird,' the Beatles and Brad Mehldau". CBC Music. Retrieved 22 January 2014.
- ^ The Art of the Trio, Vol. 1 at AllMusic. Retrieved 22 January 2014.
- ^ "Live Phish, Vol. 13: 10/31/94, Glens Falls Civic Center, Glens Falls, NY - Phish". AllMusic. Retrieved 2017.
- ^ "Watch Jon Batiste's gorgeous cover of The Beatles' 'Blackbird' on 'Colbert'". For The Win. 2016-02-11. Retrieved .
- ^ http://www.popflock.com/video?id=q7jMIL4uabA
- ^ Frometa, RJ. "The Iconic Petula Clark Releases 'Blackbird' Ahead of New Album". Vents Magazine. Vents Magazine. Retrieved 2017.
- ^ "Classic Album Of The Week: Fisherman's Blues By The Waterboys". Her.ie. Retrieved 2018.
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