Beatles – Blackbird

The acoustic guitar part that Paul wrote to this song is iconic now. The first few bars and you know what it is without hearing anything else. This song added to the texture of The White Album. On the same album you had the bone-crunching Helter Skelter, the rock and roll of Back in the USSR, the great pop of Sexy Sadie, the hard blues of Yer Blues, and then you have this song. It was credited to Lennon and McCartney but Paul wrote this one alone. The White Album was released in 1968 and it peaked at #1 in the Billboard 100, #1 in the UK, and #1 in Canada.

Paul McCartney wrote this about the civil rights struggle for African Americans after reading about race riots in the US. He penned it in his kitchen in Scotland after he heard about an incident in Little Rock when the federal courts forced the racial desegregation of the Arkansas capital’s school system.

Paul McCartney met two of the women who inspired the song in 2016.

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/paul-mccartney-meets-women-who-inspired-beatles-blackbird-57076/

Paul McCartney: “I was sitting around with my acoustic guitar and I’d heard about the civil rights troubles that were happening in the ’60s in Alabama, Mississippi, Little Rock in particular,” “I just thought it would be really good if I could write something that if it ever reached any of the people going through those problems, it might give them a little bit of hope. So, I wrote ‘Blackbird.'”

Dave Grohl: “It’s such a beautiful piece of music, perfect in composition and performance, and in its lyrics and in the range of his voice. Just learning that song made me a better guitar player and gave me a better appreciation of songwriting. To me it’s just musical bliss.”

 

From Songfacts

Only three sounds were recorded: Paul’s voice, his Martin D-28 acoustic guitar, and a tapping that keeps time on the left channel.

This tapping sound is a bit of a mystery, although in the Beatles Anthology video McCartney appears to be making the sound with his foot. Some sources have claimed it is a metronome.

The birds were dubbed in later using sound effects from the collection at Abbey Road, where the song was recorded.

McCartney did not have ornithological intentions when he wrote this song. In England, “bird” is a term meaning “girl,” so the song is a message to a black girl, telling her it’s her time to fly:

All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

The guitar accompaniment for this song was inspired by Bach’s Bourrée in E minor for lute. This is often played on classical guitar, an instrument Paul McCartney and George Harrison had tried to learn when they were kids. McCartney told Mojo magazine October 2008: “We had the first four bars (of the Bourrée in E minor) and that was as far as my imagination went. I think George had it down for a few more bars and then he crapped out. So I made up the next few bars, and (sings his four-note variation Bach’s theme) it became the basis of ‘Blackbird.'”

This is one of the songs novice guitar players often try to learn, as it’s one of the most famous finger-style tunes. The singer Donovan claims some credit for teaching The Beatles a technique similar to the one McCartney used here when they were on a retreat to India in early 1968.

The word “bird” had been floating around Paul McCartney’s musical lexicon since 1958 when the Everly Brothers had a hit with “Bird Dog,” a song about a guy trying to steal another dude’s girl. McCartney was a huge fan of the Everly Brothers.

There have been hundreds of covers of this song. Perhaps the most enduring is Brad Mehldau’s instrumental jazz version, released in 1997. The only charting version of the song was by the Cast of Glee, which took it to #37 in 2011. Other notable covers include renditions by José Feliciano, Billy Preston, Sarah Vaughan, Jaco Pastorius, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Bobby McFerrin and Dwight Twilley. The Doves did a cover in 2002 for the soundtrack to the TV series Roswell.

The singer-guitarist Kenny Rankin recorded it for his 1974 album Silver Morning. McCartney was a big fan of Rankin’s rendition: when the Songwriters Hall of Fame induced Lennon and McCartney in 1987, McCartney skipped the ceremony but had Rankin accept the award on his behalf and perform “Blackbird.”

The “broken wings” concept had been fluttering about for a while, notably in Kahlil Gibran’s 1912 story The Broken Wings. (The Beatles song “Julia” uses lines from one of Gibran’s poems, but McCartney has never cited him as an influence on “Blackbird.”) In 1985, the American group Mr. Mister released their #1 hit “Broken Wings,” which was directly inspired by The Broken Wings and like “Blackbird,” used the line, “Take these broken wings and learn to fly.”

At the Academy Awards ceremony in 2016, Dave Grohl performed this song to accompany the “in memoriam” segment, recognizing those in the movie industry who died the previous year.

Blackbird Singing is the title of a book of poems McCartney wrote.

This is one of about 12 Beatles songs that McCartney often played in his live shows throughout his career. It lends itself to live performance because it is rather compact (it runs just 2:18) and can be played with just a guitar.

Blackbird

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

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 a dark black night

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

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

Author: badfinger20 (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

15 thoughts on “Beatles – Blackbird”

  1. One of McCartney’s acoustic classics.

    I know this may sound a bit lame, and I certainly don’t mean to brag about it at all, when taking guitar lessons as a young teenager, my teacher who was a big Beatles fan showed me how to play this song.

    Back then, I was really serious about practicing and frankly had plenty of time. I knew how to play “Blackbird” pretty well. These days, not so much!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I am envious…this is one I never attempted. I’ve played the intro before by mistake a few times…that is it.
      I need to sit down and learn how to play it. With youtube I could do that now. That should be a goal.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. That is a great one to start with. I can’t believe I haven’t tried. I’ve played the opening by mistake but never went forward.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. A fine song, one of the best off the White album. I like the added birds too! (Guess they are British blackbirds, they don’t sound like the ones we know here.) HAd no idea of the inspiration though – that’s rather cool, makes sense when its explained. I rather figured Paul was just out strolling around a farm, probably smoking some of his favorite substance and saw a bird or two and started humming it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know…I didn’t know what it was about until he told the story when I saw him play. Glad Paul was socially conscious

      Like

  3. You know what? I don’t believe the songfacts comment on it being about a black bird (girl)…it’s clearly a universal metaphor for people wanting to be free. To me anyway. Far less elegant if what songfacts was saying is in fact true.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes absolutely! Learnt it by ear but always thought it wasn’t quite right. Pretty sure it’s in standard tuning. I should revisit it some day. THE song to play on acoustic!

        Liked by 1 person

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