"Blackbird" is a Beatles song from double-disc album The Beatles (also known as The White Album). "Blackbird" was written by Paul McCartney, but credited as usual to Lennon/McCartney. McCartney was inspired to write this while in Scotland as a reaction to racial tensions escalating in America in the spring of 1968, and (according to Sony/ATV Songs LLC 1968) McCartney stated that he had a black woman in mind when he wrote the song ('bird' being British slang for a woman).
McCartney revealed on PBS's Great Performances (Paul McCartney: Chaos and Creation at Abbey Road), aired in 2006, that the guitar accompaniment for "Blackbird" was inspired by Bach's Bourrée in E minor, a well known classical guitar piece. As kids, he and George Harrison tried to learn Bourrée as a "show off" piece. Bourrée is distinguished by melody and bass notes played simultaneously on the upper and lower strings. McCartney adapted a segment of Bourrée as the opening of "Blackbird," and carried the musical idea throughout the song.
The first night Linda Eastman, who would later become his wife, slept over, McCartney played it to the fans camped outside his house.
Composition and recording
The song was recorded 11 June 1968 in Abbey Road studios, with George Martin as the producer and Geoff Emerick as the audio engineer. McCartney played a Martin D 28 acoustic guitar. The track includes recordings of a blackbird singing in the background.
The structure of the song is quite uneven, featuring a good amount of free verse phrasing, with the timing varying between 3/4, 4/4 and 2/4 metres. It is in the key of G, with the bass and melody lines on the guitar progressing mostly in parallel tenths, all the while maintaining an open G-drone on the third string. The song is played with a unique combination of fingerpicking and (a kind of) finger-strumming, though the bass notes are always played by the thumb on the downbeat.
The song starts with an intro whose chords progress through I-II7(no5)-I6/3 up to the I chord played an octave higher. The verse begins with the same progression before moving into a long phrase starting on the IV chord with the bass notes ascending in half-steps up to the VI chord, before descending (also in half-steps) back to the IV. They descend still further back to the I chord, before launching into an instrumental interlude, a shortened four-measure backward recounting of the verse. The second verse follows, though this time it skips the interlude, going directly into the refrain.
An instrumental reprisal of the verse, followed by the refrain (with vocals), leads back into the intro phrase whose last chord is repeatedly played for a couple of measures before making way for the introduction of the birds-chirping overdub. There is another brief instrumental interlude, which contains phrases from the intro and the verse, before going into a reprisal of the first verse and ending with an outro, containing the same sequence of chords as the first interlude.
The song uses only a guitar, vocals, a steady tapping, and birdsong-overdub. The tapping rhythm is revealed on Beatles Anthology to be Paul's feet tapping on the wooden floor of the studio.
In 2009, Paul McCartney performed this song at the Coachella festival, afterwards commenting on how it had been written in response to the 1960s civil rights movement, and stated, "Now you've got President Obama. Yeah, you know we've come a long way."
Covers and cultural references
Many bands and performers have made cover versions. Among the most notable cover performers are:
* Aimee Mann
* Arturo Sandoval
* Billy Preston
* Bobby McFerrin
* Bonnie Pink
* Brad Mehldau
* Carly Simon
* Crosby, Stills & Nash
* Chris De Burgh
* Dave Grohl
* Dave Matthews Band
* Dionne Farris
* Drake Bell
* Elliott Smith
* G. Love & Special Sauce
* Harpers Bizarre
* Julie Fowlis - Scottish Gaelic version for Mojo Magazine's White Album Recovered, entitled Lon Dubh / Blackbird
* Jaco Pastorius
* Jesse McCartney
* John Denver
* Justin Hayward
* Keller Williams
* Kenny Rankin
* Maria João & Mário Laginha
* Ramsey Lewis
* The Grateful Dead
* The Guess Who
Elements of the lyrics ("take these broken wings and learn to fly") have re-appeared in other pop songs over the years, notably the number one hit "Broken Wings" by Mr. Mister and the Savage Garden song, "Gunning Down Romance" from the Affirmation album. Sections of "Blackbird" were incorporated into The Waterboys' cover of the Van Morrison song "Sweet Thing" on their album Fisherman's Blues, and into the end of U2's "Beautiful Day" during their set at the Live 8 concert in Hyde Park, London on July 2, 2005, as well as some of the shows on the Vertigo Tour. Dynamite Hack references it at the end of their cover of "Boyz-N-The-Hood."
Sarah McLachlan performed it for the soundtrack of the 2001 film I Am Sam.
Quidam (Polish band) performed it in the 2006 live album Half Unplugged.
Evan Rachel Wood performed it in the 2007 film Across the Universe.
Carly Smithson performed it on American Idol on March 18, 2008 during the Beatles second theme night.
Gustavo Santaolalla, a composer, was inspired by "Blackbird" when he wrote "The Wings" for the movie Brokeback Mountain.
Charles Manson took the song, along with "Helter Skelter" and "Piggies," as a metaphor for black-white race relations in the United States, which purportedly inspired his murders.
Sara Gazarek wrote a medley of "Blackbird" and "Bye Bye Blackbird" that appears on her 2005 debut album, "Yours."
Cris Barber covered "Blackbird" on her 2008 album entitled This Moment to Be Free, a line taken from the song.
Eddie Vedder also performed the song several times on his 2008 solo tour.
In the novel The Perks Of Being A Wallflower this song is mentioned as a favorite of the narrator, Charlie.
During live performances, Alter Bridge often plays the intro to the song before their song of the same name.
* Paul McCartney: Acoustic Guitar, Vocal, and tapping.
Album: The Beatles
Released: 22 November 1968
Recorded: 11 June 1968
Label: Apple Records
Producer: George Martin