Recording, mixing: Blackbird, Revolution 9

Studios Two and Three, EMI Studios, Abbey Road
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Geoff Emerick

George Harrison and Ringo Starr were both in America on this day, but John Lennon and Paul McCartney made the most of the studio block-booking throughout June to continue work on the White Album.

A film crew from Apple, directed by Tony Bramwell, was present during the session, ostensibly to make a 10-minute promotional short for the company. Recorded onto 16mm film, the footage captured McCartney working on ‘Blackbird’ and ‘Helter Skelter’ on an acoustic guitar, as well as various other scenes from inside the studio, in the Apple Boutique, Apple Tailoring, McCartney’s garden and other locations. Other people featured in the promo, which was simply titled Apple, included Lennon, Mary Hopkin, James Taylor, Dick James, Alexis Mardas and NEMS’s Alistair Taylor.

Fortunately, the sound recordist also made a 41-minute tape of McCartney rehearsing ‘Blackbird’, from which we can see the song take shape. The tape begins with a performance which producer George Martin is timing. Afterwards he tells McCartney that the song is just shy of two minutes and suggests he makes more of the break before the coda. McCartney then plays a half-speed version of the song, which morphs into Cliff Richard’s ‘Congratulations’.

Paul McCartney's handwritten lyrics for Blackbird

With Martin in the control room of Studio Two, McCartney attempts a complete run-through. Lennon suggests that the studio lights be dimmed to improve the atmosphere, and Martin suggests that a rough demo would help them decide an arrangement. Lennon, however, says that vocals and guitar are sufficient.

Lennon and Martin begin discussion ‘Revolution 1’’s lengthy ending, and various recordings made for the stage play of In His Own Write. In the background McCartney plays a version of ‘Helter Skelter’ in a falsetto voice.

There then follows a brief version of ‘Blackbird’ featuring both Lennon and McCartney on acoustic guitars, before McCartney continues playing alone, singing in an Elvis style and ad-libbing a talking blues.

With Lennon in the control room, they discuss the arrangement again. Lennon suggest a brass band, and McCartney plays a version of ‘Mother Nature’s Son’. A number of versions of ‘Blackbird’ follow, most of which end with a false start.

After a break, McCartney continues recording, and eventually manages a full take. His fourth attempt from this time was released on 1996’s Anthology 3. Thirty-two takes of ‘Blackbird’ were recorded during this session, just 11 of which were complete.

Take 32 was considered the best, and six mono mixes were made before the session ended at 12.15am. The last mix featured additional bars of guitar at the beginning, which were later omitted. The song was remixed on 13 October 1968, after McCartney realised that ‘Blackbird’ would sound better with the sound of actual birds on it.

Meanwhile, between 7pm and 10.15pm, John Lennon was in Studio Three working on sound effects for ‘Revolution 9’. He spent the next few days working on the track, before a master tape was assembled on 20 June 1968.

Last updated: 22 June 2023
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