A solo performance by Paul McCartney, ‘Blackbird’ was composed shortly after The Beatles’ stay in Rishikesh, India, and featured on the White Album.
The song was written on McCartney’s farm in Scotland. Shortly afterwards, on the first night his future wife Linda Eastman stayed at his house in London, McCartney performed the song to the fans waiting outside the gates.
A few of us were there. We had the feeling something was going to happen. Paul didn’t take the Mini inside the way he usually did – he parked it on the road and he and Linda walked right past us. They went inside and we stood there, watching different lights in the house go on and off.
In the end, the light went on in the Mad Room, at the top of the house, where he kept all his music stuff and his toys. Paul opened the window and called out to us, ‘Are you still down there?’ ‘Yes,’ we said. He must have been really happy that night. He sat on the window sill with his acoustic guitar and sang ‘Blackbird’ to us as we stood down there in the dark.
Shout!, Philip Norman
McCartney has claimed that the music was inspired by Bach’s Bouree in E minor, which he and George Harrison had learned to play on the guitar at a young age.
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.
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles
The music of ‘Blackbird’ features a number of time signature changes. The phrase ‘Blackbird singing in the dead of night’ is in 3/4, while much of the remainder of the song switches between 4/4 and 2/4.
The lyrics were inspired by the civil rights movement in America; the ‘blackbird’ of the title was said to represent a typical woman facing oppression in the era.
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.
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles
In the studio
Paul McCartney recorded ‘Blackbird’ alone on 11 June 1968, with just a guitar for accompaniment. It was taped in Abbey Road’s studio two, while John Lennon worked on ‘Revolution 9’ next door in studio three.
McCartney recorded 32 takes of ‘Blackbird’, only 11 of which were complete. The final attempt was the best, and onto it McCartney double tracked his vocals in places, along with a second guitar part.
Sound effects from Abbey Road’s library were also added to the four-track recording, towards the end of the session.
I taped that on one of the first portable EMI tape recorders, in my back garden in Ickenham, about 1965. There are two recordings, one of the bird singing, the other making an alarm sound when I startled it.
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn
Take four of ‘Blackbird’ was included on 1996’s Anthology 3 album. This version transposes the final verse with one of the “Blackbird fly, into the light of the dark black night” sections.
“Blackbird was inspired by the fingerpicking guitar style learned by The Beatles during their stay in Rishikesh, India, which features on many of the White Album’s songs.”
That is not true.
Unlike Lennon’s songs like Julia etc. this one has a completely different picking style. McCartney didn’t learn Donovan’s style like Lennon, so he didn’t use it.