“Blackbird” is a Beatles’ song which comes from their 1968 self-titled album, aka the “White Album”.
Release Date: 22nd November, 1968
Recorded: 11th June, 1968
Studio: EMI Studios, London
Track Duration: 2:19
Record Label: Apple
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Geoff Emerick
Paul McCartney: double-tracked lead vocal, acoustic guitar, tape loops, foot tapping
Written by Paul McCartney but credited to the Lennon-McCartney partnership, “Blackbird” only has one performer. Indeed, this is the writer himself.
While in Rishikesh, India, just before recording their 1968 self-titled album, “The Beatles” aka “The White Album”, McCartney took inspiration from the call of a blackbird. However, inspiration also came from the civil rights movement in America. This was during the civil unrest of the 1960s and the state of race relations in America at that time.
“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
Soon after writing the song during a visit to his Scottish farm, McCartney performed it to fans outside his London home. Incidentally, this night was also the first time that his future wife Linda Eastman would stay over at his home.
In May 2002, Paul McCartney discussed the song with KCRW DJ Chris Douridas after a show in Dallas, Texas:
“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.”
Paul McCartney began recording “Blackbird” on the 11th June 1968 in Studio Two of the EMI Studios, London, during the 6.30pm-12.15am session. McCartney recorded 32 takes while John Lennon worked on the sound effects for his “Revolution 9” track in studio three. Indeed, this was around the time when The Beatles became slightly disjointed and cracks were appearing.
Folk singer Donovan taught McCartney the fingerpicking technique that he uses throughout the song. The final take was suitable for the master track, and as well as double-tracking his vocals, McCartney added the sound effects. In particular, the male Common Blackbird singing. The tapping on the left channel is McCartney tapping his foot and not the sound of a metronome.
On The Beatles’ 1996 album, “Anthology 3”, we see take 4 from these sessions. This is on disc 1 after track 13 “Cry Baby Cry” and before “Sexy Sadie“. Meanwhile, on their 2006 album “Love”, track 12 has 27 seconds of Blackbird intro leading into “Yesterday“.