In June of 1968, The Beatles were well into the process of recording new songs for their next album.
On Tuesday, June 11, however, only two Beatles were working at London’s Abbey Road Studios. With George and Ringo on a trip to the United States, John and Paul had the place to themselves. They were not, on this evening, working together.
John was ensconced in Studio 3, experimenting with tape loops and sound effects for the track that would be known as “Revolution 9.”
Paul was in Studio 2.
He had a new song, recently written at his farm in Scotland. The song had started as a guitar piece, inspired by the music of J.S. Bach. The lyrics, written to fit this guitar part, were inspired by the on-going American civil rights movement and meant to be his words of encouragement to an African-American woman, “experiencing these problems in the States.”
“Blackbird” took 32 takes to perfect, only 11 of those being complete run-throughs of the song. The recording contains Paul’s fingerpicked acoustic guitar, his vocals (double-tracked during the chorus), a metronome ticking in the background and the sound of “chirruping blackbirds.” (The bird sounds came from Volume Seven: Birds of Feather from the Abbey Road taped sound effects collection.)
“Blackbird” appeared on The Beatles, the double-album soon to be known as The White Album. Released on November 22, 1968, The Beatles entered England’s NME album chart on November 27 at #1, and stayed there for nine weeks.
For any fingerstyle, steel-string acoustic guitar player, “Blackbird” is one of those iconic, must-learn pieces of music. Once learned, and one should learn to play it just like the record, “Blackbird” is a thrill to play and a constant source of pure joy. There really is nothing else quite like this song in the canon of popular guitar music.
“Blackbird” : recorded this day, June 11, in 1968, by Beatle Paul McCartney, Abbey Road Studios, London, England.
Information for this post was found in the following books: Beatlesongs (1989) by William J. Dowlding; Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now (1997) by Barry Miles; and The Beatles: Recording Sessions (1988) by Mark Lewisohn.
P.S.: When I wrote and published this post, it was still June 11 here in New Hampshire.
Thanks Paul, and Happy 69th Birthday, June 18th.
I love this song…. And, yes, I can’t imagine any acoustic guitar player who’s serious about the instrument not learning how to play this wonderful piece.
I heard a Stephen Stills live show once where he announced, before playing it, that it is one of those songs he really wished he’d written.