The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #211: Paint It Black by The Rolling Stones (RS)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song and going until I reach Song . When you see the song title listed as something like: Song (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #211: Paint It Black by The Rolling Stones.

“Paint It Black” comes from an album called, “Aftermath”. This was album #6 (in the US) and (in the UK) for The Rolling Stones. While “Aftermath” may not have the cache of later albums such as “Exile on Main Street” and others, it is, never-the-less, a very important album in the evolution of one of the greatest rock n’ roll bands in the world. Many critics compare “Aftermath” to The Beatles breakthrough album, “Revolver”. In the case of both bands, they had built up a strong foundation of hits based upon their love of the Blues but now, in the mid-1960s, both bands started to experiment with new influences (especially, those of a mystical nature from the Far East), as well as, the use of new instruments, such as the sitar. In both cases, each band released an album that was longer than was usual for the times; thus, presenting songs that possessed more depth and detail. Furthermore, both bands released albums that contained coherent themes that ran through all of the songs (as opposed to the usual industry plan of creating albums containing hit singles, surrounded by filler songs). Specifically, for The Rolling Stones, “Aftermath” ran on a theme of women and power and life on the road and of death.

“Paint It Black” is a simple song to understand, really. It is about that feeling of depression that can occur when you are faced with the sudden death of someone important to you. Black, as you may be aware, can be seen not as a colour but, in fact, the absolute absence of colour. Darkness. Nothingness. Death. However, in this song, The Rolling Stones are using an old trick that I used to use, as a teacher, when I wanted to test the depth of certain skills and that is, keep the song/activity simple so certain other aspects of skill can easily shine through. In the case of “Paint It Black”, while the meaning behind the song is rather straight-forward, the musical structure was not. “Paint It Black” was the first Stones’ song to make prominent use of the sitar (which was played, to great effect, by Brian Jones). It is, also, a song that makes excellent use of rhythm or beat; with Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts both shining in their playing.

One of the only controversial aspects of this song concerns the songwriting credits which, in turn, give us, as fans, a sneak peak into the inner dynamics of how The Rolling Stones functioned as a group. There was a time in the early days of The Rolling Stones existence when Brian Jones was actually more of the creative leader of the group. But, as time went on, Mick and Keef took over as principle lyricist and musical creators. This resulted in Jagger/Richards appearing as sole songwriters when the song, “Paint It Black” was released. The problem with that was that on this song, it was Brian Jones who introduced the entire sitar aspect to the song and it was Bill Wyman who arranged the rhythm side of things. Keith Richards had very little to do with this song and, as time went on, always found it a confusing song to play. Mick Jagger did write the full lyrics. Yet, on the credits, Jones and Wyman’s names appear nowehere at all. Only Mick and Keef are given public credit. In Keith Richards autobiography called, “Life”, he mentions how upset Bill Wyman was, in particular but how, in the end, Wyman was forced to swallow his pride because there was no way the credits were going to read as anything other than, “Jagger/Richards”. It reminded me of something I read after Charlie Watts had passed away. Apparently, one late night in Paris, I believe, a drunken Mick Jagger called Charlie Watts in his hotel room and barked into the phone, “Where is my drummer!?” Charlie did not accept his summons. Instead, he angrily knocked on Jagger’s door early the next morning, marched in and scolded Jagger by saying, “I am not your drummer! You are my singer!” and then he left again as quickly and angrily as he came.

“Paint It Black” is one of those songs that, in many ways, has come to define an era. It has been used in several movies that dealt with the Vietnam War and, as such, some people claim “Paint It Black” is an anti-war song. Jagger and Richards both deny that this is the case yet, for many fans, whenever the opening chords of this song start, images of choppers and soldiers come into our heads. A final note of trivia about “Paint It Black” is that Jagger borrowed a line from the classic story of “Ulysses”. The line where he sings, “I see the girls walk by, dressed in their summer clothes, I have to turn my head until my darkness goes”…the second half of that line from “I have to turn my head…” is from “Ulysses”.

In any case, “Paint It Black” has endured as one of The Rolling Stones all-time classic tunes. It comes from an album that was, in reality, a transition point in their evolution as a band and, arguably, their first real classic album. It is a song about depression on an album that was anything but depressing. And we still love it so today, almost sixty years later.

So, without further delay, here are The Rolling Stones” with “Paint It Black”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Paint It Black” by The Rolling Stones, can be found here.

The link to the official website of The Rolling Stones, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine zine, can be found here.

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

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