P is for Paint It Black

The Rolling Stones may have recorded more iconic tracks than any other band in history, but they’ve been together for over half a century and they hold the record for having the most recorded songs of all time.  One of their most incredible songs is ‘Paint It, Black’, which went to #1 in both the US and the UK and it was released in 1966, as the first single from the fourth album, Aftermath.  Mick Jagger partnered with his longtime collaborator and bandmate Keith Richards to write this song and this song marks a point where Brian Jones began to become increasingly overshadowed by the Jagger-Richards songwriting partnership, as Jones was progressively sinking into a bad drug hole at this time.  On the single, there is a comma before the word “black” in the title, which is thought to be a clerical mistake, added by their record label, Decca, something that happened often in the ‘60s and later the comma was removed.  Jagger said that there was no specific inspiration for the lyrics and writing a song about death and depression was not a new thing.  Jagger said that he got the line “I turn my head until my darkness goes”, from James Joyce’s epic Ulysses, which carried an underlying theme of desperation and desolation, however there is no passage in this text that contains this phrase.  This song may have been influenced by the poem Funeral Blues by WH Auden that was originally published in 1938.

In 2004, ‘Paint It, Black’ was ranked #176 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and according to the Rolling Stone magazine, ‘Paint It Black’ is one of the greatest songs ever written.  The production of ‘Paint It Black’ was handled by renowned record producer, Andrew Loog Oldham, who served as The Rolling Stones’ manager in the mid-1960s.  This was the first number one single to feature a sitar and it followed The Beatles using one on their song ‘Norwegian Wood’.  ‘Paint It, Black’ wasn’t just another song by just another rock group, this song contained an explosion of ideas that were all presented in one neat three-minute package.  The song’s haunting guitar riff kicks in, giving way to Charlie Watts’ pounding drums, just as guitarist Brian Jones, who had mastered many instruments during his time with the group, follows the main riff, as well as the melody, on sitar, creating a distinct sound that shot out of radios during the spring and summer of 1966.  It’s a fully integrated instrument within the context of the song, playing off Keith Richards’ guitar perfectly.  Bill Wyman contributes on bass and Hammond organ making this pure psychedelia with a backbone and a driving beat, that was a different style to everything they had done before.  It is Jagger’s cynically dark lyrics that make this song so special to me.

This bleak depressing song was the Stones sixth British #1 and one that saw Brain Jones transforming into a multi-instrumentalist, playing sitar after giving up on playing the guitar.  This is an exceptional rock and roll song that transcends international cultural borders.  Jagger and Richards later became known as ‘The Glimmer Twins’, a nickname they adopted after a vacation cruise they took to Brazil with their then-girlfriends, Marianne Faithfull and Anita Pallenberg had successfully locked into a great rhythm and formula, in both the mechanical aspect of songwriting, but also by plugging into the cultural attitude of the hippie revolution that was going on.  The song is simultaneously ambiguous and poignant and it doesn’t need to be extrapolated and explained, but that would ruin all the fun for me.  This song showed that the Rolling Stones were capable of adapting and they could think outside of the box, and if they wanted everything painted black, their audience was ready for that.

If color is solely based on the way that it is described in physics, defining color as the visible spectrum of light waves, then black and white are outcasts and they don’t count as being true, physical colors, and technically black and white are not colors, they’re shades.  I would like to make this post about the physics behind where all the light goes, and how it gets absorbed by an object converting energy to heat, and why other light waves reflect or transmit light at certain frequencies, but if I did that, I feel I would lose all of my readers, not that I have that many to begin with.  Black is what our eyes see in a space that reflects very little light at all.  That’s why, if you enter a room with the lights turned off, everything is dark and black.

Black is the darkest color, the result of the absence or complete absorption of visible light.  Black is a mysterious color, it can be scary evoking demons, or be associated with the villain who is wearing a black hat.  It can also be considered as elegant and sophisticated, like that that little black dress which Audrey Hepburn wore in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but it is typically associated with the unknown like a black hole, or something negative.  In western society, black is the color of mourning, death, evil, depression and sadness.  Colors can alter our mood and have a positive or negative impact on us, thus they hold contrasting feelings for the one who looks at the color.  Black has a way of bringing out the best, or the worst in whatever it surrounds.

The guy in this song is not only depressed, he is angry and he wants to lash out against everything that he sees.  He is going through a visual sensory overload, getting more input from his vision than his brain can sort through and process.  His deep depression and resulting anger stems from a loss, of someone that he was very close to.  He would like to fade away so he wouldn’t “have to face the facts”, which says that he is having difficulty accepting her death, and the traditional grief cycle, after the initial shock or disbelief, people generally go through five general stages of grief which include denial, anger and bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  He sees a line of cars and they are all painted black, so he is at a funeral, but he is not in one of those cars and he is not near the casket, probably because he prefers to watch from a distance, because it is too painful for him to be nearby.  He notices all of the flowers and he knows that his love, like the flowers that were picked and are withering away, his love is never going to come back.  He could just pluck out his eyes, or go around wearing a blindfold, but no, this guy wants the whole world to turn black and this may be the result of misery loving company, which concerning people who are unhappy, so they try to share their troubles with others, hoping this will make them feel better.  His heart has turned black and he would just like to fade away into nothingness, instead of trying to face the fact that his loved one is gone.

He sees a red door and he wants it to be painted black which would signify a world of order and control, which he secretly years for, but this guy has turned to the dark side and there is no coming back for him.  This door may be symbolic of him moving on with his life, and he would rather paint it, then go through it, because he wants to wallow in his depression, and this won’t allow him to look past the fact that if he just moved on, he would be able to find another love and enjoy romance in his life again.  He despises colors and when he is looking at girls while they are walking by dressed in their summer clothes, this literally makes him sick and the only option that he sees is to turn his head until his darkness goes.  He notices that people at the funeral, don’t enjoy looking at the dead body, but he rationalizes that people die every day, just like people are born every day, so since death is part of the circle of life, death should be a normal part of life.  Life is not easy for him now that his whole world has been turned upside down and everything has become black to him.

The next verse is the most confusing part of the song, but I will give it a shot.  In very deep water, almost all of the sun’s rays are absorbed by the water, and the blue will appear to be darker.  Jagger sings, “No more will my green sea go turn a deeper blue”.  A deep blue color is associated with the calmness, tranquility and serenity of being near water, and his life will never have any of this again, and someone like him who feels sick is said to look “green around the gills”.  He might be blaming himself for not being able to help or stop the death of his loved one and he is reflecting back on the event saying that he could not foresee this thing happening to her.

He has this idea that if he could look hard enough into the setting sun, that would change the past enough that his love would laugh with him before the morning comes.  Dream on buddy, this guy has really gone off the deep end and now he wants to see his loved one’s face painted black, so he can escape the pain of her memory.  He is hurting really bad and his thoughts turn to everything being black as night, black as coal and he doesn’t want to see the sun, flying high in the sky.  Just paint everything black and then he can have his solace.

I see a red door and I want it painted black
No colors anymore, I want them to turn black
I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes

I see a line of cars and they’re all painted black
With flowers and my love, both never to come back
I see people turn their heads and quickly look away
Like a newborn baby it just happens ev’ryday

I look inside myself and see my heart is black
I see my red door and I must have it painted black
Maybe then I’ll fade away and not have to face the facts
It’s not easy facing up when your whole world is black

No more will my green sea go turn a deeper blue
I could not foresee this thing happening to you
If I look hard enough into the setting sun
My love will laugh with me before the morning comes

I see a red door and I want it painted black
No colors anymore I want them to turn black
I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes

I want to see your face painted black, black as night, black as coal
Don’t want to see the sun, flying high in the sky
I want to see it painted, painted, painted, painted black, yea

12 thoughts on “P is for Paint It Black

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