Paint It, Black by The Rolling Stones: An In-Depth Exploration of Its Lyrics, Creation, and Enduring Legacy

by Alex Harris

30th November, 2023

Paint It, Black by The Rolling Stones: An In-Depth Exploration of Its Lyrics, Creation, and Enduring Legacy

The Enigmatic Essence of Paint It, Black

Paint It, Black, a song that resonates through the ages, stands as a testament to The Rolling Stones’ profound impact on music. Released on May 13, 1966, as the lead single from their fourth album, Aftermath, this track delves deep into the realms of grief and despair. The lyrics of Paint It, Black paint a vivid picture of a lover’s anguish at the funeral of his beloved, yearning for the world to mirror his engulfing sorrow.

The Genesis of Paint It, Black

The creation of Paint It, Black marked a pivotal moment in The Rolling Stones’ musical journey. The song emerged from a period of intense creativity, with Jagger and Richards experimenting with new lyrical themes and musical styles. The band’s exposure to different cultural sounds during their tour in Australia and Fiji played a crucial role in shaping the song’s direction.

Lyrical Analysis: A Journey Through Grief

The lyrics of Paint It, Black are a journey through the stages of grief. From the opening lines, “I see a red door and I want it painted black,” the song encapsulates a desire to erase brightness and immerse in darkness as a response to overwhelming loss. The verses oscillate between external observations and introspection, revealing a heart “painted black” by pain. This sentiment is further echoed in lines like “No colours anymore; I want them to turn black,” illustrating a desire for the external world to mirror the internal turmoil.

The lyrics, penned by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, were partially inspired by some of the prose of James Joyce’s classic novel Ulysses, which also deals with themes of death and mourning.

Unravelling the Lyrics’ Meaning

At its core, Paint It, Black is a universal expression of human emotion. It captures the essence of sorrow, and coupled with its innovative use of the sitar, cements its place as a masterpiece in The Rolling Stones’ illustrious career. The song is not about a specific event or person, but rather a general feeling of hopelessness and despair. As Jagger once said, “It means, ‘Paint It, Black.’ ‘I can’t get no satisfaction’ means ‘I can’t get no satisfaction.’” The song does not offer any resolution or consolation, but rather leaves the listener with a haunting impression of the singer’s tormented state of mind.

The Sitar’s Sorrowful Strains

Keith Richards, in reflecting on the song’s unique sound, credits Brian Jones’s experimentation with the sitar. Jones, having moved away from the guitar, brought a distinctive texture to Paint It, Black, infusing it with a haunting, almost ethereal quality. This choice of instrumentation was a stroke of genius, adding depth and complexity to the song’s emotional landscape. The sitar was influenced by George Harrison’s use of the sitar in Norwegian Wood. This innovative use of the sitar in a rock song was a bold move that paid off, adding depth and texture to the song’s emotional landscape.

Bill Wyman’s Influence and the Song’s Evolution

Bill Wyman significantly influenced the song’s evolution in the studio by introducing a rhythmic pattern using Hammond organ pedals. This addition, along with Charlie Watts’s double-time drum pattern, created a unique Middle Eastern musical mosaic that became the song’s signature sound.

The Comma in the Title: A Typographical Enigma

A peculiar aspect of Paint It, Black is the comma in its title. This seemingly insignificant punctuation has sparked numerous discussions. While some speculate it to be a directive—Paint it, black!—as if addressing someone named Mr. Black, it was actually a typographical error by the record company. The band never intended to have a comma in the title, and later releases of the song have omitted it. However, its original inclusion adds a layer of intrigue to the song’s history.

A Cultural Phenomenon

Paint It, Black transcends music, leaving its mark on various forms of media. Its cover featured prominently in HBO’s Westworld, a series known for its dark and intricate storytelling. Additionally, the song demonstrated its enduring appeal across generations and mediums when it was featured in a promotional trailer for the video game Call of Duty: Black Ops 3. era, reflecting the cultural and social upheavals of the time. Its dark, brooding tone and themes of loss and disillusionment resonated deeply with a generation experiencing the tumult and tragedies of war. However, it is important to note that while the song became emblematic of the Vietnam War era, its lyrics do not directly reference the war. Instead, they focus on a more personal narrative of loss and mourning.

The Rolling Stones Aftermath album cover
The Rolling Stones Aftermath album cover

You might also like:

Conclusion: A Timeless Ode to Grief

Paint It, Black by The Rolling Stones, produced by Andrew Loog Oldham, remains a powerful expression of human emotion. Its lyrics, rich in imagery and depth, continue to resonate with audiences, making it a timeless classic in the world of music. The song’s ability to capture the essence of sorrow, coupled with its innovative use of the sitar, cements its place as a masterpiece in The Rolling Stones’ illustrious career. The song was influential in the burgeoning psychedelic genre and widened the instrument’s audience. In 2021, the Grammy Hall of Fame inducted Paint It, Black, and Rolling Stone magazine ranked the song number 213 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

The Rolling Stones Paint It, Black Lyrics

Verse 1
I see a red door and I want it painted black
No colours 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

Verse 2
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 every day

Verse 3
I look inside myself and see my heart is black
I see my red door, 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

Verse 4
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

Verse 1
I see a red door and I want it painted black
No colours 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

Outro
I wanna see it painted, painted black
Black as night, black as coal
I wanna see the sun blotted out from the sky
I wanna see it painted, painted, painted
Painted black, yeah

Previous post

Be the first and never miss an update!

2024 © All Rights Reserved
  • facebook
  • twitter
  • instagram