Paint It Black

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"Paint It Black"
Single by The Rolling Stones
from the album Aftermath (American version)
B-side "Long, Long While" (UK)
"Stupid Girl" (US)
Released May 1966 (US)
13 May 1966 (UK)
Format 7"
Recorded 8 March 1966, RCA Studios, Hollywood, California
Genre Psychedelic rock, raga rock[1]
Length 3:45 (mono single mix)
3:22 (stereo album mix)
Label Decca F.12395 (UK)
London 45-LON.901 (US)[2]
Writer(s) Jagger/Richards[2]
Producer(s) Andrew Loog Oldham[2]
The Rolling Stones singles chronology
"19th Nervous Breakdown"
"Paint It Black"
"Mother's Little Helper/Lady Jane"
US cover
US cover
Music sample

"Paint It Black" (originally released as "Paint It, Black") is a song by the English rock band The Rolling Stones, written by the songwriting partnership of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and first released as a single on 6 May 1966 (see 1966 in music). It was later included as the opening track to the U.S. version of their 1966 album, Aftermath.[3] Musically inspired by the sitar playing of George Harrison and Harihar Rao, "Paint It Black", along with the Jagger and Richards-penned "Mother's Little Helper", was influential in developing the musical styles of psychedelic rock and raga rock.[4][5]

"Paint It Black" reached number one in both the Billboard Hot 100 and UK Singles Chart. The song became The Rolling Stones' third number one hit single in the US and sixth in the UK.[6][7] Since its initial release, the song has remained influential as the first number one hit featuring a sitar, particularly in the UK where it has charted in two other instances, and has been the subject of multiple cover versions, compilation albums, and film appearances.[8]



The song's lyrics are, for the most part, meant to describe bleakness and depression through the use of colour-based metaphors. Initially, "Paint It Black" was written as a standard pop arrangement, humorously compared by Mick Jagger to "Songs for Jewish weddings".[9] The song sets the scene of a mournful partner at a funeral, similar in terms to a blues or folk number. It is often claimed that Jagger took inspiration from novelist James Joyce's 1922 book, Ulysses, taking the excerpt, "I have to turn my head until my darkness goes", referring to the novel's theme of a worldwide view of desperation and desolation.[8]

"Paint It Black" came at a pivotal period in The Rolling Stones' recording history, a time that saw the songwriting collaboration of Jagger and Keith Richards assert itself as the principal composer of the band's original material. This is evident in the Aftermath sessions, where, for the first time, the duo penned the complete track list.[10] In addition, Brian Jones, overshadowed by Jagger and Richards as the de facto bandleader, grew bored with conventional guitar melodies, and attempting to write songs.[11] To alleviate the boredom, Jones explored eastern instruments, more specifically the sitar, to bolster the group's musical texture and complexity. Jones had a background with the sitar as early as 1961, and talked at length about the technicalities of playing the instrument. A natural multi-instrumentalist, Jones was able to develop a tune from the sitar in a short amount of time, largely due to his studies under Ravi Shankar's disciple, Harihar Rao.[12] Not long after a discussion with George Harrison, who had recently recorded sitar in "Norwegian Wood", Jones arranged basic melodies with the instrument that, over time, morphed into the one featured in "Paint It Black".[13]


The master take of "Paint It Black" was recorded on 8 March 1966, at RCA Studios in Los Angeles, with record producer Andrew Loog Oldham present throughout the process.[14] Much of the early recorded arrangements, and keys of the track were modeled after The Animals' version of "The House of the Rising Sun", but The Rolling Stones were unsatisfied with the song, and considered scrapping it. However, while twiddling with a Hammond organ, Bill Wyman searched for a heavier bass sound, while playing the part on his knees. Wyman's playing clicked with the group, and inspired the up-tempo and Eastern pentatonic melody. By all accounts, the sitar was brought into the mix when Harihar Rao happened to walk in the studio with the instrument in hand.[9]

The sitar was featured in the opening riff, which is considered as Jones's most accomplished, and as setting the rhythm throughout the song.[15] In his book Brian Jones: The Making of the Rolling Stones, Paul Trynka has noted that the influence of Harrison's sitar playing, and, in particular, The Beatles' song "Norwegian Wood" on the Rubber Soul album, draws parallels in "Paint It Black" - most noticeably in Jones's droning sitar melody.[16] Jones outright denied any connection, saying it was "utter rubbish", when it was considered he was imitating The Beatles. Nonetheless, Jones sitar playing immediately became influential in developing a whole subgenre of minor-key psychedelic music.[12] Coupled with this striking instrumental motif, it is complemented by Jagger's droning, and slight nasal vocalization.[8] In addition, "Paint It Black" was highlighted by Wyman's heavy bass, Charlie Watts's low-pitch drumming, and Richards' bolero-driven acoustic guitar outro. Soon after, Richards noted that the conclusion of the track was over-recorded, and a different guitar could have potentially improved the song.[9][12]


"Paint It Black" was released to the U.S. on 7 May 1966, reaching number one on the Billboard Hot 100 during a stay of 11 weeks. In the UK, the song was released on 13 May 1966, and also became a number one hit on the UK Singles Chart throughout a chart stay of ten weeks.[6][7] It was originally released as "Paint It, Black", the comma being an error by Decca Records, but, nonetheless, stirred controversy among fans over its racial interpretation.[17] Upon further reissues to the UK in 1990 and 2007, "Paint It Black" charted at number 61 and 70, respectively.[7]

"Paint It Black" has appeared on numerous Stones compilations, including Hot Rocks 1964-1971 (1971), 30 Greatest Hits (1977), Singles Collection: The London Years (1989), Forty Licks (2002), and GRRR! (2012). Live recordings are featured on the concert albums Flashpoint (1991), Live Licks (2004), Shine a Light (2008), and Sweet Summer Sun: Hyde Park Live (2013). The song was featured in the music video games Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock and Rocksmith 2014, as well as the 2001 video game Twisted Metal: Black.

The song plays during the end credits of the films Full Metal Jacket and The Devil's Advocate. In TV, it was used as the opening theme song to the series Tour of Duty. It was featured in the Call of Duty: Black Ops III teaser trailer, released on April 26, 2015. The Pittsburgh Pirates of Major League Baseball use the song as part of their "Black Out" promotions.[18]

Chart performance

Chart (1966) Peak
Austrian Singles Chart 2
Canada RPM Chart 1
Finnish Singles Chart 2
German Single Charts[19] 2
Irish Singles Chart[20] 2
Dutch Top 40[21] 1
UK Singles Chart[22] 1
US Billboard Hot 100 1
Chart (1990) Peak
Dutch Top 40[23] 1
UK Singles Chart 61



Eric Burdon & War version

"Paint It Black"
Single by Eric Burdon & War
from the album The Black Man's Burdon
B-side "Nights in White Satin"
Released 1971
Format 7" single
Recorded 1970
Genre Latin, psychedelic, R&B, funk
Length 4:04
Label Liberty
Writer(s) Jagger/Richards
Producer(s) Jerry Goldstein
Eric Burdon & War singles chronology
"Tobacco Road"
"Paint It Black"
"They Can't Take Away Our Music"

Before Eric Burdon & War's 1970 version reached the charts in Netherlands, Eric Burdon covered it on the 1967 Eric Burdon & The Animals debut album, Winds of Change. They also performed a 12:40 version on German TV in 1970.[27] The original album version of Eric Burdon & War had a length of 13:41.

Eric Burdon & The Animals performed it at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. This version was cut and included in the motion picture of the festival. They performed it also on the BBC.

Eric Burdon performed it also on his "Hippiefest" tour in 2008.

Chart performance

Chart (1971) Peak
Dutch Top 40[28] 31

Other cover versions

Single releases
  • In 1966, Marie Laforêt recorded a French cover called "Marie-douceur, Marie-colère".
  • In 1968, Chris Farlowe released a cover version, produced by Mick Jagger, as a single.
  • The Mo-dettes released a version on the Deram label in 1980. It reached number 42 on the UK singles chart.
  • Punk band the Avengers released a cover of the song in 1983, first as the A-side of a single, then on their self-titled album.
  • Indie bubblegum girl band Supercute! covered the song, and filmed a music video for it in 2011.
  • Caterina Caselli had some success with an Italian version of "Paint It Black", titled "Tutto nero", in 1966.
Album tracks and single B-sides


  1. "Paint It, Black" a glorious Indian raga-rock riot that will send the Stones back to #1", Nicholas Schaffner, The British invasion: from the first wave to the new wave, (McGraw-Hill, 1982) ISBN 0-07-055089-1
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Rice, Jo (1982). The Guinness Book of 500 Number One Hits (1st ed.). Enfield, Middlesex: Guinness Superlatives Ltd. p. 101. ISBN 0-85112-250-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Richie Unterberger. "Aftermath - Review". Retrieved June 1, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Nelson, Murry R. (2010). "The Rolling Stones: A Musical Biography". (1st ed.). Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. p. 45. ISBN 9780313380341. Retrieved May 30, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. DeRogatis, Jim; Kot Greg (2011). "The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones: Sound Opinions On the Great Rock 'N' Rivalry". (2nd ed.). Minneapolis, MN: MGI Publishing Company. pp. 64–67. ISBN 9780760338131. Retrieved May 30, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Rolling Stones - Hot 100". Retrieved June 3, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 "Official Charts - Rolling Stones". officialcharts.con. Retrieved June 3, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Viscounti, Tony (2014). "1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die" (4th ed.). New York, NY: Universe Publishing. p. 175. ISBN 9780789320896.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 JanovitzIt, Bill (2013). "Rocks Off: 50 Tracks That Tell the Story of the Rolling Stones". (1st ed.). New York, New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 92–95. ISBN 9781250026316. Retrieved June 1, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Aftermath (UK)". Retrieved June 1, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Bryan Wawzenek. "Top 10 Brian Jones Rolling Stones Multi-Instrumentalist Songs". Retrieved June 1, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Brend, Mark (2005). "Strange Sounds: Offbeat Instruments and Sonic Experiments in Pop". (1st ed.). San Francisco, CA: Backbeat Books. pp. 151–152. ISBN 9780879308551. Retrieved June 2, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Perone, James E. (2012). "The Album". (1st ed.). Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. p. 92. ISBN 9780313379062. Retrieved June 2, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Sullivan, Steve (2013). "Encyclopedia of Great Popular Song Recordings, Volume 2". (1st ed.). Plymouth, UK: Scrarecrow Press Inc. ISBN 9780810882966. Retrieved June 2, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Michael Gallucci. "Top 10 Sitar Songs". Retrieved June 2, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Trynka, Paul (2014). Brian Jones: The Making of the Rolling Stones (1st ed.). New York, New York: Viking Penguin. ISBN 9781101614723.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Robert Greenfield, The Rolling Stone Interviews, p. 172. St. Martin's Press/Rolling Stone Press, 1981, ISBN 0312689551. 1971.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "". Retrieved 8 June 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. "". Retrieved November 16, 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. "Nederlandse Top 40, week 24, 1966 (Dutch)". Retrieved 26 April 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 191. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. "Nederlandse Top 40, week 21, 1990 (Dutch)". Retrieved 26 April 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. "Official website". The Rolling Stones. Retrieved 2014-04-06.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. Stone Alone - Bill Wyman
  26. Rolling with The Stones - Bill Wyman
  27. "Eric Burdon & War: 'Paint It Black'". Dangerous Minds. 28 February 2012. Retrieved 18 August 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. "Nederlandse Top 40, week 20, 1971 (Dutch)". Retrieved 26 April 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Preceded by
"Pretty Flamingo" by Manfred Mann
UK number-one single
26 May 1966
Succeeded by
"Strangers in the Night" by Frank Sinatra
Preceded by
"When a Man Loves a Woman" by Percy Sledge
Billboard Hot 100 number-one single
June 11, 1966 (2 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Paperback Writer" by The Beatles
Preceded by
"Good Lovin'" by The Young Rascals
RPM Top 100 number-one single
June 13, 1966
Succeeded by
"Green Grass" by Gary Lewis
Preceded by
"Sloop John B" by The Beach Boys
Dutch Top 40 number-one single
May 28, 1966 (1966-05-28)
Succeeded by
"Paperback Writer" by The Beatles
Preceded by
"Kingston Town" by UB40
Dutch Top 40 number one single
May 12, 1990 (1990-05-12)
Succeeded by
"What's a Woman?" by Vaya Con Dios