1/16/18: The Beatles “Blackbird”
When it comes to the latter half of one of the greatest bands of all time, all you need for a wonderful cross-section of a storied career is an entirely white album with two words embossed cleanly on it: “The Beatles.”
The “White Album” came out in 1968, a sometimes strange and altogether fantastic collection of music born from a time of evolving social trends and tense relations. The Fab Four wrote most of the songs during March and April while taking time to explore transcendental meditation in Rishikesh, India, and came back to what is now known as Abbey Road Studios in the UK to record in October.
The album wasn’t just about changing times in the world around them, but also changing times from within the band. Controversy over creative differences were beginning to boil over, and John’s relationship with Yoko was starting to cross long-standing band boundaries. The times when John, Paul, George and Ringo were working on this album are some of the last times they’d be together as a cohesive unit, and for a band that defined an entire generation… that really means something.
The songs on the ninth studio record from The Beatles meant something, as well. The music that I can’t seem to get out of my head today is especially fitting, as it’s the week where we remember, honor and celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s a little acoustic number with some mighty fine fingerpickin’ guitar work from Paul. It’s “Blackbird,” of course!
The musical inspiration for the song comes from a Bach piece called ”Bourrée in E minor” that Paul and George learned as teenagers. Where the lyrical inspiration came from seems to depend on when you ask Paul. Sometimes it’s because he heard the call of a blackbird one morning during his meditations in India, and sometimes it’s a song he wrote as a response to the racial tensions that were coming to a head in the United States at the time. “Blackbird” is at once a song about nature, about romance, and about rising above struggle. It twists and turns through meaning and metaphor, and where I originally thought it was just a tune about a blackbird with broken wings, reading a little more about it today has shown me that it’s so much more than that.
McCartney once said in an interview, “I was in Scotland playing on my guitar, and I remembered this whole idea of ‘You were only waiting for this moment to arise’ was about, you know, the black people’s struggle in the southern states, and I was using the symbolism of a blackbird. It’s not really about a blackbird whose wings are broken, you know, it’s a bit more symbolic”
So there’s a special meaning to it after all! That, to me, makes it an even better song!