*1.18-PAINT IT BLACK (Rolling Stones)

Rolling Stones



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 new born baby it just happens every day.

I look inside myself and see my heart is black.
I see my red door and 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.

[Repeat 1st A verse]

     [Repeat 1st B verse]


[Improv]: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.


Paint It Black was the first successful Top 40 record to introduce the sitar to a pop music radio audience. Further, as the song was introduced on TV variety shows, Brian Jones was there on stage playing the exotic instrument, looking a bit blank and in a trance. This was probably Jones' peak moment with the Rolling Stones, as the novelty of his sitar playing to a dervish like rhythm pushed the record to number one on the charts. Yes, it's true that Jeff Beck tried it for Heart Full of Soul, and that George Harrison adapted the instrument for Norwegian Wood; it's true too that Jim McGuinn sat with the instrument for the cover of the Byrd's album Fifth Dimension. But this was the first successful presentation of the instrument to the general public, so that most people began to recognize the sitar for the first time.

Brian Jones would not be responsible for such a big hit again, but he, for a time, moved the group in a psychedelic direction which would most fully exhibit his talents as a musician. The song broke the Stones from their previous connection to R&B and beat music, marking the beginnings of a perhaps drug-induced adventure into something new, something nobody, at least in Western popular culture, had ever heard before. The change in style was so dramatic for the Stones that they labeled the album, on which Paint It Black appeared, Aftermath and issued a greatest hits collection, High Tide and Green Grass to commemorate an R&B artistic period that was behind them now.

At first, the Stones' psychedelic lyrics were rather artsy. I refuse to manipulate the title of Paint It Black so that it has a comma in it, as if addressed to Mr. Black. This kind of contrivance reflects one of the worst aspects of over-thinking on marijuana. Their first psychedelic lyric has death as its subject, as some psychedelic predecessors had done--see the Kinks' See My Friends, and the Yardbirds' Still I'm Sad. But Paint It Black was a more dramatic representation of grief; it's loud, rather than subdued as had previously been the case, and the drone effect is more for the purpose of trance, a burnout from overstimulation, than something with religious overtones. The song depicts the poet losing himself in fury. Granted that death has been an a subject for pop before, and it had been a bit of a fad in 1964 with such "splatter platters" such as Jan & Dean's Dead Man's Curve and the Shangri-Las' Leader of the Pack. But the psychedelic take on grief wasn't a story, it was personal; and the anger sung by Jagger sounds like he's really lost a woman. He observes that it hurts him now to respond to a sexual attraction, and poetically muses If I look hard enough into the setting sun / My love will laugh with me before the morning comes. The lyrics reflect internal observations about how bright color seems to affront his internal mood, and the poet waxes philosophical when he observes that death is as common a human experience as birth. After being the subject of several nascent psychedelic songs, Paint It Black marks the end of the grieving theme for the genre. The closest grief comes to being thematic in other psychedelic works included here would be the United States of America's Love Song for the Dead Che and Van Dyke Parks' Widows Walk, neither of which had much popularity.

After an introductory musical layering, Paint It Black oscillates regularly between a sitar riff that sounds like it came out of North Africa for a couple of lines followed by a couple of lines of standard rock beat. The song continues back and forth three times until, for one couplet, the rhythm slows and the sound softens. On this psychedelic verse, color is used as a code for living, a theme that the Rolling Stones would continue throughout their psychedelic period. The poet looks back on memories of the woman who had added depth to his "green sea"--he looks back and grieves that he had no clue that Death was coming for her. The rock couplet that follows whips up a frenzy again in a prayer to join her in death, followed by a repeat of the opening two couplets and a scat improvisation that propels the sitar to move faster into a raga and the sound to get fuller and louder with percussion and bass brought forward.

Psychedelic lyrics often noted colors; it was part of the synesthesia of the aesthetic that music and color would so frequently blend. There's several ironies to the development of psychedelic lyrics about color that I won't go into here. But it will be noted that, so far as I know, it is ironic that Paint It Black was the first of these "color" songs, black being the absence of all color. Though the color black comes up circumstantially in several further psychedelic recordings, it is never as central as it is here. For further uses of black, see how it was used racially by Arthur Lee in Love's song The Red Telephone (by exclusion), and as ying to a white yang by Carl Wilson in the Beach Boys' Feel Flows.

Paint It Black was the first song to reach the #1 position on the U.S. (and UK) singles charts that is recognizably psychedelic. The genre didn't often reach the top position on the radio. Counting only those psychedelic songs that charted in the 1960s (within the scope of the classic period), this study includes a dozen that were chart toppers, three of which were by the Beatles. The Rolling Stones scored another U.S. number one psychedelic hit (for the period of one week) in Ruby Tuesday. Four other songs of the 1960s that are recognizably psychedelic, but are of insufficient quality to be included in the Psychedelic Masterworks, made it to the top of the charts: Incense and Peppermints (Strawberry Alarm Clock); Judy in Disguise (With Glasses) (John Fred & His Playboy Band); Green Tambourine (Lemon Pipers); and Hello, I Love You (Doors).