Blackbird - Reviews

Reviewed by Ian MacDonald, in Revolution in the Head:

In stressing the blues and country roots of modern pop, rock-based critics tend to underestimate the heritage of Tin Pan Alley and, in the UK, of folk music. Important to the technique of much British pop in the Sixties and early Seventies were the finger-picking styles defined by folk-club guitarists like Davey Graham, Archie Fisher, John Renbourn, and - in particular - Bert Jansch. (This tradition was effectively erased in the UK by the New Wave 'thrash' style of 1976-8 and consequently of almost no influence on the wall-of-sound Indie bands of the Eighties.) Beyond the reach of electricity in the Maharishi's retreat at Rishikesh during the spring of 1968, The Beatles could use only their Martin D-28 acoustic guitars, which meant either strumming or brushing up on the arpeggio patterns used by folk guitarists to sustain their chords. The results of this forced technical restriction can be heard in MOTHER NATURE'S SON, DEAR PRUDENCE, HAPPINESS IS A WARM GUN, and JULIA.

From the songwriter's point of view, one of the secrets of the arpeggiated guitar style is that it exploits the instrument's scope for retuning, creating unexpected chords and scales, and even generating melodies. The best example of this on The Beatles is provided by the present song which, as folk guitarist Richard Digance has pointed out.'owes its distinctiveness (and probably its existence) to a tuning in which the E-strings are dropped to D and the chords carried mostly on the second and fourth strings. Recorded by its composer McCartney in Studio 2 (with Lennon next door in Studio 3 working on REVOLUTION 9), this haunting thing was taped and mixed, including a warbling blackbird from the Abbey Road effects library, in six hours. Inspired by the experience of being woken by a blackbird bursting into song before sunrise, McCartney's lyric translates this into a succinct metaphor for awakening on a deeper level - in its quiet way, one of his finest pieces [1].


  1. An alternative theory - with no supporting evidence - holds the song to be a metaphor for the black civil rights struggle in America. (Manson adopted this line. See Bugliosi and Gentry, pp. 241-2.) In fact, the formative mood of the song was gentle and romantic. McCartney sat on a windowsill and played it to the girl fans camped outside his house the first night his future wife Linda Eastman came over and stayed. (An early, casual take on Anthology 3 shows McCartney loosening up on the song.)

Posted: 5 sep 2009

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