‘P’ Is For: Paint It Black

Paint It, Black (The comma was a typo at Decca Records that stuck somehow) is one of The Rolling Stones biggest early hits, and one that started as a happy accident. The song, the first single from their 1966 fourth album Aftermath, is credited to Jagger/Richards, but bass player Bill Wyman said it was one of the songs written by the whole band, and it started out as a joke: He was making fun of the band’s first manager, who started out as a movie-house organist, playing an organ’s bass-foot-pedals with his fists, which can be heard doubling his bass line on the recording.

Mick Jagger wrote the dark lyrics, about a girl’s funeral.

But what makes the song sound so unlike anything of that time was Brian Jones’ unique ability to pick up just about any instrument laying around a recording studio, and be able to play it fairly well within a half-hour or so. The instrument in this case was an Indian Sitar, first used in popular music by The Yardbirds, who hired a professional to play it on their song Heart Full of Soul (they didn’t keep the track), and then by The Beatles George Harrison, who started fooling around with one he found on the set of their movie Help!, and afterward took lessons from Indian master Ravi Shankar. Brian Jones had visited George and was smitten by the sound, and figured out how to play it on his own without any help at all.

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