The Rolling Stones

Paint It Black

Song Review by

"Paint It Black" was one of the greatest Rolling Stones singles, reaching number one on both sides of the Atlantic in mid-1966. It also entirely broke free of the blues and R&B influences that had colored their 1965 smashes like "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" and "Get off of My Cloud." That in turn proved that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were versatile, growing writers who could compete head-to-head with the best rock composers of the era, such as their chief rivals, the Beatles, of course. The principal riff of "Paint It Black" (almost all classic Rolling Stones songs are highlighted by a killer riff) was played on a sitar by Brian Jones and qualifies as perhaps the most effective use of the Indian instrument in a rock song. The exotic twang was a perfect match for the dark, mysterious Eastern-Indian melody, which sounded a little like a soundtrack to an Indian movie hijacked into hyperdrive. It was later reported, in fact, that "Paint It Black" had begun life in a much slower, conventional funky soul vein. When Bill Wyman began fooling around on the organ during the session doing a parody of their middle-aged original co-manager Eric Easton (who had been an organist), Charlie Watts joined in the fun and laid down an urgent double-time drum pattern, echoing the rhythm heard in some Middle Eastern dances. That rhythm survives into the final track, serving as an effective counterpoint to Jagger's moodily intoned lyric about, apparently, a dead girlfriend. The drums return to a standard hard rock rhythm in the explosive chorus, which has subtle melodic shifts of minor keys that serve as evidence of Jagger and Richards' underestimated skill at creating compelling pop hooks, in the mid-'60s at any rate. It's also a cool touch to have the stiff drumbeat briefly replaced by tambourine rattles at the beginning of the last verse, as Jagger lingers on an especially sorrowful line. Watts then kicks into a dynamite hard rock drum pattern to get the tempo going again right after Jagger bemoans how he couldn't imagine this tragedy happening to his lover. This has the double purpose of increasing the tension of the lyric and varying the mood of the song -- a mood that, as pop/rock songs go, must rate among the most mordant in all of rock. Also dig how the Stones ride out the fade with creepy background vocals humming the main riff as Jagger becomes particularly excitable, starting to sing-shout the lyrics and announcing that he wants to not just paint everything black, but see the sun blotted out from the sky -- surely one of the most despairing images in popular music. Eric Burdon & the Animals did a noted, if not particularly brilliant, rearrangement of "Paint It Black," heard in the Monterey Pop concert film, utilizing a drawn-out, almost avant-garde violin figure. Burdon surely was enamored of the song, as he did it yet again with War in the 1970s. There was also a similarly adventurous and aesthetically mixed reinterpretation of the song by the new wave group the Mo-Dettes in the early '80s.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
No Image 1964 ABKCO Records 2:19
No Image 1965 ABKCO Records 2:23
Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass) 1966 ABKCO Records 0:00
Aftermath 1966 ABKCO Records 4:30
Through the Past, Darkly: Big Hits, Vol. 2 1969 ABKCO Records 3:23
Hot Rocks: 1964-1971 1972 ABKCO Records / Universal Music 3:22
Rolled Gold: The Very Best of the Rolling Stones 1975 Universal Distribution
Stones Story 1976 Decca
No Image 1977 Arcade Music
The Complete Singles Collection: The London Years 1989 ABKCO Records 3:44
25 X 5 1990 Sony Music Distribution
No Image 1990
Various Artists
Forty Licks 2002 ABKCO Records 3:45
No Image 2002 3:47
Remastered Series 2004 ABKCO Records 3:23
Singles 1965-1967 2004 ABKCO Records 3:45
Paint It Black 2007 UMVD 3:45
Bruce Springsteen's Jukebox 2009 United States of Distribution / Chrome Dreams / United States 2:14
GRRR! 2012 ABKCO Records 3:23
The Very Best of the Rolling Stones 1964-1971 2013 ABKCO Records 3:23
The Rolling Stones in Mono 2016 ABKCO Records 3:24