VOICE TO THE BLACKBIRD + bits and pieces
heard again by Norman Warwick
Though The Beatles (left) had many overt protest songs, notably “Revolution,” another song that is just as politically charged, though I didn´t realise it at the time, is Blackbird.
The delicate track features a single guitar line supporting Paul McCartney crooning out the lyrics. Every so often, a few chirps from a bird can be heard as a nod to the song’s opening refrain blackbird singing in the dead of night.
However, this song has nothing to do with ornithology and is instead a commentary on the on-going Civil Rights Movement of the ’60s. Let’s dive into the meaning of the song’s lyrics below.
McCartney cites the moment Little Rock, Arkansas, schools (right) decided to desegregate as a driving force behind the song. Sitting in his kitchen in Scotland, McCartney picked up his acoustic guitar and began to flesh out the simple tune.
“I was sitting around with my acoustic guitar and I’d heard about the civil rights troubles that were happening in the ’60s in Alabama, Mississippi, Little Rock in particular,” he later said in an interview with GQ magazine..
“I just thought it would be really good if I could write something that if it ever reached any of the people going through those problems, it might give them a little bit of hope. So, I wrote ‘Blackbird.’”
Only three sounds were tracked for the final recording: McCartney’s voice, his Martin D-28, and tapping that keeps time on the left channel. The origin of the tapping is a bit of a mystery, although in The Beatles Anthology video McCartney appears to be making the sound with his foot. The bird sounds were later overdubbed from the collection at Abbey Road Studios.
The lyrics as a whole are very symbolic. Playing on a hidden meaning of the word “Blackbird,” McCartney references The Little Rock Nine – the brave Black students that stood in face of racism by attending a formerly all-white school (more on this later).
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free
McCartney uses a repeated opening line for each verse, beginning with Blackbird singing in the dead of night. He then switches out the lyric, praising the students for enduring despite their broken wings and sunken eyes.
He finishes off the verses with another refrain, acknowledging the struggle for equality they have been fighting their entire lives, waiting for their moment of freedom to arrive.
Nine Black students drew national attention in 1957 when they enrolled at a formerly all-white high school in Little Rock, Arkansas. Their attendance at the school was a test of Brown v. Board of Education, which was ratified by the Supreme Court just a few years earlier.
The court’s decision ruled that segregation in public high schools was unconstitutional, seemingly paving the way for racial equality across the country – although Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus didn’t see it that way.
Faubus called in the Arkansas National Guard to block the Black students – Ernest Green, Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Pattillo, Gloria Ray, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas, and Carlotta Walls – from entering the school.
Later that month, federal troops were brought in to escort the students, drawing international recognition of the Civil Rights Movement – notably McCartney.
McCartney met two of the women, Mothershed and Eckford, at his Little Rock concert on April 30, 2016. He took to Twitter after the meeting to say, “Incredible to meet two of the Little Rock Nine–pioneers of the civil rights movement and inspiration.´
Many novice guitarists have plucked along to McCartney’s iconic guitar trill since its release, cementing its integral place in music history.
Covers of the pervasive song have cropped up around the decades, keeping, arguably, one of McCartney’s best writing efforts alive.
Everyone from Sarah McLachlan to Billy Preston has lent their voice to “Blackbird” at one time or another but the only cover version that made it to the charts was a Glee Cast recording in 2011.
Crosby, Stills & Nash (right) gave a similarly honeyed version of the song in their 1991 box set. The group performed the cover live often, notably during their set at Woodstock Festival in 1969.
I have mentioned Lennon´s social commentary and xxx reminded us of Lennon´s far more obvious protest call for a Revolution, which I felt at the time was a Dylanesque call for Mankind to rewind to the beginning and to start again. I suppose tht at the time, as nowt but a child, I had vague notions that Paul´s song was a summoning of the spirit, but I interpreted everything on those days as proclamations of love. I took the song as being about a girl who had left her lover, and that lover´s realisation that she had wanted 7 needed her freedom.
I am grateful, therefore to Alex Hopper, writing in American Songwriter, for setting me right with this much needed revision.
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Check out Sign Along With Us performing at Rochdale Feel Good Festival on Saturday 13th August on the main stage. #signalongwithus #SSE #Sawu #sawusign Check out Sign along with us performing at Rochdale Feel Good Festival on Saturday 13th August on the main stage. #signalongwithus #SSE #Sawu #sawusign
Sidetracks And Detours and the all across the arts page run by Steve Cooke in The Rochdale observer have previously reported on this whole remarkable story. It tells of two close Rochdale families, a dedicated sister and her best friend, who adapted sign language to song lyrics for a profoundly death brother who can feel the rhythm when a song plays on the radio and then can see the lyrics when his sister´s newly-formed group delivered them. The group hit Britain´s Got Talent, gathered national public and political support and are now changing the way we approach the impossible !
There is no wonder Rochdale has a feel good factor and no wonder my former colleague Steve and his aata team always have so much to writer about.
The air waves are alive and buzzing again this week.
Our good friend, AJ the DJ Hendry, has told Sidetracks And Detours that she has invited a very special guest on to her show The Perfect Storm tonight, Monday 8th August at 5pm on Monster Radio. She tells us she is looking forward to a lively and fun interview with a witty and dynamic Microbiologist, which might be words we don´t expect to see in the same sentence ! However Nance Larkin (right) is also a food safety specialist and social marketing and web designer. AJ will therefore be asking Nance about her life here as an islander, her career and hearing her musical choices. Why not tune in to Monster Radio Lanzarote 99.9fm or listen via the website monster radio.es or the radio garden app.Monster Radio Tias ?
Meanwhile, another radio buddy of ours, Steve (left) has a new presentation of Hot Biscuits, a jazz filled programme from the UK via mix-cloud. Steve tells us the show includes extracts from a live gig from Stuart McCallum at Creative Space, Manchester. Mr. BNewick says we can expect some smart electric guitar sounds. Also included is music from Kat Eaton, her recent single, Meg Morley Music, Racheal Calladine, Robert Castelli & Boom. If you like the sound of this tell your friends and join Steve for Hot Biscuits at
The prime source for this article was a piece by Alex Fuller in American Songwriter. Check out the magazine on line for scores of similar thought-provoking work.
In our occasional re-postings Sidetracks And Detours are confident that we are not only sharing with our readers excellent articles written by experts but that we are also pointing to informed and informative sites readers will re-visit time and again. Of course, we feel sure our readers will also return to our daily not-for-profit blog knowing that we seek to provide core original material whilst sometimes spotlighting the best pieces from elsewhere, as we engage with new genres and practitioners along all the sidetracks & detours we take.
This article was collated by Norman Warwick, a weekly columnist with Lanzarote Information and owner and editor of this daily blog at Sidetracks And Detours.
Norman has also been a long serving broadcaster, co-presenting the weekly all across the arts programme on Crescent Community Radio for many years with Steve Bewick, and his own show on Sherwood Community Radio. He has been a regular guest on BBC Radio Manchester, BBC Radio Lancashire, BBC Radio Merseyside and BBC Radio Four.
As a published author and poet Norman was a founder member of Lendanear Music, with Colin Lever and Just Poets with Pam McKee, Touchstones Creative Writing Group (for which he was creative writing facilitator for a number of years) with Val Chadwick and all across the arts with Robin Parker.
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