Watch Preciously Rare Footage of Paul McCartney Recording “Blackbird” at Abbey Road Studios (1968)

Paul McCartney’s “Black­bird” com­petes with Lennon’s “Julia” as the most ten­der song on the Bea­t­les’ White Album and maybe in the band’s entire cat­a­logue. Inspired by a Bach piece that McCart­ney and George Har­ri­son learned to play when they were young, its fin­ger-picked acoustic gui­tar has the sound of a folk lul­la­by. But the song’s shift­ing time sig­na­tures and del­i­cate melody make it some­thing of a tricky one: record­ing ses­sions at Abbey Road involved a series of 32 takes, most of them false starts and only 11 com­plete. The ver­sion we hear on the album is the final take, fin­ished while Lennon worked on “Rev­o­lu­tion 9” in the stu­dio next door.

You can see 1:33 of that ses­sion in the footage above, cap­tured on 16mm by a film crew from Apple Records direct­ed by Tony Bramwell, part of a 10-minute pro­mo that also includ­ed footage of McCart­ney record­ing “Hel­ter Skel­ter” and “var­i­ous oth­er scenes from inside the stu­dio, in the Apple Bou­tique, Apple Tai­lor­ing, McCartney’s gar­den and oth­er loca­tions,” the Bea­t­les Bible notes. It’s an ephemer­al doc­u­ment of time pass­ing peace­ably dur­ing the gru­el­ing 5‑month White Album ses­sions, which for all their leg­endary ten­sion and ran­cor, includ­ed many moments like these.

The three-day ordeal that was the record­ing of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” (after which engi­neer Geoff Emer­ick quit) pro­vides stark con­trast, and maybe con­fir­ma­tion that the Bea­t­les were at their best when they worked sep­a­rate­ly in 1968. The brief film above also con­firms a more tech­ni­cal record­ing con­cern: the tick­ing we hear in the stu­dio track is not a metronome, but Paul’s feet alter­nate­ly tap­ping on the wood stu­dio floor to mea­sure out the bars of the com­plex song, which shifts between 3/4, 4/4, and 2/4 time. “Part of its struc­ture is a par­tic­u­lar har­mon­ic thing between the melody and the bass line which intrigued me,” he remem­bered, and we see him striv­ing to get it right.

After the Bea­t­les, McCart­ney made “Black­bird” a reg­u­lar part of his set, play­ing it at near­ly every con­cert from 1975 on. It wasn’t only the beau­ty of the song that has moved him all these years, but its inspi­ra­tion, the Civ­il Rights move­ment, which “all of us cared pas­sion­ate­ly about,” he said. “Black­bird” is “sym­bol­ic, so you could apply it to your par­tic­u­lar prob­lem,” but the song’s intend­ed mes­sage, he said, was “from me to a black woman, expe­ri­enc­ing these prob­lems in the States: ‘Let me encour­age you to keep try­ing, to keep your faith, there is hope.’”

Below you can watch McCart­ney talk about the sto­ry behind “Black­bird” in a 2005 pro­duc­tion called Chaos & Cre­ation at Abbey Road.

via Boing Boing

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

When the Bea­t­les Refused to Play Before Seg­re­gat­ed Audi­ences on Their First U.S. Tour (1964)

How “Straw­ber­ry Fields For­ev­er” Con­tains “the Cra­zi­est Edit” in Bea­t­les His­to­ry

Hear the Beau­ti­ful Iso­lat­ed Vocal Har­monies from the Bea­t­les’ “Some­thing”

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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