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music friday: the rolling stones, “paint it black”

The development of The Rolling Stones from their beginnings to mid-1966, when “Paint It Black” was released, was remarkable. Their first single, “Come On” in June of 1963, was a Chuck Berry song. Their next four singles were covers of songs by the Beatles, Buddy Holly, Arthur Alexander, and Berry again (“Carol” in June of 1964). June of 1965 saw “Satisfaction” and there was no stopping the band. Two years from covering their idols to creating “Satisfaction.”

“Paint It Black” came along in 1966. It was inventive musically (Brian Jones’ sitar marked the first time that instrument had appeared on a #1 single), but the lyrics were more startling. When it hit #1, it replaced “When a Man Loves a Woman” in the States and “Pretty Flamingo” in the UK … it was bumped from the top spot by “Paperback Writer” (US) and “Strangers in the Night” (UK). Fine songs, all, and indicative of the kind of things you heard on pop radio in 1966: a soul tune, arty British pop, the Beatles, and Frank Sinatra. Appearing in the middle of this, “Paint It Black” was like a missive from some Bizarro version of Pop. Sinatra and Percy Sledge and Manfred Mann sang about love, the Beatles famously did not sing about love but created a pop masterpiece Paul’s auntie could love. “Paint It Black” was different:

I see a red door and I want it painted black
No colors anymore I want them to turn black
I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes

Charlie Watts’ drumming was propulsive, but you pretty much had to ignore those lyrics if you wanted the song to give you a good time. And it didn’t get better as the song worked its way to the conclusion, where you hear Mick Jagger shouting, “I wanna see the sun blotted out from the sky.”

They had come a long way from “Come On.”

Here’s the original:

Eric Burdon and the Animals were one of the acts at my very first rock concert. They performed “Paint It Black” that night. A couple of weeks earlier, they had played it at Monterey, and a truncated version made it into the movie of that event:

Finally, here’s a version performed on American Idol … nah … this is Penelope Houston and the Avengers:

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