"Paint It Black" reached number one in both the Billboard Hot 100 and UK Singles Chart. The song became The Rolling Stones' third number one hit single in the US and sixth in the UK. Since its initial release, the song has remained influential as the first number one hit featuring a sitar, particularly in the UK where it has charted in two other instances, and has been the subject of multiple cover versions, compilation albums, and film appearances.
The song's lyrics are, for the most part, meant to describe bleakness and depression through the use of colour-based metaphors. Initially, "Paint It Black" was written as a standard pop arrangement, humorously compared by Mick Jagger to "Songs for Jewish weddings". The song sets the scene of a mournful partner at a funeral, similar in terms to a blues or folk number. It is often claimed that Jagger took inspiration from novelistJames Joyce's 1922 book, Ulysses, taking the excerpt, "I have to turn my head until my darkness goes", referring to the novel's theme of a worldwide view of desperation and desolation. The song itself came to fruition when rhythm guitarist Brian Jones took an interest in Moroccan music. It was their first song to feature a sitar instrumental. "Paint It Black" came at a pivotal period in The Rolling Stones' recording history, a time that saw the songwriting collaboration of Jagger and Keith Richards assert itself as the principal composer of the band's original material. This is evident in the Aftermath sessions, where, for the first time, the duo penned the complete track list. In addition, Brian Jones, overshadowed by Jagger and Richards, grew bored with conventional guitar melodies, and attempting to write songs. To alleviate the boredom, Jones explored eastern instruments, more specifically the sitar, to bolster the group's musical texture and complexity. Jones had a background with the sitar as early as 1961, and talked at length about the technicalities of playing the instrument. A natural multi-instrumentalist, Jones was able to develop a tune from the sitar in a short amount of time, largely due to his studies under Ravi Shankar's disciple, Harihar Rao. Not long after a discussion with George Harrison, who had recently recorded sitar in "Norwegian Wood", Jones arranged basic melodies with the instrument that, over time, morphed into the one featured in "Paint It Black".
The master take of "Paint It Black" was recorded on 8 March 1966, at RCA Studios in Los Angeles, with record producerAndrew Loog Oldham present throughout the process. Much of the early recorded arrangements, and keys of the track were modeled after The Animals' version of "The House of the Rising Sun", but The Rolling Stones were unsatisfied with the song, and considered scrapping it. However, while twiddling with a Hammond organ, Bill Wyman searched for a heavier bass sound, while playing the part on his knees. Wyman's playing clicked with the group, and inspired the up-tempo and Eastern pentatonic melody. By all accounts, the sitar was brought into the mix when Harihar Rao happened to walk in the studio with the instrument in hand.
The sitar was featured in the opening riff, which is considered as Jones's most accomplished, and as setting the rhythm throughout the song. In his book Brian Jones: The Making of the Rolling Stones, Paul Trynka has noted that the influence of Harrison's sitar playing, and, in particular, The Beatles' song "Norwegian Wood" on the Rubber Soul album, draws parallels in "Paint It Black" - most noticeably in Jones' droning sitar melody. Jones outright denied any connection, saying it was "utter rubbish", when it was considered he was imitating The Beatles. Nonetheless, Jones sitar playing immediately became influential in developing a whole subgenre of minor-key psychedelic music. Coupled with this striking instrumental motif, it is complemented by Jagger's droning, and slight nasal vocalization. In addition, "Paint It Black" was highlighted by Wyman's heavy bass, Charlie Watts's low-pitch drumming, and Richards' bolero-driven acoustic guitar outro. Soon after, Richards noted that the conclusion of the track was over-recorded, and a different guitar could have potentially improved the song.
"Paint It Black" was released to the US on 7 May 1966, reaching number one on the Billboard Hot 100 during a stay of 11 weeks. In the UK, the song was released on 13 May 1966, and also became a number one hit on the UK Singles Chart throughout a chart stay of ten weeks. It was originally released as "Paint It, Black", the comma being an error by Decca Records, but, nonetheless, stirred controversy among fans over its racial interpretation. Upon further reissues to the UK in 1990 and 2007, "Paint It Black" charted at number 61 and 70, respectively.
The Swedish death metal band Deranged covered "Paint It Black" on their album Rated-X.
Los Angeles-based rock band The Standells covered "Paint It Black" on their album Dirty Water, released in 1966. This version replaces the line "With flowers and my love, both never to come back", instead repeating "I see a red door and I want it painted black".
The song was covered and translated on Ukrainian by singer-songwriter Yuriy Veres 2012 album 60/70.
Finnish comedy rock band Sleepy Sleepers covered the song in Finnish language under name Kaapataan lentokone Moskovaan (Hi-Jacking an Airplane to Moscow) in 1978. They managed to cause an international scandal, and subsequently Sleepy Sleepers were banned from airplay by the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation, YLE, until 1989.
The song was covered by R&B singer, Ciara, for the soundtrack of The Last Witch Hunter, and released in October 2015. This cover version is also used as the current entrance theme for CZW wrestler Lio Rush.
The song was covered by DCI World Class drum and bugle corps, Calorina Crown during the field show entitled "Rach Star" in 2011.
An orchestral version of the song was used in the first episode of HBO's TV series Westworld in 2016.
^Jones sitar playing immediately became influential in developing a whole subgenre of minor-key psychedelic music. ISBN 9780879308551
^"Paint It, Black" a glorious Indian raga-rock riot that will send the Stones back to #1", Nicholas Schaffner, The British invasion: from the first wave to the new wave, (McGraw-Hill, 1982) ISBN 0-07-055089-1
^ abRice, Jo (1982). The Guinness Book of 500 Number One Hits (1st ed.). Enfield, Middlesex: Guinness Superlatives Ltd. p. 101. ISBN0-85112-250-7.