Paul McCartney Explains the Meaning and Inspiration of the Beatles' "Blackbird"

Beyoncé's cover taps into the song's roots in the civil rights movement

Photo: Dana Zuk

BY Alex HudsonPublished Apr 1, 2024

The Beatles' classic 1968 track "Blackbird" is newly in the public consciousness thanks to Beyoncé's faithful cover, titled "BLACKBIIRD," which appears on the new album COWBOY CARTER. It's a perfect moment, then, to revisit songwriter Paul McCartney's explanation of the song, which he gave in an episode of A Life in Lyrics from iHeartPodcasts back in the fall.

In the episode published on November 29 of last year, McCartney explained that the guitar part was inspired by Bach's "Bourrée in E Minor."

McCartney noted that it was written in the spring of 1968, recalling, "I think it was in Scotland at the time, on a break, I got this idea of a 'blackbird singing in the dead of night.' It was just an image of a blackbird silhouetted, in the dead of night, in this sort of forest somewhere, as being this lonely image."

Beginning with this image of a blackbird, the song quickly morphed into a political commentary about the civil rights movement, which was taking place in the US at the time.

"Then it started to be about arising — 'Take these broken wings.' So, in other words, I was writing about the civil rights disturbances in Little Rock, particularly, that we'd be hearing about — segregation, and stuff — that shocked us so much," McCartney said. "Sunken eyes seeing, broken wings flying. This is your moment to arise and be free. Then I realized I was sending it in that direction. It now wasn't an ornithological piece; it was now to do with politics and to do with freedom, really." 

Given the context in which the original song was written, it's significant that Beyoncé's version features vocals from Tanner Adell, Brittney Spencer, Tiera Kennedy and Reyna Roberts — all Black female country singers.

Hear Bey's version below.

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