Meaning of “Paint It Black” by The Rolling Stones

The general consensus is that the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” is based on the narrator grieving over a deceased romantic partner. And there is definitely imagery presented in its singular verse to support this theory. However, its singer and co-writer, Rolling Stones’ frontman Mick Jagger, has stated that such is not particularly the case. Rather the song is about depression in general, with the titular color black serving as a symbol of this unfavorable mood. 

And in actuality, the case may be that Jagger is not singing about a dead partner at all. Rather he is referring to himself and his own aforementioned depression. As such, he does not see any positivity in the world. Instead where there is color he wants it “painted black”, alluding to a general acceptance and potency of this negative mind state.

“Facts about “Paint It Black”

  • The production of “Paint It Black” was handled by renowned record producer, Andrew Loog Oldham. It’s important to state that Oldham served as The Rolling Stones’ manager in the mid 1960s.
  • Mick Jagger partnered with his longtime collaborator and bandmate Keith Richards to write this song.
  • “Paint It Black” was released officially on the 13th of May 1966.
  • Upon its release, this song was initially titled “Paint It, Black”.  However, the comma in the title was later removed.
  • Interestingly enough, The Rolling Stones currently don’t own the rights to “Pain It Black”. And why is the case? Simply because they sol all rights to this track to Allen Klein (a former manager of the band). This occurred somewhere in the 1960s.
  • According to the Rolling Stone magazine, “Paint It Black” is one of the greatest songs ever written. Actually, the magazine placed the song at the 176th position on its 2004 list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.

Usage in Movies, TV Series and Games

  • This track has appeared in several movies, including 1999’s Stir of Echoes. It was also featured during the end credits of the movies, 1997’s The Devil’s Advocate (1997) and 1987’s Full Metal Jacket.
  • “Paint It Black” was also used for the promos of the movie, The Mummy and the video game Call of Duty: Black Ops 3.
  • In addition to the above mentioned game, this song also several other games like Guitar Hero Live, Mafia III, and Twisted Metal: Black.
  • The American TV series, Tour of Duty used this rock classic as its opening theme song. The noted science fiction TV series, Westworld, also made use of this song in several of its episodes.
  • Contrary to popular belief, “Paint It Black” wasn’t written about the Vietnam War.

Chart Success of “Paint It Black”

In 1966, this song topped the charts in at least 4 countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom. It also reached the top 5 in at least 5 other countries, including Germany (where it peaked at number 2).

On which Stones’ album does “Paint It Black” appear?

It was included on the U.S. edition of The Rolling Stones’ fourth album titled Aftermath. That album came out in 1966.

Aside Aftermath, “Paint It Black” has also appeared on other Stones’ album, including the following:

  • 1971’s Hot Rocks 1964 – 1971
  • 1977’s 30 Greatest Hits
  • 1989’s Singles Collection: The London Years 

Did “Paint It Black” win a Grammy Award?

No. Despite being one of the Stones’ most iconic songs, “Paint It Black” never received a nomination for a Grammy Award.

4 Responses

  1. James Stonewell says:

    I have heard this song used a lot in Vietnam movies and documentaries and for a long time that was my, and probably many other people’s, association leading to the belief that it was made for the Vietnam War. The depression angle certainly is the best and is explained by the lyrics about seeing a long line of black cars, obviously referring to a funeral.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Having been in the Vietnam War, the song was adopted as one of our own. To this day when I hear this song it takes me back to jungle, the heat and humidity, and the guys I spent a year in hell with.

  3. AndyA says:

    The Contrast of a Line of Black Cars ( a funeral ) and newborn Babies is just Amazing .

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