The song is mysterious without clear meaning, but it mostly hints at the black feelings someone feels inside at having suffered a great loss.

Before the release of “Aftermath,” the group’s breakout album in 1966, The Rolling Stones were doing mostly cover tunes and, according to Jagger, not being very good at it. He mentioned to American Songwriter that he felt that the group lacked the maturity to do the songs justice in the mid-1960s. He and Richards wrote all of the songs on “Aftermath,” but “Paint it Black” became the album’s biggest hit. Even today, nearly 60 years later, the song remains one of the biggest draws at the group’s concerts. That Jagger and Richards took over most of the songwriting irked band member Brian Jones, who nearly quit the group he founded. Instead, he played the sitar on “Paint it Black.” He was a blues musician first. The shift away from blues saddened Jones, and he turned to drugs and alcohol. The substance abuse made it impossible for him to contribute to the band musically. He died at the bottom of a pool in 1969, and this gave “Paint it Black” even more sadness than it had originally.

The Music Theory of the Song

Richards explains that he believes the song sounds half Romani and half Jewish. This comes from the use of the harmonic minor scale, which adds a sharp to the seventh. In E harmonic minor, the key of the song, that creates a major V chord with B-D#-F#. Directly before that in the scale, the IV chord is minor. In this case, that would be A-C-E. Unusually, Jagger and Richards use an A-major chord as the IV, which implies the melodic minor scale, which sharpens both the sixth and sevenths degrees. Still, the melody stays in the harmonic minor, which creates a dissonance. This dissonance is one of the signatures of the song.

Chart Performance

In 1966, the song was No. 1 simultaneously on the United States Billboard Hot 100, the list of Canadian Top Singles, and the United Kingdom Record Retailer List. It also topped the charts in the Netherlands and was No. 2 in Austria, Ireland, Norway, West Germany, and Sweden. It was No. 3 in Finland. “Paint it Black” was No. 1 for two weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 before giving way to the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer.” The song is at least a gold record in four countries and is platinum in two countries.

Other Media

The most famous example of the song in a movie soundtrack is at the end of Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket.” Other film appearances include “Black Adam,” “The Quiet One,” and “The Kitchen.” On television, “Westworld,” “Hunters,” and “Endeavour” feature the song, showing the song’s appeal on multiple continents.


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

I see a line of cars
And they’re all painted black
With flowers and my love
Both never to come back

I’ve seen people turn their heads
And quickly look away
Like a newborn baby
It just happens everyday

I look inside myself
And see my heart is black
I see my red door
I must have it painted black

Maybe then, I’ll fade away
And not have to face the facts
It’s not easy facing up
When your whole world is black

No more will my green sea
Go turn a deeper blue
I could not foresee this thing
Happening to you

If I look hard enough
Into the setting sun
My love will laugh with me
Before the morning comes

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

I wanna see it painted
Painted black
Black as night
Black as coal
I wanna see the sun
Blotted out from the sky
I wanna see it painted, painted, painted
Painted black, yeah

Source: Musixmatch

Songwriters: Mick Jagger / Keith Richards

Paint It, Black lyrics © Mirage Music Int. Ltd. C/o Essex Music Int.

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