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Flashback Friday: The “Raga-Rock Riot” of “Paint It Black”

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A 60’s Indian sitar melody lives on in funk, soul, and a TV Western soundtrack 

Let’s go all the way back to the days of the British invasion in 1966 when the Rolling Stones claimed their third big hit on the American charts. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards co-wrote a dark tune about the death of a romantic partner while guitarist Brian Jones added a sitar. The result is a classic rock song that has been featured in many film scores for tense action scenes.

Co-writer Keith Richards mused about his inspiration for the song, saying “It must be the Jew in me,” likening it to the traditional wedding song of “Hava Nagila”. Maybe Keith was referring to a personal affinity for Jewish music, but he is not Jewish. So any comparison to Jewish traditions seems a little circumspect, but he believes it which is something I suppose.

Music historian Nicholas Schaffner described “Paint It Black” as an “Indian raga-rock riot” in his book about the British Invasion and the phrase was just too good for me not to put in the title. Raga-rock is a broad term used to describe pop music that borrows from Indian instruments and music scholars have come to include many 1960’s British rock bands into that category.

What is unique about “Paint It Black” for this LGM series is how many covers exist that were contemporary with the Stones at their peak. “Unchained Melody” was sung by many different artists in the 60’s and 70’s, but then it dropped off until the 1990’s film Ghost revitalized it. “Paint It Black” has maintained a steady popularity throughout, maybe due to its many appearances in films like Full Metal Jacket and now the latest Mummy movie. With the exception of Full Metal Jacket (and another we’ll get to later), the movies that choose to use the song are pretty forgettable.

Alright, let’s do this.

Chris Farlowe (1967)

Mick Jagger actually produced this version, which sounds sort of like a Tom Jones-klezmer mash up to me.

Eric Burdon & War (1970)

What if “Paint It Black” was actually a 13 minute funk song? Now you know.

Ramin Djawadi (Westworld) (2016)

I am a huge Westworld fan and this cinematic scoring featuring the tinkly piano keys and cowboy guitar strummings to a big heist scene was the minute I really got hooked on the show as an intellectual masterpiece. /fangirl

Ciara (2015)

Nothing against Ciara but this was such a lazy mixing of a modern pop singer and the classic song. For a very forgettable horror film. I’m including it because its an interesting data point in the life of the song.

 

Have you got a favorite cover?

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