Today’s Monday’s Music Moves Me theme is a Freebie so we can write about anything. Since I have a few more editions left to cover, I’m continuing my Kaleidoscope of Color Songs Series. This post is the BLACK Edition, featuring songs with the color black in the title.
Some of you may say “Wait! Black isn’t a color, just like White isn’t a color.” So are they? The answer to the question “Are black and white colors?” is one of the most debated issues about color. Ask a scientist and you’ll get a reply based on physics: “Black is not a color, white is a color.” Ask an artist or a child with crayons and you’ll get another: “Black is a color, white is not a color.” (Maybe!)
According to Jane Cozart, Instructor of Color Theory at the Academy of Art University:
“In terms of color theory, black and white are not colors but I would consider them modifiers. Colors are defined by hue, value and saturation. Since black and white have no hue, strictly speaking, they are not colors. However, they do show their presence in the extended color wheels of both Itten and Munsell as modifiers to create tints, tones and shades.”
There are also answers from a physics/scientific point of view, which are way way too complicated for me to deal with here, or anywhere for that matter, but you can google the question and come up with tons of pages on the topic.
As far as I’m concerned, black and white are most definitely colors and so will be included in my color series. That being said, here is a playlist of my favorite songs with Black in the title, followed by some cool info about each of the songs. Enjoy!
Black Velvet by Allanah Myles – “Black Velvet” is a song written and produced by Canadian songwriters Christopher Ward and David Tyson, and recorded by Canadian singer songwriter, hailing from Toronto, Alannah Myles. Ward and Myles were a couple and also worked together – she sang on his 1981 solo album Time Stands Still. Teaming up with Tyson, Ward put together a demo tape for Myles which got her a deal with Atlantic Records.
“Black Velvet” was released in December 1989 as one of four singles from Myles’ eponymous CD from Atlantic Records. Alannah Myles was her first album and it was a huge hit in Canada, becoming the top-selling debut album in Canadian history.
“Black Velvet” was the new decade’s first US single and it rose to #1 in March of 1990, staying in the top spot for two weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and also reached #2 on the Album Rock Tracks chart, as well as #10 in her native Canada and #2 on the UK Singles Chart. The US follow-up single was another song written by Tyson and Ward, “Love Is.” That song went to #36 and was her last chart entry in America. She did have several more hits in Canada.
Christopher Ward got the idea for this song when he was a VJ for the Canadian music channel MuchMusic. He was sent to Memphis to cover the 10th anniversary of Elvis’ death (August 16, 1987), which exposed him to many fervent Elvis fans. Inspired by their passion for the rocker, he took notes while he was working on the special (which was called Mecca in Memphis), writing lyrics based on what Elvis meant to his fans and what it must have been like for him growing up in the South.
Here is some lyric analysis that demonstrates the song being about Elvis Presley:
- “Jimmy Rogers on the Victrola up high” – Jimmy Rogers, an early blues singer, influencing Elvis (the baby) at an early age. The Victrola is the record player, played loudly.
- “Mama’s dancin’ with baby on her shoulder” – Gladys Presley dancing with the infant Elvis.
- “Black velvet and that little boy’s smile” – You can buy a black velvet Elvis painting at any respectable yard sale. Early female fans were drawn to his “Little boy smile.”
- “Black velvet with that slow southern style” – Elvis delivered some of his songs with slow, undulating hips. Check out “Steamroller Blues” live.
- “Up in Memphis the music’s like a heatwave” – Sun Studios. The epicenter of early rock music and where Elvis recorded.
- “White lightning, bound to drive you wild” – rock music and booze.
- “Mama’s baby’s in the heart of every school girl” – A reference to the baby in the early part of the song, being loved by all the young girls.
- “Love Me Tender leaves ’em cryin’ in the aisle” – Love Me Tender was a huge hit for Elvis in 1956.
- “The way he moved, it was a sin, so sweet and true” – Elvis’ legendary hips swivel, the Pelvis.
- “Every word of every song that he sang was for you. In a flash he was gone, it happened so soon, what could you do?” – Elvis died suddenly in 1977.
- According to the song’s writer Christopher Ward, a key line in this song is “A new religion that will bring you to your knees.” He says he got the idea for that line after realizing that Elvis’ effect on fans was similar to what churchgoers would feel after being exhorted by Fundamentalist preachers.
Allanah Myles won the 1991 Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance for the song and the 1990 Juno Award for Single of the Year. Additionally, the song won a Diamond award for sales in excess of 1,000,000 in Canada, the only time an artist has won this for her debut record. Since its release, the power ballad with its blues verses and a rock chorus has received substantial airplay, receiving a “Millionaire Award” from ASCAP in 2005 for more than four million radio plays in the US.
Now for the heartbreaking part: In a CBC Newsworld interview, Myles revealed that she was cheated by her record company, which kept her from cashing in on this song. Myles said she received her first-ever royalty check for the song on April 1, 2008.
She signed that record deal when she was young and naive; the singer ended up paying $7 million on expenditures for her first three albums, all deducted out of her take. That is sinful, reprehensible, deplorable, immoral and just plain evil!
Myles said that when she should have been dining out on the success of this song and her other recordings, instead she had been living in poverty, at times struggling to pay her rent. The music industry is certainly filled with slimeballs.
Black Sheep by Gin Wigmore – “Black Sheep” is a song by New Zealand’s Gin Wigmore from her album Gravel & Wine. It was released as a single in September 2011.
Wigmore describes “Black Sheep” as “a song about doing things your own way, not following suit. Having at your own path and being unique.”
In a Songfacts interview with Gin Wigmore, she was asked if she has always been the nonconformist she sings about on this track. Her reply:
“I can say that I have always been very independent and staunch in my life choices and decisions, even to my own detriment at times! But, at least I can only have myself to blame if it doesn’t pan out the way I want, right?!”
The Australian director Sean Gilligan did the music video. He also did Wigmore’s videos for “Man Like That” and “If Only.”
In 2017, this was used in a commercial for the Nissan Rogue Midnight Edition where a child – the black sheep – rides a tricked-out tricycle.
Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress by The Hollies – “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” (also called “Long Cool Woman” or “Long Cool Woman (in a Black Dress)”) is a song written by Allan Clarke, Roger Cook, and Roger Greenaway and performed by the British rock group The Hollies. Originally appearing on the album Distant Light, it was released as a single in April 1972, selling 1.5 million copies in the United States and two million worldwide. It reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in September 1972. Billboard ranked it as the No. 24 song for 1972.
On the charts, this was a rare miss in the UK, where the Hollies were from and where they had their greatest success. It was surprising, however, how well it did in the US.
This is the only Hollies single without any backing vocals. The reason why Clarke is the only singer on this record is that he didn’t intended the song to be released on a Hollies album, but as a record of his own. When the band learned that he intended to do a solo recording, Clarke was issued an ultimatum – he could either remain with The Hollies or pursue a solo career, but not both. Clarke told Rolling Stone in 1973: “I think with me the band feared that if I got a hit I’d leave. How can you stop destiny? Now, if they originally agreed, I might not even have left. ‘Long Cool Woman’ would have been released a year earlier, and we’d have done a few tours of the States and maybe would have been really big.”
On the day “Long Cool Woman” was recorded at AIR Studios, the group’s producer, Ron Richards, was ill and, as a result, the song was produced by the group. The song is different from most other Hollies songs in that there are no three-part vocal harmonies, and the song features lead guitar and lead vocal work by Allan Clarke. Upon his return, Ron Richards mixed the recording.
The song was written in the swamp rock style of Creedence Clearwater Revival, in terms of the vocal, rhythm, and melodic style. It came out in the spring of 1972 (the same year Creedence split up). Clarke imitated John Fogerty’s vocal style, which was based on the Creedence song “Green River”. According to Clarke, the song was written “in about five minutes”. When the song made its mark in America, Clarke had already left the band, but Clarke feels that “it wasn’t unfortunate”, since he had co-written the song. Clarke rejoined the Hollies in the summer of 1973, partly due to the success of this song.
FUN FACT: This tale of a government agent and a femme fatale contains one of the classic indecipherable lyrics in rock history. The part after “She was a long cool woman in a black dress” is “Just a 5′ 9″ beautiful, tall.”
Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen by Santana – “Black Magic Woman” was a hit for Santana, but few people know that this song is actually a cover of a 1968 Fleetwood Mac song that hit UK #37. Peter Green, who was a founding member of Fleetwood Mac, wrote the lyrics. The original’s music sounds very similar to the sound Santana added on his version.
The 1:49 instrumental at the end is called “Gypsy Queen,” a mix of jazz, Hungarian folk and Latin rhythms and was written by Hungarian Jazz guitarist Gabor Szabo. It was omitted from the 1974 Greatest Hits album, even though radio stations usually play “Black Magic Woman” and “Gypsy Queen” as one song.
In 1970, it became a hit by Santana, as sung by Gregg Rolie, reaching No. 4 in the U.S. and Canadian charts, after appearing on their Abraxas album. The song became one of Santana’s staples and one of their biggest hits, with the single reaching #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in January 1971. Abraxas reached #1 on the charts and hit quadruple platinum in 1986, partially thanks to “Black Magic Woman.
Paint It Black by Rolling Stones – “Paint It Black” (originally released as “Paint It, Black”) is a song by the English rock band the Rolling Stones. Jointly credited to songwriting partnership of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, it was first released as a single on May 6, 1966 and was later included as the opening track to the US version of their 1966 album, Aftermath.
“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.
Lyrically, it is written from the viewpoint of a person who is depressed; he wants everything to turn black to match his mood. There was no specific inspiration for the lyrics. When asked at the time why he wrote a song about death, Mick Jagger replied: “I don’t know. It’s been done before. It’s not an original thought by any means. It all depends on how you do it.”
The song seems to be about a lover who died:
- “I see a line of cars and they’re all painted black” – The hearse and limos.
- “With flowers and my love both never to come back” – The flowers from the funeral and her in the hearse. He talks about his heart being black because of his loss.
- “I could not foresee this thing happening to you” – It was an unexpected and sudden death.
- “If I look hard enough into the setting sun, my love will laugh with me before the morning comes” – This refers to her in Heaven.
This was used as the theme song for Tour of Duty, a CBS show about the Vietnam War which ran from 1987-1989. This was my favorite show back then and I used to rush home on Thursday evenings to be sure I was in front of the TV by 8pm…
Also used in one of my favorite movies: This song was used in the movie Stir of Echoes with Kevin Bacon. In the movie, Bacon’s character hears the first few chords of it in a memory, but could not think of the song. It drives him crazy through most of the movie. I highly recommend this movie! Check it out and let me know what you think of it.
Black is Black by Los Bravos – “Black Is Black” is a song by the Spanish rock band Los Bravos, released in 1966 as the group’s debut single for Decca Records. Los Bravos was a Spanish quintet with a German lead singer – Mike Kogel. They were one of the few rock groups from a non-English speaking country to have an international hit, in part because they were one of the few Spanish acts to sing in English.
After getting tipped to the group by someone at Decca Records in Spain, the British producer Ivor Raymonde took a trip to that country and signed the group, who at the time were using the name Mike & The Runaways. He brought them to London and had them record “Black Is Black,” which was their first release as Los Bravos.
In August 1966, the song debuted at number 100 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. It peaked at number four in October, and spent 12 weeks on the chart. The song reached number one on the Canadian Singles Chart, and peaked at number two in the UK Singles Chart. The single also sold two million copies in Spain.
With the song’s success, Los Bravos became the first Spanish rock band to have an international hit single. A dance remix of the song was released as a single in 1986.
Shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks, American media conglomerate company Clear Channel Communications distributed the 2001 Clear Channel memorandum to program directors at the more than 1000 radio stations the company owned. The memo contained a list of 162 songs with “questionable lyrics” that the stations should avoid playing. “Black Is Black” was among the songs on the list. That’s rather curious, considering the general gist of the lyrics, as reported by Song Facts:
“This colorful song finds the singer utterly flummoxed by a girl who has left him. He wants her back, then reconsiders, since she’ll only leave him again, putting him in even greater misery. Upon further reflection, he thinks maybe it would work out after all if she returned. She’s not coming back, of course, but he seems to feel better believing he has a choice.”
I’ll have to listen to this song again to try to understand why Clear Channel would’ve included it on the list of songs to avoid playing due to “questionable lyrics.” Give a listen: what do you think??
Back in Black by AC/DC – “Back in Black” is a song by AC/DC, appearing as the first track on side two of their 1980 album of the same name. Known for its opening guitar riff, the song was AC/DC’s tribute to their former singer Bon Scott. His replacement Brian Johnson recalled to Mojo magazine in 2009 that when the band asked him to write a lyric for this song, “they said, ‘it can’t be morbid – it has to be for Bon and it has to be a celebration.'” He added: “I thought, ‘Well no pressure there, then’ (laughs). I just wrote what came into my head, which at the time seemed like mumbo, jumbo. ‘Nine lives. Cats eyes. Abusing every one of them and running wild.’ The boys got it though. They saw Bon’s life in that lyric.”
“Back in Black” was released five months after lead singer Bon Scott died. The song is a tribute to Scott, and the lyrics, “Forget the hearse ’cause I never die” imply that he will live on forever through his music. With Brian Johnson on lead vocals, the Back In Black album proved that AC/DC could indeed carry on without Scott.
Brian Johnson made quite a statement with this song, quickly endearing himself to AC/DC fans and leaving little doubt that the band made the right pick to replace Bon Scott. Johnson had been in a group called Geordie, which Scott saw in 1973. After that show, Scott talked up the Geordie lead singer to his bandmates, and in 1980 when they were looking for a replacement, AC/DC’s producer Mutt Lange suggested him. At the time, Johnson was working as a windshield fitter and had recently reunited Geordie.
The band got the idea for the title before writing any of the song, although Malcolm Young had the main guitar riff for years and used to play it frequently as a warm-up tune. After Bon Scott’s death, Angus Young decided that their first album without him should be called Back In Black in tribute, and they wrote this song around that phrase.
The album had a black cover with the band’s logo on it, which was a tribute to Bon Scott. They didn’t want it to feel mournful, however, and needed a title track that captured the essence of their fallen friend. They were certainly not going to do a ballad, so it fell on Brian Johnson to write a lyric that would rock, but also celebrate Scott without being morbid or literal.
Johnson says he wrote “Whatever came into my head,” which at the time he thought was nonsense. To the contrary, lines about abusing his nine lives and beating the rap summed up Scott perfectly, and his new bandmates loved it.
It peaked in the U.S. at No. 37 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1981 and was No. 51 on Billboard’s Top Tracks chart, which debuted in March 1981. “Back in Black” received the RIAA’s Master Ringtone Sales Award (Gold and Platinum) in 2006 and reached 2× Platinum status in 2007.
The song was ranked No. 4 by VH1 on their list of the 40 Greatest Metal Songs, and in 2009, it was named the second greatest hard rock song of all time by VH1. It was also ranked No. 187 on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The same magazine has also ranked “Back in Black” No. 29 on “The 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time”.
In 2010, this song came in No. 2 in Triple M’s Ultimate 500 Rock Countdown in Melbourne, Australia. The top five were all AC/DC songs.
It officially charted on the UK charts after 31 years in release; peaking in at no. 27 as a result of AC/DC music becoming available on iTunes. It also reached no. 1 on the UK Rock Charts in the same week.
Black & White by Three Dog Night – “Black and White” is a song written in 1954 by David I. Arkin and Earl Robinson. The most successful recording of the song was the pop version by Three Dog Night in 1972, when it reached number one on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Billboard Easy Listening charts. Billboard ranked it as the number 63 song for 1972. This was one of the few hits for Three Dog Night on which Danny Hutton sang the lead vocals.
The song was first recorded by Pete Seeger in 1956, followed by Sammy Davis Jr. in 1957. The song’s author Earl Robinson released his own recording in 1957, on the Folkways album A Walk in the Sun and other Songs and Ballads. (The album title refers to a song written for the 1945 film A Walk in the Sun). Reggae groups The Maytones, from Jamaica, and Greyhound, from the UK, both recorded the song in 1971, the latter achieving a UK top ten hit.
Having heard the Greyhound version, Three Dog Night covered the song and included it on their 1972 album Seven Separate Fools. Their version of the song peaked at number one on the U.S. pop chart on September 16, 1972, and topped the Easy Listening chart on October 7.
The song is about racism. It was inspired by the United States Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which outlawed racial segregation of public schools. The original lyrics of the song opened with this verse, in reference to the court:
Their robes were black, Their heads were white,
The schoolhouse doors were closed so tight,
Nine judges all set down their names,
To end the years and years of shame.
However, the version of the song recorded by Greyhound, and subsequently covered by Three Dog Night, did not include this verse – making the song more universal, but also less historically specific. Even though, when Three Dog Night recorded this, it came at a time when civil rights was a big issue in America. The message of racial equality was emphasized by their use of a children’s choir in the repeated chorus during the closing moments of the song.
Black & Blue by Van Halen – “Black and Blue” is a rock song written by the group Van Halen for their 1988 album OU812 (pronounced “Oh You Ate One Too”). It is one of six singles issued for the album, and was the first from the album to hit #1 on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks chart, and peaked at #34 on the Billboard Hot 100. It is also the second Van Halen album to feature vocalist Sammy Hagar.
The song is also on the 2004 compilation album The Best of Both Worlds.
About the album, I found online this quote from the Ultimate Classic Rock site:
Just two years after successfully handing the keys of one of rock’s most valuable franchises over to new singer Sammy Hagar, Van Halen returned with 1988’s impressively diverse ‘OU812.’
From the amped-up blues of ‘Black and Blue’ to the down-home country-tonk of ‘Finish What Ya Started’ and the supremely (overly?) poppy ‘Feels So Good,’ this album found the band pushing at the boundaries of their sound like never before.
As far as the song lyrics to “Black and Blue”, it is purely another Van Halen song that is obviously and overtly about sex, pure and simple.
Black Water by Doobie Brothers – This song sure brings back memories from the summer of 1975. My friends and I would break out into song, singing “Black Water” while walking down the road in the neighborhood. Ah, those were the days…so carefree. You’ve heard me say this a hundred times but I’ll never stop saying it: I miss the 70s so much!
“Black Water” is a song recorded by the American music group The Doobie Brothers from their 1974 album What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits: the track – which features its composer Patrick Simmons on lead vocals – became the first of the two Doobie Brothers’ #1 hit singles in the spring of 1975.
Patrick Simmons would recall that he chanced on the basic guitar lick for “Black Water” while at Warner Bros. Recording Studio (NoHo) for the recording sessions for the Doobie Brothers’ 1973 album The Captain and Me:
“I was sitting out in the studio waiting between takes and I played that part. All the sudden I heard the talk-back go on and [producer] Ted Templeman says: ‘What is that?’ I said: ‘It’s just a little riff that I came up with that I’ve been tweaking with.’ He goes: ‘I love that. You really should write a song using that riff.'”
Simmons would complete “Black Water” during a subsequent Doobie Brothers’ sojourn in New Orleans: a lifelong aficionado of Delta blues, Simmons had first visited New Orleans for a 1971 Doobie Brothers gig: “When I got down there it was everything I had hoped it would be…The way of life and vibe really connected with me and the roots of my music.” Simmons cites the song’s opening section as “my childhood imaginings of the South from reading Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer” while the lyrics subsequent to the first chorus draw on his actual experience of New Orleans: “going down to the French Quarter as often as possible and going into the clubs and listening to Dixieland”: the lyric Well if it rains, I don’t care/ Don’t make no difference to me/ Just take that street car that’s goin’ uptown was jotted down by Simmons while riding through the University District on the St. Charles Streetcar Line en route to the Garden District in Uptown New Orleans to do laundry: “the sun was shining while it was pouring rain the way it does down there sometimes. And the lyrics just came to me there [on the streetcar].”
Despite his encouragement in regard to writing “Black Water” and his meticulous arranging of the track, Ted Templeman would recall:
“We never thought [of] it as a [potential hit] single” – “I put ‘Black Water’ on [a] B-side because I figured [it was] an acoustic thing.”
“Black Water” was in fact utilized as the B-side for the lead single from the Doobie Brothers’ 1974 album release What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits, the A-side being “Another Park, Another Sunday” whose June 1974 Billboard Hot 100 peak would be #32. Regular group lead vocalist Tom Johnston who would recall:
“Another Park…” “was doing real well [in single release], and then it got yanked off the radio for the line ‘And the radio just seems to bring me down'”.
After the second single off What Were Once Vices…: “Eyes of Silver”, was a Top 40 shortfall, Warner Bros. resorted to a re-release of the Doobie Brothers inaugural single “Nobody” a 1971 non-charter which in the autumn of 1974 rose into the Top 60 before being phased out by the re-release of “Black Water” as an A-side single.
In September 1974 WROV-AM in Roanoke VA began airing “Black Water” off the album What Were Once Vices… because the Blackwater, a Roanoke River tributary, is a 25-minute drive from Roanoke city center. Listener response so positive as to cause music director Chuck Holloway to opine: “No one was requesting anything else.” Hampton Roads broadcaster WQRK-FM was soon also airing “Black Water”, and the track’s intense regional success came to the attention of Warner Brothers national promotion director Gary Davis causing an A-side single release of “Black Water” in October 1974, five weeks after WROV had begun airing the track.
“Black Water” had its first major market breakout in the Twin Cities area (Minneapolis-St Paul, Minnesota), being reported as an add-on by KDWB in the November 23 1974 issue of Billboard.
Reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in March 1975 “Black Water” is one of the few records by any act released as a B-side to another Hot 100 hit before topping the Hot 100 itself. In the Billboard ranking of Hot 100 hits for the year 1975 “Black Water” would rank at #15.
Fun Fact: The song is one of several performed by the Doobie Brothers during the band’s two episode appearance in 1978 on the ABC sitcom What’s Happening!!
Black Friday by Steely Dan – Katy Lied is the fourth album by Steely Dan, released in 1975 by ABC Records. It went gold and peaked at No. 13 on the US charts. The single “Black Friday” charted at No. 37.
Long before the term came to denote the shopping frenzy on the day after Thanksgiving, Steely Dan released this song about the original “Black Friday,” when on Friday, September 24, 1869 a failed ploy left many wealthy investors broke. The investors tried to corner the market on gold, buying as much of it as they could and driving up the price, but when the government found out, it released $4 million worth of gold into the market, driving down the price and clobbering the investors.
As for how it became a retail reference, sometime in the ’60s, the term was bandied about to indicate the key day in the holiday shopping season when the stores would be “in the black,” meaning making money (black ink indicates profit, red ink indicates loss).
While the song is about events in the US, it mentions a town in Australia: “Fly down to Muswellbrook.” Muswellbrook is a rural town two hours north of Sydney that is full of kangaroos (thus the line, “Nothing to do but feed all the kangaroos”). It’s possible that Walter Becker (Steely Dan co-founder, co-songwriter, guitarist and bassist) and Donald Fagen (Steely Dan co-founder, lead singer and keyboardist) selected the name of Muswellbrook from an atlas, mainly because it worked well with the next line, “I’m going to strike out all the big red words from my little black book.” They also wanted a place far away from Los Angeles.
This was the first of two singles released from the Katy Lied album (“Bad Sneakers,” which reached #103 US was the second). Like many Steely Dan singles, it had just a modest placing on the US chart, reaching #37. This was of no concern to Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, who weren’t concerned about how their singles fared. And like every Steely Dan album released before they disbanded in 1981, Katy Lied reached Gold status.
The album was the first after the break-up of the original five-piece Steely Dan; most of the original members had left during a rift over touring and recording schedules. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, who had been increasingly using session musicians in the studio on prior albums, continued on with numerous prominent Los Angeles areas studio musicians. This album marks the first appearance of singer Michael McDonald on a Steely Dan album. Jeff Porcaro, then only 20 years old, played drums on all the songs except “Any World (That I’m Welcome To)”, which features session drummer Hal Blaine. It also marked the first appearance of Larry Carlton, who played guitar on “Daddy Don’t Live in That New York City No More”.
Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden – “Black Hole Sun” is a song by the American rock band Soundgarden. Written by frontman Chris Cornell, the song was released in 1994 as the third single from the band’s fourth studio album Superunknown (1994). It is arguably the band’s most recognizable and most popular song, and remains a well-known song from the 1990s. The song topped the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, where it spent a total of seven weeks at number one. Despite peaking at number two on the Modern Rock Tracks, “Black Hole Sun” still finished as the number-one track of 1994 for that chart. It failed to hit the Billboard Hot 100 chart due to the rules of a physical/commercial release of the single at the time, but it still peaked at number 24 on the Hot 100 Airplay chart and number nine on the Mainstream Top 40 chart. The song was included on Soundgarden’s 1997 greatest hits album A-Sides and appeared again on the 2010 compilation album Telephantasm.
“Black Hole Sun” was written by frontman Chris Cornell. Cornell said that he wrote the song in about 15 minutes. He used a Gretsch guitar to write the song, and commented, “I wrote the song thinking the band wouldn’t like it—then it became the biggest hit of the summer.” Cornell came up with the song while using a Leslie speaker. Guitarist Kim Thayil said that the Leslie speaker was perfect for the song as “it’s very Beatlesque and has a distinctive sound. It ended up changing the song completely.” Thayil said that the song “wasn’t safe as milk, but it wasn’t glass in someone’s eye either. It was the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down. Now it’s the ‘Dream On’ of our set.”
Appearing on The Pods & Sods Network in July 2017, Michael Beinhorn detailed the process of recording Soundgarden’s 1994 album Superunknown. And he shares his reaction to first hearing “Black Hole Sun” during that time,
“I think for the rest of my entire life, until I draw my last breath, I’ll never ever forgot how I felt when they started playing that song. From the very first few notes, I felt like I’d been hit by a thunderbolt. I was just absolutely stunned. What in the world is this? I get goosebumps thinking about it now.”
Regarding the lyrics to “Black Hole Sun”, Chris Cornell stated, “It’s just sort of a surreal dreamscape, a weird, play-with-the-title kind of song.” He stated in a 2014 interview with Entertainment Weekly that the title came from something he heard on the news – he thought the anchor said “black hole sun,” but he really was saying something else. Cornell started thinking about the phrase and decided to write a song around it, as he felt it was a thought-provoking title. He wrote the lyrics first, then composed the music based on the images he came up with.
“If I write lyrics that are bleak or dark, it usually makes me feel better,” the Soundgarden frontman said. This song is certainly bleak, with references to snakes, a dead sky, and the summer stench. It’s one of the more morose songs to get consistent airplay, and it helped associate the grunge sound with depression and angst. Cornell, however, was simply expressing some dark thoughts in song – he was not suffering or crying for help in the manner of Kurt Cobain.
He also said that “lyrically it’s probably the closest to me just playing with words for words’ sake, of anything I’ve written. I guess it worked for a lot of people who heard it, but I have no idea how you’d begin to take that one literally.”
In another interview he elaborated further, stating, “It’s funny because hits are usually sort of congruent, sort of an identifiable lyric idea, and that song pretty much had none. The chorus lyric is kind of beautiful and easy to remember. Other than that, I sure didn’t have an understanding of it after I wrote it. I was just sucked in by the music and I was painting a picture with the lyrics. There was no real idea to get across.”
Commenting upon how the song was misinterpreted as being positive, Cornell said, “No one seems to get this, but ‘Black Hole Sun’ is sad. But because the melody is really pretty, everyone thinks it’s almost chipper, which is ridiculous.” When asked about the line, “Times are gone for honest men”, Cornell said:
It’s really difficult for a person to create their own life and their own freedom. It’s going to become more and more difficult, and it’s going to create more and more disillusioned people who become dishonest and angry and are willing to fuck the next guy to get what they want. There’s so much stepping on the backs of other people in our profession. We’ve been so lucky that we’ve never had to do that. Part of it was because of our own tenacity, and part of it was because we were lucky.
- Greg Prato of AllMusic called the song “one of the few bright spots” of the summer of 1994 when “the world was still reeling from Nirvana leader Kurt Cobain’s suicide the previous April”. He said, “The song had a psychedelic edge to it (especially evident in the verse’s guitar part), as the composition shifted between sedate melodicism and gargantuan guitar riffs. The lyrics were classic Chris Cornell—lines didn’t exactly make sense on paper but did within the song.”
- Jon Pareles of The New York Times said, “The Beatles’ techniques—fuzz-toned low chords, legato lead-guitar hooks and lumpy Ringo Starr-style drumming…are linked to Lennon-style melody in ‘Black Hole Sun’.”
- J.D. Considine of Rolling Stone stated, “With its yearning, Lennonesque melody and watery, Harrisonstyle guitar, ‘Black Hole Sun’ is a wonderful exercise in Beatleisms; trouble is, it’s not a very good song, offering more in the way of mood and atmosphere than melodic direction.”
- Ann Powers of Blender proclaimed that “Cornell’s fixation with the Beatles pays off with the hit single ‘Black Hole Sun’ “.
The solo for “Black Hole Sun”, performed by Thayil, was ranked number 63 on Guitar World’s list of the “100 Greatest Guitar Solos” and number 56 on Total Guitar’s list of the “100 Hottest Guitar Solos”. The song was included on VH1’s countdown of the “100 Greatest Songs of the ’90s” at number 25. It was also included on VH1’s countdown of the “100 Greatest Hard Rock Songs” at number 77.
The Music Video: The surreal and apocalyptic music video for “Black Hole Sun” follows a suburban neighborhood and its vain inhabitants with comically exaggerated grins, which are eventually swallowed up when the Sun suddenly turns into a black hole, while the band performs the song somewhere in an open field. In the video, Cornell can be seen wearing a fork necklace given to him by Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon. In an online chat, the band stated that the video “was entirely the director’s idea”, and added, “Our take on it was that at that point in making videos, we just wanted to pretend to play and not look that excited about it.” Thayil said that the video was one of the few Soundgarden videos the band was satisfied with.
The video was released in June 1994. It became a hit on MTV and received the award for Best Metal/Hard Rock Video at the 1994 MTV Video Music Awards. In 1995, it received the Clio Award for Alternative Music Video. By early 2018, it has gotten over 115 million views on Youtube. You can see this video in my playlist but I thought it might be nice to include a video of Chris Cornell doing an acoustic version of the song:
Black Sabbath by Black Sabbath – “Black Sabbath” is a song by the British heavy metal band Black Sabbath, written in 1969 and released on their eponymous debut album. In 1970, it was released as a four-track 12-inch single, with “The Wizard” also on the A-side and “Evil Woman” and “Sleeping Village” on B-side, on the Philips Records label Vertigo. The track is widely considered the first doom metal song, and is considered by many to be the first heavy metal song.
This is the song that became the name of the band. They were playing clubs in Germany and using the name “Earth” when they realized another band had the same name. “Black Sabbath” was lifted from the title of a 1963 horror movie starring Boris Karloff that was directed by the Italian filmmaker Mario Bava.
The group’s lead singer Ozzy Osbourne and bass player Geezer Butler had seen the film, and decided to write a song with that title. When it became clear that the band needed a new moniker, they named themselves after this song.
According to the band, the song was inspired by an experience that bassist and primary lyricist Geezer Butler had in the days of Earth. Butler, obsessed with the occult at the time, painted his apartment matte black, placed several inverted crucifixes, and put many pictures of Satan on the walls. Ozzy Osbourne handed Butler a black occult book, written in Latin and decorated with numerous pictures of Satan. Butler read the book and then placed it on a shelf beside his bed before going to sleep. When he woke up, he claims he saw a large black figure standing at the end of his bed, staring at him. The figure vanished and Butler ran to the shelf where he had placed the book earlier, but the book was gone. Butler related this story to Osbourne, who then wrote the lyrics to the song based on Butler’s experience. The song starts with the lyrics:
What is this that stands before me?
Figure in black which points at me
The name change coincided with a new sound and image for the group. They had been playing blues (mostly covers), but started writing more original material and found a darker, heavier sound that defined them throughout their Hall of Fame career. Eschewing anything resembling R&B or psychedelia, they found a fan base hungry for something fiendish and new. Critics derided the band, but they quickly became one of the most popular and enduring acts of their time.
From Black Sabbath: The Ozzy Osbourne Years:
“While rehearsing new material, the band formerly known as Earth experienced a supernatural experience. Geezer and Tony were playing new riffs for Ozzy and Bill when, much to everyone’s surprise, they both strummed the same notes at the same tempo – although neither had ever before heard the other one play the piece! Convinced that this was an omen, Geezer christened the song and the group Black Sabbath (after the movie).”
Thanks to the “Black Sabbath” moniker, many fans associated the band with Satanism, an image they played up throughout their career. This song, however, expresses a healthy fear of the devil.
Black Sabbath co-founder and lead guitarist Tony Iommi on “Black Sabbath”:
“We knew we had something; you could feel it, the hairs stood up on your arms, it just felt so different. We didn’t know what it was, but we liked it.” “Everybody started putting bits to it and afterwards we thought it was amazing. Really strange, but good. We were all shocked, but we knew that we had something there.”
Geezer Butler recalled to Uncut magazine:
“The first time we played ‘Black Sabbath’ was in this tiny pub in Lichfield near Birmingham. The whole pub went mental.”
Black Dog by Led Zeppelin – “Black Dog” is a song by English rock band Led Zeppelin, the opening track on their 1971 untitled fourth album (commonly known as Led Zeppelin IV). It was released as a single in the United States and in Australia with “Misty Mountain Hop” as the B-side, reaching number 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 10 in Australia.
Music sociologist Deena Weinstein calls “BlackDog” “one of the most instantly recognizable [Led] Zeppelin tracks”. The song exemplifies the blues-rock that was the bedrock of the band’s sound. Zeppelin bass player John Paul Jones got the idea for this song after hearing Muddy Waters’ 1968 album Electric Mud. He wanted to try “Electric Blues with a rolling bass part,” and “a riff that would be like a linear journey.”
The title does not appear in the lyrics, and has nothing to do with the song itself. The band worked up the song at Headley Grange, which was a mansion in Hampshire, England. Headley Grange was out in the country, surrounded by woods. A nameless black Labrador Retriever would wander the grounds, and the band would feed it. When they needed a name for this track – which didn’t have an obvious title – they thought of the canine and went with “Black Dog.”
According to the band, the retriever, despite his advanced age, was still sexually adventurous, like the song’s protagonist who reiterates his desperate desire for a woman’s love and the happiness it provides. As Plant explained to a 1972 concert audience:
Let me tell you ’bout this poor old dog because he was a retriever in his early days, and the only thing he could ever find in his late days was his old lady who lived two houses away from where we were recording. And he used to go see the old lady quite regularly, but after he’d “boogied” and everything else he couldn’t get back. And we used to carry him back.
The lyrics never approached “Stairway To Heaven” level scrutiny, but were still subject to some interesting interpretations. Jimmy Page’s interest in the occultist Aleister Crowley, combined with the image of the Hermit (from the Tarot) in the album art and the band’s disappearance when they set off to Headley Grange to record, led some listeners to conclude that the titular dog was some kind of hellhound, and that the line, “Eyes that shine burning red, dreams of you all through my head,” had something to do with Satan.
Even by Led Zeppelin standards, this is a very complex song musically, with a chaotic blend of riffs and time signatures that make it very difficult to play and a testament to the band’s musicianship. When the drums and guitar kick in, they’re actually playing completely different patterns, which is something devised by John Paul Jones. The only real consistent element in the song are the vocal interludes. This is not a song you’d want to dance to.
“Whole Lotta Love” made #4 on the US Hot 100, and “Black Dog” was their next highest-charting song, coming in at #15 on the Hot 100. Most of their tracks were not released as singles, and fans of the band were far more likely buy the albums.
Black Betty by Ram Jam – “Black Betty” (Roud 11668) is a 20th-century African-American work song often credited to Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter as the author, though the earliest recordings are not by him. Some sources claim it is one of Lead Belly’s many adaptations of earlier folk material; in this case an 18th-century marching cadence about a flintlock musket. There are numerous recorded versions, including a cappella, folk, and rock arrangements. The best known modern recordings are rock versions by Ram Jam, Tom Jones, and Spiderbait, all of which were hits.
The origin and meaning of the lyrics are subject to debate. Historically the “Black Betty” of the title may refer to the nickname given to a number of objects: a musket, a bottle of whiskey, a whip, or a penitentiary transfer wagon. In later versions, “Black Betty” was depicted as various vehicles, including a motorcycle and a hot rod. Black Betty is the slang name given to the Queen of Spades in the card game Hearts. The” Bam-ba-lam” in the song might refer to the sound of gunfire or the sound of the whips hitting prisoners backs. There are several sources that claim to know what to what the terms “Black Betty” and Bam-ba-lam” refer. You can read more about it here.
Early Recordings: The song was first recorded in the field by US musicologists John and Alan Lomax in December 1933, performed a cappella by the convict James “Iron Head” Baker and a group at Central State Farm, Sugar Land, Texas (a State prison farm). Baker was 63 years old at the time of the recording. It was recorded commercially in New York in April 1939 for the Musicraft Records label by Lead Belly, as part of a medley with two other work songs: “Looky Looky Yonder” and “Yellow Woman’s Doorbells”.
While Lead Belly’s 1939 recording was also performed a cappella (with hand claps in place of hammer blows), and commonly sung by laborers to pass the time while working, most subsequent versions added guitar accompaniment. These include folk-style recordings in 1964 by Odetta (as a medley with “Looky Yonder”, with staccato guitar strums in place of hand claps), and Alan Lomax himself.
In 1968 Manfred Mann released a version of the song, arranged for a band, with the title and lyrics changed to “Big Betty”, on their LP Mighty Garvey!. In 1972 Manfred Mann’s Earth Band performed “Black Betty” live for John Peel’s In Concert on the BBC, but this has not been publicly released.
Ram Jam version: In 1977, the rock band Ram Jam— a short-lived band from New York City, released a recording of the song with producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz under Epic Records. This was their only hit. While their lyrical content is pretty standard folk/blues material – about a black woman from Alabama who has a “wild” child, Ram Jam took some heat because some civil rights groups felt the lyrics were disrespectful to black women. While the lyrics can be deconstructed, Ram Jam’s version is driven by the powerful beat and aggressive tempo, making it one of those songs that gets your heart beating faster. The song is commonly played at sporting events to pump up the crowd.
This was produced by Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz, who were architects of the Bubblegum Sound, producing groups like The Ohio Express and the 1910 Fruitgum Company. The song became an instant hit with listeners, as it reached number 18 on the singles charts in the United States and the top ten in the UK and Australia. At the same time, the lyrics caused civil rights groups NAACP and Congress of Racial Equality to call for a boycott.
Fun Facts: Figure skating world champion Javier Fernández performed his short program to Ram Jam’s version of “Black Betty” during the 2014-15 season, when he won his third European Championships title and his first World Championships gold medal.
In 2006 the University of New Hampshire administration controversially banned the playing of Ram Jam’s “Black Betty” at UNH Hockey games. UNH Athletic Director Marty Scarano explained the reason for the decision: “UNH is not going to stand for something that insults any segment of society.” In 2006 UNH students started the “Save Black Betty” campaign. Students protested at the hockey games by singing Ram Jam’s “Black Betty”, wearing T-shirts with writing on the front “Save Black Betty” and writing on the back “Bam-A-Lam”, and holding up campaign posters at the game. The Ram Jam version was again played once at a UNH/UMaine hockey game on January 24, 2013 after a seven-year hiatus.
And that wraps up my BLACK EDITION of the Kaleidoscope of Color Songs Series. (There are still two more colors to cover before concluding this series so be sure to come back for the next 4M Freebie week). Do you have any favorite Black songs? How do you feel about the color black (if you even consider it a color. Do you?)?
Here is some fun information on the meaning of the color black, taken from the Bourn Creative’s Color Meaning Blog Series:
Black is associated with power, fear, mystery, strength, authority, elegance, formality, death, evil, and aggression, authority, rebellion, and sophistication. Black is required for all other colors to have depth and variation of hue.
The black color is the absence of color. Black is a mysterious color that is typically associated with the unknown or the negative. The color black represents strength, seriousness, power, and authority. Black is a formal, elegant, and prestigious color. Authoritative and powerful, the color black can evoke strong emotions and too much black can be overwhelming.
In heraldry, black is the symbol of grief. The color black can be serious, professional, and conventional, but black can also represent the mysterious, sexy, and sophisticated. Black is a visually slimming color for clothing and like other dark colors, in interior design, black can make a room appear to shrink in size.
The color black affects the mind and body by helping to create an inconspicuous feeling, boosting confidence in appearance, increasing the sense of potential and possibility, or producing feelings of emptiness, gloom, or sadness.
In western countries black is the color of mourning, death, and sadness. Black often represents the emotions and actions of rebellion in teenagers and youth. The color black can represent both the positive and the negative. As the opposite of white, movies, books, print media, and television typically depict the good guy in white and the bad guy in black. In more recent times, the good guy is shown in black to create mystery around the character’s identity.
Other meanings associated with the color black:
- The phrase “black tie”refers to a formal event or dress code.
- The saying “pitch black”references no light or no visibility.
- The term“black-hearted” describes an evil person.
- A “black belt”is an expert level in martial arts.
- The expression “blackwash”is to bring things out in the open.
- The phrase “in the black”refers to having money or profiting and doing well in business.
- A “black box”is a piece of equipment or apparatus usually used in airplanes.
- A “black eye”is damage to an eye, including bruising and discoloration, or damage to one’s reputation.
- A “black sheep”is an outcast from a family or from society.
- The expression “men in black”refer to government agents.
- A “blacklist”is a list of people or organizations to boycott, avoid, or punish.
- The term “blackguard”is used to reference a bad guy or a scoundrel.
- The word “blackmail”refers to obtaining something by threat.
- The word “blackout”means a loss of electricity, loss of visibility, turning out the lights, loss of consciousness, or the act of erasing or deleting something.
- The phrase “black market”refers to the illegal trade of goods or money.
Additional words that represent different shades, tints, and values of the color black: ebony, jet, ink, lampblack, coal, soot, charcoal, raven, midnight, obsidian, onyx, sable.
Monday’s Music Moves Me (4M) is a blog hop hosted by Marie of X-Mas Dolly, and co-hosted by Cathy of Curious as a Cathy and Stacy of Stacy Uncorked Two other co-hosts recently joined the fun: Alana of Ramlin’ with AM and Naila Moon of Musings & Merriment with Michelle. Be sure to stop by and visit the hosts and the other participants listed below: