“Blackbird”—Sarah McLachlan

After Bob Dylan received the Nobel Prize for Literature the other day, a few grad school buddies and I had an animated discussion over whether he deserved it (most said “yes”). But I also argued that had Lennon and McCartney both been alive, they would have equally deserved the prize for literature.

When someone sardonically pointed out that Nobels aren’t given for corpses, I continued to argue that Paul McCartney deserved the Prize as much as did Dylan. Well, that may have been hyperbole, but McCartney wrote a number of fantastic “rock” songs: Eleanor Rigby; The Fool on the Hill; the fantastic final medley of Abbey Road; Penny Lane, Here, There and Everywhere; Yesterday, and this classic, supposedly about civil rights. When listening to some of these songs again (and don’t miss this live version by an older McCartney, I found this superb version of “Blackbird” by Sarah McLachlan, which I hadn’t heard. Enjoy it; it’s a good way to start a lazy Saturday.


  1. Posted October 15, 2016 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    A great performance of a great song by a great singer. Really, really good stuff.

  2. GBJames
    Posted October 15, 2016 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Lovely performance of a lovely song.

    IMO, Beatles songs tended to be nicer musically but Dylan’s songs were more interesting lyrically. (Referring to their work in the ’60s.)

    • rickflick
      Posted October 15, 2016 at 10:04 am | Permalink

      Yes, the Beatles lyrics tend to be more personal with love songs predominating. Dylan has a more social/political intent which makes them, to some, more profound. Yet, it is hard to say what is profound. Sometimes I think a beautiful love song can be as profound as a social movement.

      This contrasted has been noted in terms of films that win Academy Awards. A film dealing with social problems has a distinct advantage over films which deal with personal subjects.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted October 15, 2016 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      John Lennon was an excellent lyricist, I think. He was heavily influenced by Dylan, which he openly acknowledged in interviews. Sometimes you can hear it overtly, as in “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” which is essentially a Dylan pastiche. Other times, it’s a more subtle lyrical influence, as in “Come Together.”

      • frednotfaith2
        Posted October 15, 2016 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

        While “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” certainly reflects the strong influence Dylan had on Lennon in the mid-60s, to me it still sounds uniquely Lennonesque, with a sort of weary, wary, insecure outlook on the world that many of Lennon’s songs had, in his Beatles and solo years. Help! also fits the mode, albeit with a more pop/rock sheen than the folk rock of YGTHYLA. Dylan’s lyrics rarely reflected any insecurity, aside from Tangled Up in Blue and a few other songs from Blood on the Tracks.
        I Am the Walrus was Lennon tripping on LSD and listening to police sirens outside his window and wanting to skewer Dylan’s lyrical style and coming up with one of my favorite Beatles’ songs (but I have a lot of favorites!).
        Blackbird, of course, is one of McCartney’s masterpieces and Sarah McLachlan and her accompanist (who I don’t recognize) performed a very lovely rendition here.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted October 15, 2016 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

          I didn’t mean to denigrate “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away,” in any way. I love that tune, and have ever since I was a kid and saw the scene in Help with Ringo playing the tambourine in his sunken bed. 🙂

  3. Barry Lyons
    Posted October 15, 2016 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    And then there’s “For No One”, one of my all-time favorite McCartney-as-Beatle songs.

    You’ll also find a few excellent songs on Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, which, despite two or three duds, is easily one of McCartney’s best solo records — and one that comes closest to sounding like a Beatles record (thanks to the excellent production by Radiohead’s producer).

  4. Posted October 15, 2016 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    I too feel that Dylan was not the best choice. There is no dearth of literature writers and yet it was a peculiar move!

  5. Hempenstein
    Posted October 15, 2016 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Has there ever been a shared Nobel in Literature?

  6. Posted October 15, 2016 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    What not Simon and Garfunkel then? And they can sing (or would that be a strike against them?).

    • mordacious1
      Posted October 15, 2016 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      I would think that Paul Simon would come closer (but not close enough) than Lennon McCartney. Dylan won his prize because, standing alone, his lyrics are great poetry. These others, IMO, are known more for blending melody with lyrics to make great songs. But their lyrics, without the melody, don’t hold a candle to Dylan’s.

      • GBJames
        Posted October 15, 2016 at 10:18 am | Permalink

        I can see that argument.

      • desconhecido
        Posted October 15, 2016 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

        It’s mostly a matter of taste. I think Dylan is great, but for just the quality of the songwriting, it’s hard to beat Paul Simon or Randy Newman.

        • GBJames
          Posted October 15, 2016 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

          Speaking of Randy Newman, have you listened to his Faust? I think denizens of WEIT would enjoy it.

      • Posted October 15, 2016 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

        I agree with the way you’ve ranked these guys. I do love Dylan’s poetry.

  7. Graham Head
    Posted October 15, 2016 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Do her fans always scream like that or was it a subtle tribute to Beatlemania?

  8. Mobius
    Posted October 15, 2016 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    Fantastic. The Beatles produced some amazing music. I was 8 when they first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, and I recall my parents not being very impressed. But despite my parents poor opinion of them, IMHO they wrote some great music.

  9. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted October 15, 2016 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Brad Mehldau’ trio did Blackbird.

  10. Saul Sorrell-Till
    Posted October 15, 2016 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    I don’t think Macca would have written half the great stuff he wrote without the motivating brilliance of Lennon alongside him as a competitor; and you see that after the Beatles split, with McCartney’s work being generally pretty inessential whilst Lennon, at least in the first few years of the seventies, writing maybe the best songs he ever wrote and two very different but classic albums in Imagine and Plastic Ono Band…

    But McCartney was still a brilliant songwriter, and he was at his most obscenely prolific and talented best circa the white album, with Blackbird, Martha My Dear, Back In The USSR, Helter Skelter… The latter is just monumental, hewn-from-stone heavy rock – how that came from the same guy who wrote Blackbird I don’t know.

    Maybe McCartney suffers by comparison with Lennon but I still think he was a brilliant songwriter.

  11. Ken Kukec
    Posted October 15, 2016 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Paul McCartney deserves a Nobel — if they start giving one out for melody. Don’t get me wrong, McCartney has written some great lyrics — just as Bob Dylan has written some great melodies. But Dylan (as he’s acknowledged) won’t win an lifetime awards for his melodies (a lot of which are re-workings of traditional, public-domain tunes), and Maca won’t win for his lyrics.

    All the great McCartney lyrics you cite are from his Beatles days, none from his subsequent 45-year career. Paul was a better lyricist as long as he had John around to spur him and goad him, to act as his lyrical conscience. (Similarly, John did his best work in conjunction with Paul, either in partnership with or reaction to him. The sum of those two was greater than its parts.)

    BTW, I recently saw Eight Days a Week, Ron Howard’s documentary about the Beatles’ American tours. It’s wonderful.

  12. Posted October 15, 2016 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    Leonard Cohen

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 15, 2016 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

      Yes! We read his lyrics in school! I feel badly for him as he seems to be suffering with health issues recently and admitted he is ready for death in an article l read. His latest song “You Want It Darker” seems to reflect this. It’s a great tune too.

    • aljones909
      Posted October 16, 2016 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

      I love Leonard Cohen’s lyrics. Understand very little. I have no idea what this is about but hearing it gives me chills.
      From “Last Year’s Man”
      “And the skylight is like skin
      for a drum I’ll never mend
      and all the rain falls down amen
      on the works of last year’s man.”

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted October 17, 2016 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

        My favourite stanza from Nevermind:

        This was your heart
        This swarm of flies
        This was once your mouth
        This bowl of lies

        That song was used in the last season of True Detectives

  13. Carl
    Posted October 15, 2016 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Among musicians, I’d put Dylan above any mentioned so far.

    However, when I first read Dylan was awarded the Literature prize, I immediately ticked off a mental list of more deserving recipients. Steven Pinker, Matthew Stewart, Rebecca Goldstein, and Richard Dawkins were the first names that came to mind.

    • Carl
      Posted October 15, 2016 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

      As an aside, I hope everyone remembers Bertrand Russell won his Nobel for literature.

  14. Diana MacPherson
    Posted October 15, 2016 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    I recently watched something where Paul McCartney admired he suffered from thinking he was a fraud (like many of us do) all his life. Paul McCartney!! At least I don’t feel so bad when I get those feelings now.

    • rickflick
      Posted October 15, 2016 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      One way to think of it is we are all frauds. But, the trick is to create something rich and meaningful from the artifice.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted October 15, 2016 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, “Fake it till you make it”.

        But it’s quite true, if you can pretend to be doing something well enough, then you probably are doing it in actuality.

        (Well on in my career, I was shocked to hear myself referred to as ‘our expert’ on some technical matters, since I knew very well how sketchy my knowledge was. Equally disconcerting was the subsequent realisation that I appeared that way to my colleagues because they knew even less.)


  15. desconhecido
    Posted October 15, 2016 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    When I think of the literature prize, I think of John Steinbeck. I like John Steinbeck.

    I like Bob Dylan, too, and have been a fan for over fifty years. One Dylan song I like is “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” which includes the following lyrics:

    Situations have ended sad
    Relationships have all been bad
    Mine’ve been like Verlaine’s and Rimbaud
    But there’s no way I can compare
    All those scenes to this affair
    You’re gonna make me lonesome when you go

    Not just anybody can write lyrics like that and not get arrested. Brilliant.

    Later in the same song he rhymes Honolulu with Ashtabula. A musician friend of mine who is much younger was working on learning a couple Dylan songs and this was one, based mostly on the delightful Shawn Colvin cover. We were discussing all the crimes against language that appear in this song and he asked about Ashtabula, if it made any sense. I told him that it was a city in Ohio known mostly for the crank. Why is it in the song? Obviously, need to have something to rhyme with Honolulu.

    But, I do like Dylan. At his best, his songs are like little bitty John Steinbeck novels. “Of Mice and Men” or “The Winter of Our Discontent” in four minutes.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted October 15, 2016 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

      Interesting point about Steinbeck, given the parallels between his work and that of Dylan’s musical mentor, Woody Guthrie, especially in novels like Grapes of Wrath and Cannery Row.

    • Posted October 17, 2016 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      “based mostly on the delightful Shawn Colvin cover”


      If you are a folkie, I can’t recommend highly enough Shawn Colvin’s two covers albums: Cover Girl (1994) (includes Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome …”) and Uncovered.

    • Posted October 17, 2016 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      All songs include “crimes against language.”

      No one is expected to follow all grammar and usage rules in lyrics — just enough so that they don’t lose you. In fact, bending the rules is part of the impact, often.

      I been warped by the rain, driven by the snow
      I’m drunk and dirty don’t ya know, and I’m still, willin’
      Out on the road late at night, Seen my pretty Alice in every head light
      Alice, Dallas Alice

      I’ve been from Tucson to Tucumcari
      Tehachapi to Tonapah

      Driven every kind of rig that’s ever been made
      Driven the back roads so I wouldn’t get weighed
      And if you give me, weed, whites, and wine
      And you show me a sign
      I’ll be willin’, to be movin’

      I’ve been kicked by the wind, robbed by the sleet
      Had my head stoved in, but I’m still on my feet and I’m still, willin’
      Now I smuggled some smokes and folks from Mexico
      Baked by the sun, every time I go to Mexico, and I’m still

      And I been from Tucson to Tucumcari
      Tehachapi to Tonapah
      Driven every kind of rig that’s ever been made
      Driven the back roads so I wouldn’t get weighed
      And if you give me, weed, whites, and wine
      And you show me a sign
      I’ll be willin’, to be movin

      — from “Willin’ by Lowell George.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted October 17, 2016 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

        When used under such circumstances, these aren’t “crimes against language”; they constitute “enallage” — the intentional use of ungrammatical constructions for rhetorical effect.

        Such literary devices can be found throughout the oeuvres of Bob Dylan and Little Feat, among others.

  16. W.Benson
    Posted October 15, 2016 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    Blackbird was released on the 1968 “White Album”. Paul sings it pure like it should be.

  17. Matteus
    Posted October 15, 2016 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

    If two members of the Beatles should receive a Nobel prize, what Lou Reed should get? Superpowers?

  18. nicky
    Posted October 16, 2016 at 6:15 am | Permalink

    That Nobel litterature prize has opened a can -I would not say of worms- of something.
    Blackbird’s lyrics are not particularly good (immo), but the clever guitar work and melody definitely are outstanding.
    A Nobel prize for music? Ag nay, Bach is a corpse already.

  19. Posted October 17, 2016 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    I play that song! But I don’t (yet) sing it while picking it.

    I’ve always loved SM’s cover of this song. What a beautiful voice.

    Interesting that her accompanist does not play it the way Macca did (and I follow Macca). He strums the 16th-note picks in the piece.

    Here’s what that bah-bap-a-ba-ba-bah rhythmic bit looks like (with the opening glissando in front of it):

    • Saul Sorrell-Till
      Posted October 17, 2016 at 9:17 am | Permalink

      Hey jbillie: I can’t fingerpick but I love learning new songs… In case you haven’t heard it this is ‘Blue Spotted’ Tail by Fleet Foxes, which is about as close to a modern ‘Blackbird’ as there is.

      • Saul Sorrell-Till
        Posted October 17, 2016 at 9:18 am | Permalink

        Sodding embedding. Apologies, again.

      • Posted October 17, 2016 at 11:29 am | Permalink


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