While "Paint It, Black" is attributed to Jagger/Richards, as many of The Rolling Stones' hits were, it was actually a collaborative effort of the band. According to The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, the song took shape when Bill Wyman was playing the organ in parody of the band's first manager, Eric Easton, who had been a cinema organist. It was Brian Jones who added the song's legendary sitar riff. The song's rather dark lyrics were written by Mick Jagger.
"Paint It, Black" was released as a single on 7 May, 1966 in the United States and on 13 May, 1966 (a Friday, fittingly enough) in the United Kingdom. The song hit #1 on the United States' Billboard Hot 100 chart, #1 on the UK Singles chart, and #1 on the Canadian RPM chart. It was the first hit rock song in the United States to ever feature a sitar. It was also the debut single from The Rolling Stones' album Aftermath in the United States. The album was released 15 April, 1966 in the United Kingdom and 20 June, 1966 in the United States. Interestingly enough, the title was meant to be "Paint It Black," without a comma. Keith Richards had said that the comma was added by Decca, their recording label.
According to Bill Wyman's autobiography, when asked what "Paint It, Black" meant, Mick Jagger said, "It means paint it, black." That having been said, an analysis of the song's lyrics seems to indicate that the song is sung from the point of view of a man whose lover has just died. The opening words of the song, "I see a red door and I want it painted it black" would seem to be a reference to the door of an Anglican church, whose doors are traditionally painted red. Churches are, of course, often the site of funerals. Another clue could be the line, "I see a line of cars and they're all painted black," which could refer to a funeral procession (hearses traditionally being black). Indeed, it is following the line "I see a line of cars and they're all painted black" that he most obvious possible reference to death comes, "with flowers and my love both never to come back." Quite simply, both his love and the flowers are being taken away by the hearse.
Yet another clue could be the line "Like a newborn baby it just happens everyday." People are born everyday. They die everyday too. Another clue could be the line "I could not foresee this thing happening to you," i.e. he could not foresee her death. Finally, another fairly obvious clue that the song is about the loss of a loved one are the lines, "If I look hard enough into the settin' sun/My love will laugh with me before the mornin' comes." This indicates that the only time he can now be with his love is in the night, when he is either dreaming or remembering her.
Over the years "Paint It, Black" has been covered a number of times. Indeed, the first cover versions emerged the very year it was released. In 1966 alone it was covered by both Chris Farlowe and The Standells. In 1967 it was covered by Eric Burdon and The Animals on their album Winds of Change. Burdon would cover the song again with War in 1970. Both times he somewhat altered the arrangement and the lyrics. The song would later be covered by Deep Purple (1988), Echo and The Bunnymen (1988), Marc Almond (1998), W.AS.P., and many, many others.
Below are some clips of a few of the versions of the song. First up is the original by The Rolling Stones, performed live in 1966.
Next up is The Standells' version, from 1966.
Here is The Animals' version from 1967. As much as I like The Animals, I have to confess I don't care much for their version of the song.
Finally, here is the version by heavy metal band W.A.S.P.