Paul McCartney wrote this about the civil rights struggle for blacks after reading about race riots in the US. He penned it in his kitchen in Scotland not long after an incident in Little Rock, when the federal courts forced the racial desegregation of the Arkansas capital's school system.
McCartney told Mojo magazine October 2008: "We were totally immersed in the whole saga which was unfolding. So I got the idea of using a blackbird as a symbol for a black person. It wasn't necessarily a black 'bird', but it works that way, as much as then you called girls 'birds'; the Everlys had had 'Bird Dog,' so the word 'bird' was around. 'Take these broken wings' was very much in my mind, but it wasn't exactly an ornithological ditty; it was purposely symbolic."
Only three sounds were recorded: Paul's voice, his Martin D-28 acoustic guitar, and a tapping that keeps time on the left channel.
This tapping sound is a bit of a mystery, although in the Beatles Anthology video McCartney appears to be making the sound with his foot. Some sources have claimed it is a metronome.
The birds were dubbed in later using sound effects from the collection at Abbey Road, where the song was recorded.
The guitar accompaniment for this song was inspired by Bach's Bourrée in E minor for lute. This is often played on classical guitar, an instrument Paul McCartney and George Harrison had tried to learn when they were kids. McCartney told Mojo magazine October 2008: "We had the first four bars (of the Bourrée in E minor) and that was as far as my imagination went. I think George had it down for a few more bars and then he crapped out. So I made up the next few bars, and (sings his four-note variation Bach's theme) it became the basis of 'Blackbird.'"
This is one of the songs novice guitar players often try to learn, as it's one of the most famous fingerstyle tunes. The singer Donovan claims some credit for teaching The Beatles a technique similar to the one McCartney used here when they were on a retreat to India in early 1968.
Brad Mehldau recorded an instrumental jazz version of this song in 1997.
In 2002, The Doves covered this on the soundtrack to the TV series Roswell.
This was one of five Beatles songs McCartney performed on his Wings Over America tour in 1976.
Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl told Q magazine that he feels this is the greatest Paul McCartney song. He commented: "It's such a beautiful piece of music, perfect in composition and performance, and in its lyrics and in the range of his voice. Just learning that song made me a better guitar player and gave me a better appreciation of songwriting. To me it's just musical bliss."
At the Academy Awards ceremony in 2016, Dave Grohl performed this song to accompany the "in memoriam" segment, recognizing those in the movie industry who died the previous year.