Friday, July 6, 2012

The Tyranny of a Single Comma

Could I have been the only one who didn’t realize that the name of the Rolling Stones song was correctly written as “Paint It, Black” — with a comma? And doesn’t that one stray mark radically change how you read the title?

rolling stones paint it black single cover art 1966

Just go ahead and try to arrive at a sensible reason why the title would be punctuated this way. According to a 2003 book on the band, Keith Richards says that the record label, Decca, put the comma there erroneously, so my reaction is “Did they actually listen to the song?” But then I realize that the phrase “paint it black” is never actually spoken in the song. It’s always “painted black” — “I see a red door and I want it painted black” instead of “and I want to paint it black.” In any case, the Rolling Stones’ official website has yanked the offending comma, but isn’t it surprising that it was allowed to linger at all, given that Aftermath debuted in 1966 and even non-Americans would have been aware of the growing civil rights movement?

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