Recording: Eleanor Rigby

Studio Two, EMI Studios, Abbey Road
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Geoff Emerick

The first session for Paul McCartney‘s most famous and best-loved songs, Eleanor Rigby, took place on this day, with the recording of the string octet backing.


The session was a short one, beginning at 5pm and finishing at 7.50pm. A string octet had been booked, featuring four violins (played by Tony Gilbert, Sidney Sax, John Sharpe and Jurgen Hess), two violas (Stephen Shingles and John Underwood), and two cellos (Derek Simpson and Norman Jones).

The performers were each given a standard Musicians’ Union fee of £9 for their work, and performed a score written by George Martin. Two brief rehearsals took place, with and without vibrato, and the musicians opted to play without.

I was very much inspired by Bernard Herrmann, in particular a score he did for the Truffaut film Farenheit 451. That really impressed me, especially the strident string writing. When Paul told me he wanted the strings in Eleanor Rigby to be doing a rhythm it was Herrmann’s score which was a particular influence.
George Martin
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

Both John Lennon and Paul McCartney were present at the studio, but remained in the control room of Studio Two. George Martin was on the studio floor conducting the musicians.

The strings were recorded with a close microphone technique, giving them a timbre different from anything that had previously been heard.

On Eleanor Rigby we miked very, very close to the strings, almost touching them. No one had really done that before; the musicians were in horror.
Geoff Emerick
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

Fourteen takes of the strings backing were recorded, the last of which was the best. The instruments were recorded two per track, and a reduction mix – numbered take 15 – was made at the end of the session to free up three further tracks.

A new mix of the instrumental backing was made in 1995 for the Anthology 2 collection, presenting the strings in full stereo for the first time.

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