Eleanor Rigby

John Lennon claimed to have written "about 70 per cent" of the words for Eleanor Rigby, although in separate accounts Paul McCartney and Pete Shotton both remember otherwise. Shotton described Lennon's contribution as "virtually nil".

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Ah, the first verse was his and the rest are basically mine. But the way he did it... Well, he knew he had a song. But by that time he didn't want to ask for my help, and we were sitting around with Mal Evans and Neil Aspinall, so he said to us, 'Hey, you guys, finish up the lyrics.'

Now I was there with Mal, a telephone installer who was our road manager, and Neil, who was a student accountant, and I was insulted and hurt that Paul had just thrown it out in the aid. He actually meant he wanted me to do it, and of course there isn't a line of theirs in the song because I finally went off to a room with Paul and we finished the song. But that's how... that's the kind of insensitivity he would have, which upset me in later years. That's the kind of person he is. 'Here, finish these lyrics up,' like to anybody who was around.

Oh, he had the whole start: 'Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been.' And he had the story and knew where it was going. So we had to work out, 'Well, is there anybody else in this story?' We came up with Father McCartney for a bit, but Paul said his dad would be upset, so we made it into McKenzie, even though McCartney sounded better. And then we went on to new characters... It's hard to describe, even with the clarity of memory, the moment the apple falls. The thing will start moving along at a speed of its own, then you wake up at the end of it and have this whole thing on paper, you know? Who said what to whom as we were writing, I don't know.

I do know that George Harrison was there when we came up with 'Ah, look at all the lonely people.' He and George were settling on that as I left the studio to go to the toilet, and I heard the lyric and turned around and said, 'That's it!'

John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

Paul McCartney recorded a demo of Eleanor Rigby at the Ashers' house. He later claimed that Marianne Faithfull expressed an interest in recording the song after she and Mick Jagger were played the demo.

I remember thinking to myself, What am I going to do when I'm thirty? Thirty was the big age. Will I still be in a group? I remember being round at John Dunbar's house, having a very clear vision of myself in a herringbone jacket with leather elbow patches and a pipe, thinking Eleanor Rigby, this could be a way I could go, I could become a more serious writer, not so much a pop writer.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

In the studio

Recording began on 28 April 1966. With a score by George Martin, and inspired by the music written by Bernard Herrmann for the Truffaut film Farenheit 451, no Beatles played on the record. Instead a closely-miked string octet was recorded in 14 takes, after which Paul overdubbed his lead vocals.

The violins backing was Paul's idea. Jane Asher had turned him on to Vivaldi, and it was very good, the violins, straight out of Vivaldi. I can't take any credit for that, a-tall.
John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

On 29 April McCartney added more vocals, and he, Lennon and Harrison provided harmonies. The song was then considered complete until 6 June, when Paul added one more vocal part.

George Martin's score was released in 1996 unadorned by vocals, on the Anthology 2 collection. The song also appeared in remix form on the Love album.

Chart success

The double a-side single Eleanor Rigby/Yellow Submarine was released on 5 August 1966, the same day as Revolver.

The single entered the charts on 10 August at number two. The following week it reached the top, where it remained for four weeks.

In America it fared less well. Released on 8 August, it charted at number 11 and spent six weeks in the top 40. It peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and Cashbox charts; this has been attributed to the downbeat subject matter, and also the fallout from John Lennon's "more popular than Jesus" comments.

Eleanor Rigby was nominated for three Grammy awards in 1966, and won the Best Contemporary Rock and Roll Vocal Performance, Male.

43 responses on “Eleanor Rigby

  1. Sebastian

    Paul was kind of upset about john taking credit for a large part of the lyrics of eleanor rigby. Like you said, paul said that wasnt true in many occasions.
    This is what McCartney said to Hunter Davies in 1981 just a few months after the playboy interview was published and John had died. “ I saw somewhere that he says (John) he helped on Eleanor Rigby. Yeah. About half a line. He also forgot completely that I wrote the tune for In My Life. That was my tune. But perhaps he just made a mistake on that.”.

      1. Joseph Brush

        My reply was about Paul’s insensitivity with a remark like “Yeah. About half a line” (concerning Eleanor Rigby) made to Hunter Davies, just a few months after Lennon’s death.
        Why didn’t McCartney say this prior to Lennon’s death?
        John’s opinions about Eleanor Rigby and In My Life were well known prior to December 8, 1980.

        1. Sebastian Mora

          Paul said that comment to Hunter Davies in a private conversation (which to me, makes it more convincing than Lennon’s comments on his interviews with the press (in my opinion, John used to rewrite the history all the time. He seems to let his feelings and insecurities affected his objectivity). Hunter Davies published the entire conversation with Paul, on his 1985 version of the book The Beatles. You should read all the conversation to understand Paul’s point of view. He was talking to a friend, a journalist but off the record, later Davies asked Paul permission to publish the conversation.

          Joe you said “John’s opinions about Eleanor Rigby and In My Life were well known prior to December 8, 1980.”

          Paul said in 1972 (Hit Parader) and in 1973 (The Rolling Stone), that In my Life was his tune completely and the words were Lennon´s. McCartney always spoke about Eleanor Rigby as if the lyrics were written mostly by him (that’s an indirect way to answer John without getting to a fight with him, something McCartney was surely avoiding after their public battle in 1971).
          The fact, is that in the seventies, Paul was very busy promoting and selling millions of records, defending Wings of the critics and conquering the world again. He only saw the real need of set the record straight about his contributions to The Beatles songs’ when Lennon died. Why? Because immediately after John was shot, everybody began to write books taking Lennon`s version of the Beatles history as the only one, “the truth” (even if his comments sometimes don’t match or left many doubts and questions) and declaring Lennon as the only and true genius of the band. So understandably, Paul finally gave his version and defended his contributions to the band. It doesn’t matter if some rabid Lennon’s fans call him a liar or an opportunist, McCartney’s decision to reveal his version (IMHO, it’s not flawless but more consistent, credible and detailed than Lennon’s) put him again in the same league as Lennon in The Beatles history and public perception. And I think is fair, because Paul was as important as John for the success of the band.

    1. AlbertCunning

      About 70 percent of the lyrics were written with John present in the room, meaning he DID *kind of* write 70 percent of it. I wonder if most people, Paul included, take John’s statement too literally, or, rather, mathematically.

  2. mjb

    Everett’s take:

    A string octet were recorded – mikes right at the strings – two per track, requiring a reduction to one track.

    Two vocal tracks were recorded: Paul’s lead vocal and John and George’s backing parts. ADT sent the lead vocal signal to the left for refrains, but to the left in the last refrain.

    A fourth track was used to add a countermelody vocal from Paul to the last refrain, sung through a Leslie speaker and with ADT.

  3. McLerristarr

    According to Anthology, Paul was the only Beatle on this song.

    Reporter: Do you think you’ll ever record solo?

    George: We already have … Eleanor Rigby was just Paul.
    John: We just sat around drinking tea.

        1. David

          That’s not true. Hear the *.ogg files, where the song is splitted in 4 channels. The first contains backing vocals from paul (high) john (mid) and george (low) singins “all the lonely people” line.

  4. Von Bontee

    Oh boy, here comes another dispute! Even though I eventually caved and came to believe paulsbass’s centention that Paul alone sang that wordless ADITL bit, it’s not gonna happen this time. I’m positive I hear George and John’s harmonies in the left stereo channel, “Anthology” remarks notwithstanding. And anyways, being requried to do nothing other than to sing “Ah, look at all the lonely people” four times total would certainly leave John with plenty of time to do nothing but sit around and drink tea.
    The 5th and 6th iterations of the “Ahhh…” lyric: Now THOSE were indeed sung by Paul all alone.

    1. paulsbass

      No dispute this time, you’re totally right!
      I completely forgot about that intro part (same in the middle). I don’t know if the middle one is George or Paul, but the deep one is definitely John.
      Sorry!
      I should listen to the song before talking about it…

  5. Ray

    John was very jealous of Paul, wasn’t he? Always had to throw in a little shot, a little putdown.
    Might’ve been nice if he wasn’t so jealous…and such a hypocrite; singing about “all you need is love” and “imagine no possessions” while walking out on his wife and baby and riding around in his golden Rolls Royce.

    1. Joseph Brush

      I don’t think that John Lennon invented jealousy or divorce.
      If you read about his family upbringing you may discover that he was left behind by his parents.
      As for riding around in a “golden rolls royce” what did you expect after selling hundreds of millions of records?

      1. Ray

        No, John didn’t invent jealousy or divorce. Nor did he invent infidelit or child abandonment. But he did engage in these activities, while at the same time singing and preaching the opposite.
        I don’t expect to change your mind about Lennon. And yes, I’m a great fan of his and the Beatles music. But truth is truth (as Lennon would probably agree). If you choose not to accept that truth, more power to you.

      1. Ray

        I see no evidence of Paul’s jealousy of John. I have NEVER read ANYTHING about Paul putting down a Lennon song. At most, there was some disagreement as to his contribution to some Lennon songs. Whereas Lennon critisized McCartney’s songs constantly.
        But just believe what makes you feel good.

        1. GniknuS

          Sorry Joe, I just have a quick response if that’s okay. John is not putting down Eleanor Rigby, he’s saying that he helped or wrote most of the lyrics. He put down many McCartney songs, but he put down even more of his own, so I don’t think John really viewed songs as his songs versus Paul’s songs, they were just Beatle songs because they all collaborated on most of the material. John is trying to take credit for this song, but Paul did the exact same thing on some of John’s songs, he was just more “politically correct” about it whereas John was blunt and said what he felt. I’m sure if John were to be interviewed now, he’d feel differently and not put down a lot of the Beatles work, but unfortunately that’s not possible.

      2. mr. Sun king coming together

        What does Paul drive?
        Imagine says to do what you can to fix the world, not to say give everything you own away and live on the street. There was mutual respect for each other, but Jealousy was NonExistant

        1. Joe Post author

          OK, I think this is the sort of conversation that could run and run. Funny how so many threads seems to end up John v Paul. Can I suggest you take this to the forum instead, and keep this page for discussions about Eleanor Rigby? I won’t publish any more comments on this matter on this page.

  6. Dartos

    That Paul and John were both eager to take credit for this song reveals how timeless it truly is. The violins give it a surreal feeling, which reflects how the Beatles music progressed both lyrically and in depth, scope, and texture starting in ’66.

  7. SouthernSoul

    Eleanor Rigby is one of the saddest song I ever heard. The Lyrics are great, but what impress me most in this tune is George Martin’s contribution.. I think the arrangements are superb!

  8. Charles_in_UK

    Indeed, this track is quite good. Can we safely assume that Lennon’s contribution was rather prodigious, based on the inclusive banality of McCartney’s post-1970 lyrics?

  9. minime

    No, I don’t think we can. “She’s leaving home” has something in common with Eleanor Rigby, though some verses in the latter one do sound very Lennonsy, “Wiping his hands as he walks from the grave”, “Writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear”

  10. MacFan

    While you’re at it John also wrote “take these broken wings and learn to fly…take these sunken eyes and learn to see” for Blackbird since they sound too good for Paul. What hogwash! Btw, the above lines are as good a poetry ever written in English language. And there are plenty of great post-Beatles Macca songs lyrics.

    1. Emilio Zonszein

      Hello. This is true but the pessimist lines generally belonged to John.
      He was a fan of Edgar Allan Poe’s and his Annabel Lee.
      Stuffs like that

  11. Bronx Boy Billy

    I think what Charles is simply saying is that John Lennon *probably* helped shape the song — lyrically. I agree. Paul himself has stated that when writing a song he’d use nonsense words as filler to be replaced later. Given the excellence of Penny Lane’s lyrics, it’s very possible Lennon helped with these replacements. And no one can argue that the quality PM’s lyrics declined after 1970. Given that, he is undoubtedly still the greatest tunesmith of all time.

    1. Art

      What are “quality lyrics?” “I am the egg man, I am the walrus, coo coo ca choo”?

      I thought the fire engine and how clean it was were references to his shank. Kind of how “Drive my Car” was not literally about being a chauffeur.

  12. Bill

    On a lighter note… My grandmother (who was 48 when this record came out, hated The Beatles. She was a Big Band-era girl. This was the only Beatles record she ever bought. She was hip in some ways, though. She actually bought “Somebody To Love” by Jefferson Airplane. Many years later, she bought John’s “Nobody Told Me”, & she was in her 60’s by then!!

  13. Jay

    It’s good Paul insisted & ended up using the ‘McKenzie’ instead of ‘McCartney.’ For it would be way too self-serving for him to sing his own surname in the lyrics.

    This song is truly a classic masterpiece. Aside from the lyrics, the strings arrangement adds to the mysterious characteristic this song posesses. Thumbs up also to George Martin!

  14. Charlie Lucas

    Interesting: Paul did say that he contributed significantly to “In My Life” in Hit Parader (1972), and he supposedly agreed with the remainder of John’s comments about who wrote what concerning Lennon-McCartney songs. With that being said, in the Miles book (1997), Paul takes a more possessive stance. He claims much more credit for his contributions to “John” songs (from “There’s A Place,” “It Won’t Be Long” and “This Boy” to “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” among others), while maintaining the larger credit allotment that John had given him for the “Paul” songs in 1972.

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