Eleanor Rigby

Eleanor Rigby single - United KingdomWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 28, 29 April, 6 June 1966
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Geoff Emerick

Released: 5 August 1966 (UK), 8 August 1966 (US)

Paul McCartney: vocals
John Lennon: harmony vocals
George Harrison: harmony vocals
Tony Gilbert, Sidney Sax, John Sharpe, Jurgen Hess: violin
Stephen Shingles, John Underwood: viola
Derek Simpson, Norman Jones: cello

Available on:
Revolver
1
Anthology 2
Yellow Submarine Songtrack
Love

Eleanor Rigby, which originally appeared on the Revolver album and on a double a-side single with Yellow Submarine, is justifiably held as a one of The Beatles' truly timeless compositions.

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I don't like supposing that somebody like Jesus was alive now and pretending and imagining what he'd do. But if he was Jesus and he held that he was the real Jesus that had the same views as before - well, Eleanor Rigby wouldn't mean that much to him.
John Lennon, Chicago Press Conference, 11 August 1966
Anthology

Paul McCartney came up with the initial idea in the music room in the basement of Jane Asher's family home in Wimpole Street, London.

I wrote it at the piano, just vamping an E minor chord; letting that stay as a vamp and putting a melody over it, just danced over the top of it. It has almost Asian Indian rhythms.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

As with Yesterday before it, McCartney didn't have lyrics at first, and improvised sounds and words to fill the lines. An early version was heard by musician Donovan at his flat in London's Maida Vale.

One day I was on my own in the pad running through a few tunes on my Uher tape recorder. The doorbell rang. It was Paul on his own. We jammed a bit. He played me a tune about a strange chap called 'Ola Na Tungee'.

'Ola Na Tungee/Blowing his mind in the dark/With a pipe full of clay/No one can say.'

Donovan
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

The lyrics eventually took shape back in Wimpole Street. A breakthrough came for McCartney with the idea of a wedding in the church.

While I was fiddling on a chord some words came out: 'Dazzie-de-da-zu picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been...' This idea of someone picking up rice after a wedding took it in that poignant direction, into a 'lonely people' direction.
Paul McCartney
Anthology

For a time McCartney settled on the name Miss Daisy Hawkins, but rejected it for its lack of realism. He took the name Rigby from a shop in Bristol: Rigby & Evens Ltd, Wine & Spirit Shippers. He spotted the name while visiting Jane Asher, who was appearing in The Happiest Days Of Your Life at the Bristol Old Vic theatre. The name Eleanor was after Eleanor Bron, who played the female lead in Help!.

I thought, I swear, that I made up the name Eleanor Rigby like that. I remember quite distinctly having the name Eleanor, looking around for a believable surname and then wandering around the docklands in Bristol and seeing the shop there. But it seems that up in Woolton Cemetery, where I used to hang out a lot with John, there's a gravestone to an Eleanor Rigby. Apparently, a few yards to the right there's someone called McKenzie.
Paul McCartney
Anthology

The Woolton Cemetery adjoins St Peter's Church in Liverpool. The church was where McCartney was first introduced to Lennon, prior to a performance by The Quarrymen on 6 July 1957.

The real Eleanor Rigby was born in 1895 and lived in Liverpool, where she married a man named Thomas Woods. She died on 10 October 1939 at the age of 44 and was buried along with the bodies of her grandfather John Rigby, his wife Frances and their daughter Doris. The tombstone has since become a landmark for Beatles fans visiting Liverpool.

In 2008 a 1911 document bearing the signature of E Rigby, then a 16-year-old scullery maid at Liverpool's City Hospital, was auctioned to raise money for the Sunbeams Music Trust. The document had been donated to the charity by Paul McCartney in 1990.

With just the first verse of Eleanor Rigby complete, McCartney took the song to John Lennon's house in Weybridge. There, he and the other Beatles, along with Lennon's school friend Pete Shotton, suggested ideas to help the song take shape.

Ringo Starr suggested that the renamed Father McKenzie be "darning his socks in the night". The "Ah, look at all the lonely people" refrain was reportedly coined by Harrison, and the final verse - where the lonely Rigby and McKenzie are united through death - was suggested by Shotton and later written by McCartney.

I had Father McCartney as the priest just because I knew that was right for the syllables, but I knew I didn't want it even though John liked it so we opened the telephone book, went to McCartney and look what followed it, and shortly after, it was McKenzie. I thought, Oh, that's good. It wasn't written about anyone. A man appeared, who died a few years ago, who said, 'I'm Father McKenzie.' Anyone who was called Father McKenzie and had any slim contact with The Beatles quite naturally would think, Well, I spoke to Paul and he might easily have written that about me; or he may have spoken to John and thought John thought it up. John wanted to stay McCartney, but I said, 'No, it's my dad! Father McCartney.' He said, 'It's good, it works fine.' I agreed it worked, but I didn't want to sing that, it was too loaded, it asked too many questions. I wanted it to be anonymous. John helped me on a few words but I'd put it down 80-20 to me, something like that.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

42 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!

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