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)

Available on:
Anthology 2
Yellow Submarine Songtrack


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

‘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.

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

Growing up I knew a lot of old ladies – partly through what was called Bob-a-Job Week, when Scouts did chores for a shilling. You’d get a shilling for cleaning out a shed or mowing a lawn. I wanted to write a song that would sum them up. Eleanor Rigby is based on an old lady that I got on with very well. I don’t even know how I first met ‘Eleanor Rigby’, but I would go around to her house, and not just once or twice. I found out that she lived on her own, so I would go around there and just chat, which is sort of crazy if you think about me being some young Liverpool guy. Later, I would offer to go and get her shopping. She’d give me a list and I’d bring the stuff back, and we’d sit in her kitchen. I still vividly remember the kitchen because she had a little crystal radio set. That’s not a brand name; it actually had a crystal inside it. Crystal radios were quite popular in the 1920 and 30s. So I would visit, and just hearing her stories enriched my soul and influenced the songs I would later write.
Paul McCartney
The Lyrics: 1956 To The Present

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.’

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

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

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 George 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