US picture sleeve
|Single by the Beatles|
|from the album Revolver|
|A-side||"Yellow Submarine" (double A-side)|
|Released||5 August 1966|
|Recorded||28–29 April and 6 June 1966|
|Genre||Baroque pop, art rock|
|The Beatles singles chronology|
|"Eleanor Rigby" on YouTube|
The song continued the transformation of the Beatles from a mainly rock and roll- and pop-oriented act to a more experimental, studio-based band. With a double string quartet arrangement by George Martin and striking lyrics about loneliness, "Eleanor Rigby" broke sharply with popular music conventions, both musically and lyrically. Richie Unterberger of AllMusic cites the band's "singing about the neglected concerns and fates of the elderly" on the song as "just one example of why the Beatles' appeal reached so far beyond the traditional rock audience".
Paul McCartney came up with the melody of "Eleanor Rigby" as he experimented with his piano. However, the original name of the protagonist that he chose was not Eleanor Rigby, but Miss Daisy Hawkins. The singer-composer Donovan reported that he heard McCartney play it to him before it was finished, with completely different lyrics. In 1966, McCartney recalled how he got the idea for his song:
I was sitting at the piano when I thought of it. The first few bars just came to me, and I got this name in my head ... "Daisy Hawkins picks up the rice in the church". I don't know why. I couldn't think of much more so I put it away for a day. Then the name "Father McCartney" came to me, and all the lonely people. But I thought that people would think it was supposed to be about my Dad sitting knitting his socks. Dad's a happy lad. So I went through the telephone book and I got the name "McKenzie".
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McCartney said he came up with the name "Eleanor" from actress Eleanor Bron, who had starred with the Beatles in the film Help!. "Rigby" came from the name of a store in Bristol, "Rigby & Evens Ltd, Wine & Spirit Shippers", which he noticed while seeing his girlfriend of the time, Jane Asher, act in The Happiest Days of Your Life. He recalled in 1984, "I just liked the name. I was looking for a name that sounded natural. 'Eleanor Rigby' sounded natural." It has been pointed out that the graveyard of St Peter's Church in Liverpool, where John Lennon and Paul McCartney first met at the Woolton Village garden fete in the afternoon of 6 July 1957, contains the gravestone of an individual called Eleanor Rigby. McCartney said he may have been subconsciously influenced by the name on the gravestone. In 2008, however, when a birth certificate was sold at auction of a woman named Eleanor Rigby, with seller and buyer believing it belonged to the person referenced in the song, McCartney restated publicly: "Eleanor Rigby is a totally fictitious character that I made up." He added, "If someone wants to spend money buying a document to prove a fictitious character exists, that's fine with me." The Eleanor Rigby from the birth certificate lived a lonely life similar to that of the woman in the song.
McCartney wrote the first verse by himself, and the Beatles finished the song in the music room of John Lennon's home at Kenwood. John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and Lennon's childhood friend Pete Shotton all listened to McCartney play his song through and contributed ideas. Harrison came up with the "Ah, look at all the lonely people" hook. Starr contributed the line "writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear" and suggested making "Father McCartney" darn his socks, which McCartney liked. It was then that Shotton suggested that McCartney change the name of the priest, in case listeners mistook the fictional character in the song for McCartney's own father.
McCartney could not decide how to end the song, and Shotton finally suggested that the two lonely people come together too late as Father McKenzie conducts Eleanor Rigby's funeral. At the time, Lennon rejected the idea out of hand, but McCartney said nothing and used the idea to finish off the song, later acknowledging Shotton's help.
Lennon was quoted in 1971 as having said that he "wrote a good half of the lyrics or more" and in 1980 claimed that he wrote all but the first verse, but Shotton remembered Lennon's contribution as being "absolutely nil". McCartney said that "John helped me on a few words but I'd put it down 80–20 to me, something like that."
The song is a prominent example of mode mixture, specifically between the Aeolian mode, also known as natural minor, and the Dorian mode. Set in E minor, the song is based on the chord progression Em–C, typical of the Aeolian mode and utilising notes ♭3, ♭6, and ♭7 in this scale. The verse melody is written in Dorian mode, a minor scale with the natural sixth degree. "Eleanor Rigby" opens with a C-major vocal harmony ("Aah, look at all ..."), before shifting to E-minor (on "lonely people"). The Aeolian C-natural note returns later in the verse on the word "dre-eam" (C–B) as the C chord resolves to the tonic Em, giving an urgency to the melody's mood.
The Dorian mode appears with the C# note (6 in the Em scale) at the beginning of the phrase "in the church". The chorus beginning "All the lonely people" involves the viola in a chromatic descent to the 5th; from 7 (D natural on "All the lonely peo-") to 6 (C♯ on "-ple") to ♭6 (C on "they) to 5 (B on "from"). This is said to "add an air of inevitability to the flow of the music (and perhaps to the plight of the characters in the song)".
In the 1980s, a grave of an Eleanor Rigby was "discovered" in the graveyard of St Peter's Parish Church in Woolton, Liverpool, and a few yards away from that, another tombstone with the last name "McKenzie" scrawled across it. During their teenage years, McCartney and Lennon spent time sunbathing there, within earshot of where the two had met for the first time during a fete in 1957. Many years later, McCartney stated that the strange coincidence between reality and the lyrics could be a product of his subconscious (cryptomnesia), rather than being a meaningless fluke.
An actual Eleanor Rigby was born on 29 August 1895 and lived in Liverpool, possibly in the suburb of Woolton, where she married a man named Thomas Woods on Boxing Day 1930. She died on 10 October 1939 of a brain haemorrhage at the age of 44 and was buried three days later. Regardless of whether this Eleanor was the inspiration for the song or not, her tombstone has become a landmark to Beatles fans visiting Liverpool. A digitised version was added to the 1995 music video for the Beatles' reunion song "Free as a Bird".
In June 1990, McCartney donated to Sunbeams Music Trust a document dating from 1911 which had been signed by the 16-year-old Eleanor Rigby; this instantly attracted significant international interest from collectors because of the coincidental significance and provenance of the document. The nearly 100-year-old document was sold at auction in November 2008 for £115,000. The Daily Telegraph reported that the uncovered document "is a 97-year-old salary register from Liverpool City Hospital". The name "E. Rigby" is printed on the register, and she is identified as a scullery maid. She also did many things for the Liverpool City Hospital.
"Eleanor Rigby" does not have a standard pop backing. None of the Beatles played instruments on it, though John Lennon and George Harrison did contribute harmony vocals. Like the earlier song "Yesterday", "Eleanor Rigby" employs a classical string ensemble—in this case an octet of studio musicians, comprising four violins, two violas, and two cellos, all performing a score composed by producer George Martin. Where "Yesterday" is played legato, "Eleanor Rigby" is played mainly in staccato chords with melodic embellishments. McCartney, reluctant to repeat what he had done on Yesterday, explicitly expressed that he did not want the strings to sound too cloying. For the most part, the instruments "double up"—that is, they serve as a single string quartet but with two instruments playing each of the four parts. Microphones were placed close to the instruments to produce a more biting and raw sound. Engineer Geoff Emerick was admonished by the string players saying "You're not supposed to do that." Emerick was starting to develop a reputation at EMI for being a bit of a maverick and not adhering to the strict rules and procedures prescribed by the Recording Handbooks that all staff engineers were required to follow. Fearing such close proximity to their instruments would expose the slightest deficiencies in their technique, the players kept moving their chairs away from the microphones until George Martin got on the talk-back system and scolded "Stop moving the chairs!" Martin recorded two versions, one with and one without vibrato, the latter of which was used. Lennon recalled in 1980 that "Eleanor Rigby" was "Paul's baby, and I helped with the education of the child ... The violin backing was Paul's idea. Jane Asher had turned him on to Vivaldi, and it was very good." The octet was recorded on 28 April 1966, in Studio 2 at Abbey Road Studios; it was completed in Studio 3 on 29 April and on 6 June. Take 15 was selected as the master.
George Martin, in his autobiography All You Need Is Ears, takes credit for combining two of the vocal parts—"Ah! look at all the lonely people" and "All the lonely people"—having noticed that they would work together contrapuntally. He cited the influence of Bernard Herrmann's work on his string scoring. (Originally he cited the score for the film Fahrenheit 451, but this was a mistake as the film was not released until several months after the recording; Martin later stated he was thinking of Herrmann's score for Psycho.)
The original stereo mix had McCartney's voice only in the right channel during the verses, with the string octet mixed to one channel, while the mono single and mono LP featured a more balanced mix. On the Yellow Submarine Songtrack and Love versions, McCartney's voice is centred and the string octet appears in stereo, creating a modern-sounding mix.
Simultaneously released on 5 August 1966 on both the album Revolver and on a double A-side single with "Yellow Submarine" on Parlophone in the United Kingdom and Capitol in the United States, "Eleanor Rigby" spent four weeks at number one on the British charts, but in America it only reached #11.
The song was nominated for three Grammys and won the 1966 Grammy for Best Contemporary (R&R) Vocal Performance, Male or Female for McCartney. Thirty years later, a stereo remix of George Martin's isolated string arrangement was released on the Beatles' Anthology 2. A decade after that, a remixed version of the track was included in the 2006 album Love.
It is the second song to appear in the Beatles' 1968 animated film Yellow Submarine. The first is "Yellow Submarine"; it and "Eleanor Rigby" are the only songs in the film which the animated Beatles are not seen to be singing. "Eleanor Rigby" is introduced just before the Liverpool sequence of the film; its poignancy ties in quite well with Ringo Starr (the first member of the group to encounter the submarine), who is represented as quietly bored and depressed. "Compared with my life, Eleanor Rigby's was a gay, mad world."
In 1984, a re-interpretation of the song was included in the film and album Give My Regards to Broad Street, written by and starring McCartney. It segues into a symphonic extension, "Eleanor's Dream."
A fully remixed stereo version of the original "Eleanor Rigby" song was issued in 1999 on the Yellow Submarine Songtrack, with some minor fixes to the vocals.
"Eleanor Rigby" was important in the Beatles' evolution from a pop, live-performance band to a more experimental, studio-orientated band, though the track contains little studio trickery. In a 1967 interview, Pete Townshend of The Who commented, "I think 'Eleanor Rigby' was a very important musical move forward. It certainly inspired me to write and listen to things in that vein."
Though "Eleanor Rigby" was far from the first pop song to deal with death and loneliness, according to Ian MacDonald it "came as quite a shock to pop listeners in 1966". It took a bleak message of depression and desolation, written by a famous pop band, with a sombre, almost funeral-like backing, to the number one spot of the pop charts. The bleak lyrics were not the Beatles' first deviation from love songs, but were some of the most explicit.
In some reference books on classical music, "Eleanor Rigby" is included and considered comparable to art songs (lieder). Classical and theatrical composer Howard Goodall said that the Beatles' works are "a stunning roll-call of sublime melodies that perhaps only Mozart can match in European musical history" and that they "almost single-handedly rescued the Western musical system" from the "plague years of the avant-garde". About "Eleanor Rigby", he said it is "an urban version of a tragic ballad in the Dorian mode".
America's single, "Lonely People", was written by Dan Peek in 1973 as an optimistic response to "Eleanor Rigby."
- Paul McCartney – lead and harmony vocals
- John Lennon – harmony vocal
- George Harrison – harmony vocal
- Tony Gilbert – violin
- Sidney Sax – violin
- John Sharpe – violin
- Juergen Hess – violin
- Stephen Shingles – viola
- John Underwood – viola
- Derek Simpson – cello
- Stephen Lansberry – cello
- George Martin – producer, string arrangement
- Geoff Emerick – engineer
Notable cover versions
- Doodles Weaver recorded a novelty version in 1966, singing, mixing up the words, and interrupting himself while playing the piano.
- Johnny Mathis recorded his version on his 1967 album Johnny Mathis Sings.
- Joan Baez's 1967 version, included on her Joan album, was sung to classical orchestration arranged by Peter Schickele.
- Richie Havens included his version of the song on his 1967 debut album Mixed Bag.
- Vanilla Fudge also covered the song on their 1967 debut album of the same name.
- Ray Charles recorded a version that was released as a single in both the U.S. and the U.K. in 1968. Charles's version entered the U.S. Cash Box chart on 15 June 1968, peaking at No.39 during the weeks of 13 July 1968 & 20 July 1968, and entered the U.K. singles chart on 31 July 1968, peaking at No.36 (week of 7 August 1968) during a 9-week chart run.
- Aretha Franklin included an upbeat soulful first person rendition of the song on her 1970 album This Girl's in Love with You; this version has been reworked live in recent years by the Tedeschi Trucks Band.
- Zoot had a top five hit in Australia with a hard rock version in 1970.
- James Booker recorded the song on his album Spiders On The Keys (1993).
- Metal band Pain recorded their version for their 2001 album Nothing Remains The Same.
- Of Monsters and Men recorded their version in 2016 for the Netflix Original Series for kids Beat Bugs.
- Chilean band Quilapayún recorded a version in Andean style, released in some editions of their 1978 album Survarío.
- American Rock band GodHead recorded a version for their third studio album Power Tool Stigmata, released in 1998.
|UK Singles Chart||1|
|Canadian CHUM Chart||1|
|US Billboard Hot 100||11|
|UK Singles Chart||63|
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