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Eleanor Rigby

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Eleanor Rigby is also the name of a novel by Douglas Coupland.

"Eleanor Rigby" is a song by The Beatles, originally released on the album Revolver by EMI/Parlophone Records. The song was primarily written by Paul McCartney, although in an interview conducted with Playboy magazine in 1980 shortly before he died, John Lennon claimed that, at McCartney's request, he completed the lyrics to the second and third verse. Unusually, the song is in Dorian mode, rather than the normal major/minor modes of popular music. It remains one of The Beatles' most recognizable and unique songs, with an eight-person string section working from a score by George Martin and its striking lyrics about the loneliness of old age, continuing the transformation of The Beatles started in Rubber Soul from a mainly pop-oriented act to a more serious and experimental studio band.

The story behind the song

Like many of McCartney's songs, the melody and first line of the song came to him as he was playing around on his piano. The name that came to him, though, was not Eleanor Rigby but Miss Daisy Hawkins. 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."[1]

He originally imagined Daisy as a young girl, but anyone who cleaned up in churches would probably be older. If she were older, she might have missed not only the wedding she cleans up after but also her own. Gradually, McCartney developed the theme of the loneliness of old age, morphing his song from the story of a young girl to that of an elderly woman whose loneliness is worse for having to clean up after happy couples.

McCartney said he came up with the name Eleanor from actress Eleanor Bron, with whom he had starred in the film Help! Rigby came from the name of a store in Bristol, Rigby & Evens Ltd, Wine & Spirit Shippers, that he noticed while seeing his then-girlfriend 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."[2]

The "Eleanor Rigby"/"Yellow Submarine" single from the United Kingdom, released on Parlophone Records. "Eleanor Rigby" stayed at #1 for four weeks on the British pop charts.
The "Eleanor Rigby"/"Yellow Submarine" single from the United Kingdom, released on Parlophone Records. "Eleanor Rigby" stayed at #1 for four weeks on the British pop charts.

Coincidentally, in the 1980s, a grave of an Eleanor Rigby was discovered in the graveyard of St. Peter's Parish Church in Woolton, Liverpool, a few feet from where McCartney and Lennon had met for the first time during a fete in 1957.[3] Paul had frequently played there as a boy. The actual Eleanor was born in 1895 and lived in Liverpool, possibly in the suburb of Woolton, where she married a man named Thomas Woods. She died in her sleep of unknown reasons on October 10, 1939 at age 44. (Interestingly, if one considers that 1940 had an extra day because it was a leap year, the real Eleanor Rigby died exactly one year, to the day, before John Lennon was born.) Whether this Eleanor was the inspiration for the song or not, her tombstone has become a landmark to Beatles fans visiting Liverpool. A digitized version was added to the 1995 music video for The Beatles' reunion song "Free as a Bird". The Rigby family, if any, has never come forward with any royalty demands.

The Beatles finished off the song in the music room of John Lennon's home at Kenwood. John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, and their friend Pete Shotton all listened to McCartney play his song through and contributed ideas. Someone suggested introducing a romance into the story, but this was rejected because it made the story too complicated. 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, and Harrison came up with the line "Ah, look at all the lonely people". Shotton then suggested that McCartney change the name of the vicar, in case listeners mistook the fictional character in the song for McCartney's own father.[4]

McCartney couldn't 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.[5]

Lennon and McCartney made contradictory remarks about the authorship of the lyrics. Lennon had claimed to have written a good half of the words. In an interview after Lennon's death, McCartney disputed this, saying Lennon had added only about a half a line.



"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 and backing vocals. Instead, McCartney used a string octet of studio musicians, composed of four violins, two cellos, and two violas all working off a score written by producer George Martin. For the most part, the instruments "double up"—that is, they serve as two string quartets with two instruments playing each part in the quartet. Microphones were placed close to the instruments to produce a more vivid and raw sound. George Martin asked the musicians if they could play without vibrato and recorded two versions, one with and one without, the latter of which was used. McCartney's choice of a string backing may have been influenced by his interest in the composer Vivaldi. 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."[6]

The octet was recorded on April 28, 1966 in Studio 2 at Abbey Road Studios and completed in Studio 3 on 29 April and on 6 June. Take 15 was selected as the master.[7]

The original stereo mix had Paul's voice in one channel. On the Yellow Submarine Songtrack, his voice is centered. Also, the sound of the strings sound sharper.

The "Eleanor Rigby"/"Yellow Submarine" single from Japan. The photo shows The Beatles on stage at Tokyo in 1966.
The "Eleanor Rigby"/"Yellow Submarine" single from Japan. The photo shows The Beatles on stage at Tokyo in 1966.
  • Eleanor Rigby (file info) — play in browser (beta)
    • Album version of "Eleanor Rigby", performed by The Beatles.
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"Eleanor Rigby" was released simultaneously on August 5, 1966 on both the album Revolver and on a double A-side single with the song "Yellow Submarine" on Parlophone in the United Kingdom and Capitol in the United States. It spent four weeks at number one on the British charts, but in America it only reached the eleventh spot.[8] The song was nominated for three Grammies and won the 1966 Grammy for Best Contemporary Rock and Roll Vocal Performance, Male for McCartney. Thirty years later, George Martin's string arrangement only (without the vocal) was released on The Beatles' Anthology 2.



A promotional poster for the single from the UK.
A promotional poster for the single from the UK.

Though "Eleanor Rigby" was not the first pop song to deal with death and loneliness, it was certainly among the first to present such a serious attitude. The Shangri-Las' 1964 hit "Leader of the Pack" gave a Motown rendition of star-crossed lovers ending in one of their deaths, but the subject matter was purely in a romantic vein and far from a serious look at loss. In fact, in the mid-1960s, the pop format hardly seemed the right vehicle for such a message. Folk tunes might be full of depression and death, like Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence", released in the same year, but pop consistently had a more rosy outlook on life. Nevertheless, "Eleanor Rigby" took a message of depression and desolation, written by a famous pop band, with a somber, almost funeral-like backing, to the number one spot of the pop charts. Other acts soon followed in a similar vein, like The Rolling Stones with "Paint It Black".[9]

"Eleanor Rigby" marks a midpoint of sorts in The Beatles' evolution from a pop, live-performance band to a more experimental, studio-oriented band though the track contains no obvious studio trickery. Whereas many of the other tracks on Revolver lend themselves to a rock group, "Eleanor Rigby" in a sense is a precursor to the psychedelic tracks of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The subject matter also reflects a band in transition. The bleak lyrics were not The Beatles' first deviation from love songs, but were some of the most explicit. Eleanor Rigby's lonely existence shares more in tone with the sense of detachment of "A Day in the Life" than with "I Want to Hold Your Hand".

In some reference books on classical music, Eleanor Rigby is included and considered comparable to art songs (lieder) by the great composers.

The song ranked #137 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Covers and references in other media

Numerous artists have covered "Eleanor Rigby" in a variety of styles, at least 61 released on albums by one count.[10] Aretha Franklin, on the album This Girl's In Love With You and as a single, released one of the more notable covers, switching the song to first person and replacing the string quartet with a driving soul backing, complete with a chorus. Ray Charles also released a famous cover version as a single and on the album A Portrait of Ray. This soul cover one steers closer to the original, retaining a string section, but adds a driving drum part and a more subdued chorus. Joan Baez's 1967 version was sung to classical orchestration. Other notable artists who have covered "Eleanor Rigby" include Tony Bennett, Diana Ross & the Supremes, Kansas , The Temptations, John Denver, The Four Tops, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Thrice, Godhead, Zoot, The Fray, Pain, Louis XIV, and Boston Pops. Jazz musicians such as Wes Montgomery, Stanley Jordan, and John Pizzarelli covered it as an instrumental, with lead-guitar taking over the vocal line. The Crusaders also covered it as an instrumental with an extended piano solo by Joe Sample as lead. Another very interesting and quite unusual instrumental version of the song was released by German synthesizer pioneers Tangerine Dream in 1998 on the album Dream Encores.

It was sampled by Talib Kweli for his song "Lonely People". Sinéad O'Connor used the chorus of "Eleanor Rigby" for a song called "Famine" from the 1995 album "Universal Mother".

"Eleanor Rigby" has been used as background music in a few episodes of the cartoon Dr. Snuggles. In the Yellow Submarine movie, the song was played during the sequence when the submarine was floating through the streets of Liverpool. In the computer game Guild Wars, there is a woman who walks around Ascalon City named Ellie Rigby.

"Eleanor Rigby" is currently being covered by the band Panic! At The Disco during their American Nothing Rhymes with Circus tour.


  •  The Beatles Ultimate Experience Database
  •  Turner, Steve. A Hard Day's Write: The Stories Behind Every Beatles' Song, Harper, New York: 1994, ISBN 0-06-095065-X
  •  MacDonald, Ian. Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties, Pimlico, New York: 2003, ISBN 1-84413-828-3
  •  The Beatles' Official Site (
  •  Gravestone of an "Eleanor Rigby" in the graveyard of St. Peter's Parish Church in Woolton, Liverpool
  •  Beatles Cover List

External links

  • The Eleanor Rigby statue in Liverpool, England
  • Songfacts on "Eleanor Rigby"
  • Interpretation
  • Alan W. Pollack's Notes on "Eleanor Rigby"
  • Panic! At The Disco covering "Eleanor Rigby"
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