|Single by The Beatles|
|from the album Revolver|
|Released||5 August 1966|
|Recorded||28–29 April and 6 June 1966,
EMI Studios, London
|The Beatles singles chronology|
The song continued the transformation of the Beatles from a mainly 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'.
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 & Evans 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." However, 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. Paul McCartney has conceded he may have been subconsciously influenced by the name on the gravestone. Bizarrely, the real Eleanor Rigby lived a lonely life similar to that of the person 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 their 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. The Rolling Stones' song 'Paint It Black' with its oblique reference to a funeral 'a line of cars...all painted black' was in the charts when the recording of 'Eleanor Rigby' was being completed.
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 Pete Shotton, Lennon's childhood friend, 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 utilizing notes ♭3, ♭6, and ♭7 in this scale. The lead melody, however, is taken primarily from the somewhat lighter Dorian mode, a minor scale with sharpened 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, rather than being a meaningless fluke.
An actual Eleanor Rigby was born in 1895 and lived in Liverpool, possibly in the suburb of Woolton, where she married a man named Thomas Woods. She died on 10 October 1939 at age 44. 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 ($250,000). 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.
"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 cellos, and two violas, 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. 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 vivid and raw sound; George Martin recorded two versions, one with and one without vibrato, the latter of which was used. McCartney's choice of a string backing may have been influenced by his interest in the composer Antonio Vivaldi, who wrote extensively for string instruments (notably "the Four Seasons"). 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 Paul'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 in an attempt to create a more "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 the eleventh spot.
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 (without the vocal) 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-oriented 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."
- 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
- Norman Jones – cello
- George Martin – producer, string arrangement
- Geoff Emerick – engineer
The following artists have recorded "Eleanor Rigby" in a variety of styles, at least 62 released on albums by one count:
- Rare Earth covered the song on their 1970 third album Ecology.
- Steve Allen recorded a narrative recitation version as a 1967 orchestrated album track (despite having criticised rock music during the 1950s and 1960s).
- El Chicano released a cover of the song on their 1970 debut album Viva Tirado. It was one of nine songs on the album that produced their first El Chicano hit single, "Viva Tirado".
- Doodles Weaver recorded a comedic version for the record Feetlebaum Returns! that was also included on the album Dr. Demento's Delights.
- Vanilla Fudge covered the song on their debut album Vanilla Fudge in 1967.
- 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.
- P.P. Arnold sang a cover of the song on her album The First Cut – The Immediate Anthology.
- The Free Design recorded a cover on their second album, You Could Be Born Again.
- Ray Charles released a version as a single and on his 1968 album A Portrait of Ray.
- Bobbie Gentry released a version on her 1968 album Local Gentry.
- Big Jim Sullivan did a sitar reworking of the song on his 1968 album Lord Sitar.
- Booker T and the MGs included an instrumental version on their 1968 Soul Limbo album release.
- Dutch group Sandy Coast recorded a version of the song which was released as a single in 1969 (POF 166).
- Tony Bennett released a version on his January 1970 album Tony Sings the Great Hits of Today!. Bennett was dismayed by having to record contemporary, rock-influenced material under pressure from his record company. His partly spoken take on the song was poorly received, with music writer Will Friedwald saying it was recited as if it were Thomas Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard and Time magazine describing it as "Shatneresque", making reference to Star Trek actor William Shatner's 1968 interpretation of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds".
- Aretha Franklin released a version as a single in 1969 and on her 1970 album This Girl's In Love With You.
- Jazz musicians such as the Jazz Crusaders, Wes Montgomery (on his 1967 album A Day in the Life), Stanley Jordan (on the 1985 album Magic Touch) and John Pizzarelli recorded it as an instrumental, with lead guitar taking over the vocal line. Jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi covered the song twice, on the 1968 album Vince Guaraldi and the San Francisco Boys Chorus and again on his 1970 album Alma-Ville.
- Australian band Zoot released a psychedelic rock version in 1970 that reached #4 on the Australian charts and went gold after its 1980 re-release.
- John Denver released a folk version on his 1970 album Whose Garden Was This.
- German group The Rattles recorded an almost 10 min version of the song for their 1971 album "The Rattles" (Decca SKL R 5088).
- Dutch group Dizzy Man's Band recorded an 8m 45s version of the song for their 1971 album Luctor et Emergo (CNR 657507).
- Jamaican musician, singer, songwriter and producer B.B. Seaton with the band The Gaylads recorded a reggae version of this song in 1972.
- Brazilian composer/singer Caetano Veloso recorded it on the 1975 album Qualquer coisa.
- Ahmad Jamal quotes the song in "Dynamo" on It's Magic.
- In 1975, Belgo-English progressive rock band Esperanto covered the song on their album Last Tango.
- German group Streetmark recorded the song for their 1975 album "Nordland" (Sky Records SKY 003). On the CD edition there is a Bonus track 'Da Capo' a variation on the "Eleanor Rigby" theme
- Wing And A Prayer Fife And Drum Corps recorded this song in their 1976 album Babyface.
- Cleo Laine and John Williams recorded the song for their 1976 LP collaboration Best Friends
- Ethel the Frog covered this song on a single recorded for EMI in 1979.
- Sarah Vaughan included a version on her 1981 LP Songs of The Beatles.
- The Jerry Garcia Band played an instrumental version as part of a medley with "After Midnight".
- Realm covered this song on their 1988 album Endless War.
- Junior Reid released a dancehall version of the song on his 1990 album One Blood.
- The Violet Burning released this song on their 1992 album, Strength.
- Wayne Johnson recorded an acoustic version of this song for his 1995 acoustic album Kindred Spirits.
- Shirley Bassey covered this song on her 1995 album Sings the Movies.
- Kansas recorded this song on their 1998 album Always Never the Same.
- Godhead recorded this song on their 2001 album 2000 Years of Human Error.
- Pain recorded this song on their 2002 album Nothing Remains the Same.
- Liane Carroll includes a version on her 2005 album Standard Issue.
- Thrice included a cover of the song in their album If We Could Only See Us Now in 2005.
- Twisted Sister guitarist Eddie Ojeda recorded a cover version of the song for his 2006 solo album Axes 2 Axes. Dee Snider performed the vocals.
- A cappella band Witloof Bay recorded this song on their album of the same name.
- A cover of the song by David Schommer (feat. David Jensen) can be found on the soundtrack for the 2006 movie Accepted.
- Elevator Suite included a cover in their 2007 self-titled album.
- In 2008, David Cook, winner of the seventh season of American Idol, sang the song on the show and later released a single via iTunes.
- In 1982, Twelfth Night recorded a 80s-style cover of this song for a single, and later included it as one of the bonus tracks on an extended edition of their Fact and Fiction album.
- The John LaBarbera Big Band recorded a version of this song on their CD On the Wild Side.
- Mark Wood released a version of this song on his 2003 album These Are a Few of My Favorite Things with his wife, Laura Kaye, on vocals.
- Ilan Rubin covered this song during his Coup recording sessions and released it as a free download.
- Chick Corea performed a cover of the song on the 1995 GRP tribute album (I Got No Kick Against) Modern Jazz.
- Charlotte Perrelli covered Monica Zetterlund’s Swedish cover, "Ellinor Rydholm", on her 2006 album I din röst.
- Father released a cover version in 2009 as a pre-single to their untitled second album.
- Joshua Bell released a cover version on the album At Home With Friends featuring Frankie Moreno.
- Outside Royalty released a cover version on the single "Lightbulb (Turning Off)" in 2009.
- The Ides of March on the album Vehicle as "Symphony for Eleanor." Apart from the lyrics it bears no similarity to the original, but is credited solely to Lennon–McCartney.
- Talib Kweli & LaToiya Williams released a cover of the song in 2004 entitled "Lonely People" on Kweli's The Beautiful Mix CD
- Michael Lynche covered the song on American Idol and released it as a single. He was the lowest vote getter but was then saved by the four idol judges.
- The Fray recorded an acoustic version of this song on the album Stripped Acoustic Set.
- Ja Rule recorded a hip-hop version of this song entitled "Father Forgive Me" on his 2008 album The Mirror.
- Soulive recorded an instrumental version for their album Rubber Soulive, an album of Beatles' covers.
- B.o.B recorded a song called "Lonely People", which features the actual "Lonely People" chorus.
- Greg Hawkes from his album, The Beatles UKE (2008)
- Tree Pit recorded a cover version in 2011 as an album pre release to their début album.
- Hank Williams Jr. recorded a cover version on the album High Notes.
- Tété recorded a cover version on his second album L'air de rien in 2001.
- Jared Evan released a cover version in 2011 as a promotional track for his album unCOVERED.
- L.A. rockers Margate recorded a punk version on their EP "Rock and Roll Reserve" in 2011.
- Swedish band PAIN made a cover for this song in 2002 and included it the album Nothing Remains the Same.
- The Chilean band Quilapayún realized an Andean version included on the official albums of the band in 1987 Survarío and in 1989 Quilapayún ¡en Chile!.
- Paul Jolley covered the song on American Idol. He was the lowest vote getter and was eliminated.
- In 2002 the Argentinean band O'Connor released a version on the album Dolarización.
- Sacred Rite covered this song for their 1986 album Is Nothing Sacred?.
- Al Di Meola covered the song on his 2013 album All Your Life.
- Walter (Wendy) Carlos covered the song on his,her 1975 album By Request
- Marty Gold covered the song on his 1969 album Moog Plays the Beatles
- The Four Tops recorded this song for their 1969 album The Four Tops Now!.
- The Supremes recorded this song in a live medley, together with The Temptations.
- Joe Jackson covered the track on his 2000 live album Summer in the City: Live in New York.
- Australian a cappella group The Idea of North sing a jazz version of "Eleanor Rigby" on their Live at the Powerhouse album.
- An electronic version appears on the Tangerine Dream album Dream Encores.
- Big Country played this live at Dingwalls in London in 1996 and the track can be found on the Eclectic CD/DVD.
- McCartney performed a live version of "Eleanor Rigby" at Citi Field in July 2009 in which he played acoustic guitar, and the string section was played on keyboard. This version can be found on that concert's recording Good Evening New York City.
- In 1994, Irish singer Sinéad O'Connor used the lyrics of the song's chorus for her song "Famine", which appears on Universal Mother. The song was later remixed and released as a single in 1995, and was a Top 40 UK hit.
- In 2000, Dru Hill frontman Sisqo sampled the "Eleanor Rigby" song on the hit single "Thong Song".
- In 2004, Brooklyn rapper Talib Kweli released "Lonely People", using "Eleanor Rigby" as the main sample.
- In 2006, mashup artist team9 created a remix of "Eleanor Rigby" using Queens of the Stone Age's "In My Head".
- In 2009, rapper The game sampled this song for his single "Dope Boys".
- In 2009 Producer J-Dilla sampled the live "Eleanor Rigby" cover by The Four Tops for Raekwon's "House of the Flying Daggers".
- In 2010, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra used the opening harmony as a guitar riff in their live performances of the "Gutter Ballet Medley," which also features a cover version of The Beatles' "Help!".
|UK Singles Chart||1|
|Canadian CHUM Chart||1|
|US Billboard Hot 100||11|
|UK Singles Chart||63|
- UK, starting 11 August 1966: 8-1-1-1-1-3-5-9-18-26-30-33-42
- UK, starting 30 August 1986: 63-81
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- The Eleanor Rigby statue in Liverpool, England
- Eleanor Rigby tombstone photo and info
- Cover version w/Mandolins & Strings
- Manuscript Reveals Clues to Beatles Eleanor Rigby
- Biography of the real Eleanor Rigby
- Full lyrics of this song at MetroLyrics