The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby was released simultaneously on the 1966 album Revolver and on a double A-side single with Yellow Submarine. It was written primarily by Paul McCartney, although all of the Beatles (together with friend Pete Shotton and producer George Martin) contributed ideas to finish the song.
McCartney said he came up with the name ’Eleanor’ from actress Eleanor Bron (with whom they had worked in the Beatles film Help! whilst he’d seen the name ‘Rigby’ on a Bristol shop sign and liked how ‘real’ it sounded. However, there is an Eleanor Rigby buried in the graveyard of a Liverpool church close to where Lennon and McCartney first met and she is widely regarded as the subconscious inspiration behind the song.
Eleanor Rigby – which some have described as a kind of ‘baroque pop’ – continued the transformation of The Beatles from a mainly rock-and-roll / pop-orientated act to a more experimental, studio-based band. The combination of the song’s use of modes (and what Paul described as ‘almost Asian-Indian rhythms’), its unusual accompaniment and poignant lyrics about loneliness, marked a real departure from popular music conventions.
One of the most striking features about Eleanor Rigby is its double string quartet accompaniment: indeed, none of The Beatles plays in the song. In the recording studio the musicians were instructed to play without vibrato and their instruments – much to their horror – were miked up at very close range in order to produce the biting sound that Paul was after.
Eleanor Rigby spent four weeks at the top of the British charts, but – perhaps hampered by John Lennon’s infamous “We’re more popular than Jesus” comment – reached only No. 11 in America.
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