UNITED KINGDOM: Also released as a single August 5, 1966 (the same day as the album). On August 10 it entered the chart at No. 2; a week later it was No. 1, where it stayed for four weeks. The Long and Winding Road: An Intimate Guide to the Beatles
UNITED STATES: Also released as a single August 8, 1966 (the same day as the album). It entered the Top 40 September 10, climbed to No. 11, and spent six weeks in the Top 40. The Long and Winding Road: An Intimate Guide to the Beatles and Billboard
AUTHORSHIP McCartney (.7), Lennon (.15), Harrison (.05), Starr (.05), and Shotton (.05)
Written on the upright piano in Mrs. Asher's music room in the basement of Wimpole Street. Mrs. Asher had found someone from the Guildhall School of Music to give Paul piano lessons; it was an idea that he often toyed with but, as before, he was not interested in putting in the homework necessary and also still had a nagging doubt that it might inhibit his composing technique to know the 'right' way to do things.
McCARTNEY: "I wrote it at the piano, just vamping an E-minor chord; letting that stay as vamp and putting a melody over it, just danced over the top of it. It has almost Asian Indian rhythms."
Paul played the tune for his piano teacher but had no name for the tune. At the time Paul often dropped in on Donovan, since he and his flatmate Gypsy Dave lived nearby in Maida Vale, and Donovan remembered hearing it in its unfinished state.
DONOVAN: "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/Blow his mind in the dark/With a pipe full of clay/No-one can say.'
"It was 'Eleanor Rigby' but the right words had not come yet. Lots of songwriters put in any old words to sketch in the lyric."
Back at Cavendish Paul carried on tinkering with the lyric.
McCARTNEY: "I was just mumbling around and eventually came up with these words: 'Picks up the rice in a church where a wedding has been'. Those words just fell out like stream-of-consciousness stuff, but they started to set the tone of it all, because you then have to ask yourself, what did I mean? It's a strange thing to do: most people leave the rice there, unless she's a cleaner. So there's a possibility she's a cleaner, in the church, or is it a little more poignant than that? She might be some lonely spinster of this parish who's not going to get a wedding, and that was what I chose. So this became a song about lonely people.
"I knew quite a lot about old people. I was a Boy Scout and I often visited local pensioners as a good deed. I used to think it was the right thing to do - I still do, actually - but what I'm saying is, I wasn't ashamed to go round and ask someone if they wanted me to go to the doctor's for them or to help old ladies across the road. It had been instilled into me that that was a good deed. So I sat with lots of old ladies who chatted about the war and all this stuff, and also, as I fancied myself as a writer, a part of me was getting material. There was a corner of my brain that used to enjoy that kind of thing, building a repertoire of people and thoughts. Obviously writers are always attracted to detail: the lonely old person opening her can of catfood and eating it herself, the smell of the catfood, the mess in her room, her worrying always about cleaning it up, all the concerns of an old person.
"I'm told that there's a gravestone with Eleanor Rigby on it in the graveyard in Woolton where John and I used to hang out, but there could be 3000 gravestones in Britain with Eleanor Rigby on. It is possible that I saw it and subconsciously remembered it, but my conscious memory was of being stuck for a name and liking the name Eleanor, probably because of Eleanor Bron, who we knew and worked with around that time. I'd seen her at Peter Cook's Establishment Club in Greek Street, then she came on the film Help! so we knew her quite well, John had a fling with her. I liked the name Eleanor. I wanted a genuine second name. I'm big on names, always have been, so I was very fussy to get the correct name and I was in Bristol on a visit to see Jane Asher at the Old Vic, and just walking round the dock area I saw an old shop called Rigby, and I thought, 'Oooh'. It's a very ordinary name and yet it's a special name, it was exactly what I wanted. So Eleanor Rigby. I felt great. I'd got it! I pieced all the ideas together, got the melody and the chords, then took it out to John because I hadn't finished all the words. And he and I worked on it.
"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 looked 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 it 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
McCARTNEY: "Well that started off with sitting down at the piano and getting the first line of the melody, and playing around with words. I think it was 'Miss Daisy Hawkins' originally; then it was her picking up the rice in a church after a wedding. That's how nearly all our songs start, with the first line just suggesting itself from books or newspapers.
"At first I thought it was a young Miss Daisy Hawkins, a bit like 'Annabel Lee,' but not so sexy; but then I saw I'd said she was picking up the rice in church, so she had to be a cleaner; she had missed the wedding, and she was suddenly lonely. In fact, she had missed it all - she was the spinster type.
"Jane [Asher] was in a play in Bristol then, and I was walking 'round the streets waiting for her to finish. I didn't really like 'Daisy Hawkins' - I wanted a name that was more real. The thought just came: 'Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice and lives in a dream' - so there she was. The next things was Father Mackenzie. It was going to be Father McCartney, but then I thought that was a bit of a hang-up for my dad, being in this lonely song. So we looked up through the phone book. That's the beauty of working at random - it does come up perfectly, much better than if you try to think it with your intellect.
"Anyway there was Father Mackenzie, and he was just as I had imagined him, lonely, darning his socks. We weren't sure if the song was going to go on. In the next verse we thought of a bin man, an old feller going through dustbins; but it got too involved - embarrassing. John and I wondered whether to have Eleanor Rigby and him have a thing going, but we couldn't really see how. When I played it to John we decided to finish it.
"That was the point anyway. She didn't make it, she never made it with anyone, she didn't even look as if she was going to." Beatles in Their Own Words
McCARTNEY: "I got the name Rigby from . . . a shop called Rigby. And I think Eleanor was from Eleanor Bron, the actress we worked with in film [Help!]. But I just liked the name. I was looking for a name that sounded natural. Eleanor Rigby sounded natural." Playboy (December 1984)
McCARTNEY: "Then I took it down to John's house in Weybridge. We sat around, laughing, got stoned, and finished it off." September 1966, The Beatles: Illustrated and Updated Edition
In The Beatles: A Celebration, Tom McKenzie, the Beatles' compere, or emcee, from February 1962 to July 1963, claims "Father MacKenzie" was named after him.
LENNON: "So we made it into MacKenzie, even though McCartney sounded better . . ." September 1980, All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono
LENNON: "I wrote a good lot of the lyrics, about 70 percent." Hit Parader (April 1972)
"The first verse was his and the rest are basically mine. . . .
"He had the whole start . . . he had the story and knew where it was going. . . . I do know that George Harrison was there when we came up with 'Ah, look at all the lonely people.' He and George were settling on that as I left the studio to go to the toilet, and I heard the lyric and turned around and said, 'That's it!' " September 1980, All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono
McCARTNEY: "I saw somewhere that [John] says he helped on 'Eleanor Rigby.' Yeah. About half a line." May 3, 1981, The Beatles: Illustrated and Updated Edition
Instrumental backing was recorded April 28, 1966, at Abbey Road. Vocals were overdubbed April 29, and another McCartney vocal was added June 6.
McCARTNEY: "I thought of the backing, but it was George Martin who finished it off. I just go bash, bash on the piano. He knows what I mean." September 1966, The Beatles: Illustrated and Updated Edition
McCARTNEY: lead vocal (occasionally double-tracked)
LENNON: harmony vocal
HARRISON: harmony vocal
SESSION MUSICIANS: four violins, two violas, two cellos
LENNON: "The violins backing was Paul's idea. Jane Asher had turned him on to Vivaldi, and it was very good." September 1980, All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono
Ringo had a flat that he was not using at 34 Montagu Square, and Paul rented it from him to use as a studio.
McCARTNEY: "It ended up being of more practical use to me, really. I thought, let [William] Burroughs do the cut-ups and I'll just go in and demo things. I'd just written 'Eleanor Rigby' and so I went down there in the basement on my days off on my own. Just took a guitar down and used it as a demo studio."
WILLIAM BURROUGHS: "I saw him there several times. The three of us talked about the possibilities of the tape recorder. He'd just come in and work on his 'Eleanor Rigby'. Ian [Sommerville] recorded his rehearsals so I saw the song taking shape."
Paul recorded most of the demo versions of "Eleanor Rigby" at the experimental recording studio that he had set up in Marylebone. Burroughs admired how much narrative Paul was able to pack into just a few lines. Paul also played it to Marianne Faithfull and Mick Jagger after they had rejected his offer of "Etcetera".
McCARTNEY: "Marianne was much more interested in 'Eleanor Rigby' but I had to say, 'No, I want that one'." Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now
COMMENTS BY BEATLES
McCARTNEY: "I remember thinking to myself, 'What am I going to do when I'm thirty?' Thirty was the big age. Will I still be in a group? I remember being round at John Dunbar's house, having a very clear vision of myself in a herringbone jacket with leather elbow patches and a pipe, thinking 'Eleanor Rigby', this could be a way I could go, I could become a more serious writer, not so much a pop writer. It was the first inklings of what I'm starting to get into now, writing a solo piano piece, writing a piece for classical orchestra or the Liverpool Oratorio. I never did get into it then, I just stayed in pop. But I remember imagining myself with the patches, thinking, 'Yes, it wouldn't be bad actually'. But quite a good thing - at the terrible old age of thirty." Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now
LENNON: "Ray Charles did a great version of this. Fantastic." Hit Parader (April 1972)
COMMENTS BY OTHERS
STUDS TERKEL, author: " 'Eleanor Rigby' I found a fantastic study of loneliness." Crawdaddy (November 1974)