There is an interesting prompt for today’s Song Lyric Sunday from our host Jim Adams. He has asked us to find a song from a band that broke up and we wished they were still together. I have had to go to the first band that I loved as a pre-teen, The Beatles. When they broke up, well, it was the end of the world. At the time we were all in love with the look, the sweet music and of course easily swept up with the hysteria known as Beatlemania. I couldn’t understand why the Beatles would want to break up and I hated Yoko Ono for ruining everything. Of course I now know that they wanted to pursue their experimental music instead of playing for audiences who never heard them anyway because of the screaming.
Lennon and McCartney were amazing songwriters but It wasn’t until much later, after I had watched the Beatles Anthology and other documentaries, that I realized how much George Martin, their record producer, influenced their music and recordings. He was affectionately known as the “Fifth Beatle”
So my choice of song today is Eleanor Rigby which features an amazing string section, one of George Martin’s ingenious contributions. Hope you enjoy it.
Paul McCartney wrote most of this song. He got the name “Eleanor” from the actress Eleanor Bron, who appeared in the 1965 Beatles film Help!. “Rigby” came to him when he was in Bristol, England, and spotted a store: Rigby and Evens Ltd Wine and Spirit Shippers. He liked the name “Eleanor Rigby” because it sounded natural and matched the rhythm he wrote.
McCartney explained at the time that his songs came mostly from his imagination. Regarding this song, he said, “It just came. When I started doing the melody I developed the lyric. It all came from the first line. I wonder if there are girls called Eleanor Rigby?”
McCartney wasn’t sure what the song was going to be about until he came up with the line “picks up the rice in a church where a wedding has been.” That’s when he came up with the story of an old, lonely woman. The lyrics “wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door” are a reference to the cold-cream she wears in an effort to look younger.
The song tells the story of two lonely people. First, we meet a churchgoing woman named Eleanor Rigby, who is seen cleaning up rice after a wedding. The second verse introduces the pastor, Father McKenzie, whose sermons “no one will hear.” This could indicate that nobody in coming to his church, or that his sermons aren’t getting through to the congregation on a spiritual level. In the third verse, Eleanor dies in the church and Father McKenzie buries her.
“Father Mackenzie” was originally “Father McCartney.” Paul decided he didn’t want to freak out his dad and picked a name out of the phone book instead.
After Eleanor Rigby is buried, we learn that “no one was saved,” indicating that her soul did not elevate to heaven as promised by the church. This could be seen as a swipe at Christianity and the concept of being saved by Jesus. The song was released in August 1966 just weeks after the furor over John Lennon’s remarks, “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now.”
For the most part, the song eluded controversy, possibly because the lilting string section made it easier to handle.
A string section scored by Beatles producer George Martin consisting of four violins, two violas and two cellos were used in recording. Paul may have been inspired by the classic composer Vivaldi.
The Beatles didn’t play any of the instruments on this track. All the music came from the string players, who were hired as session musicians.
Paul McCartney recounted this song’s origin story in a 2018 interview with GQ. He said: “When I was really little I lived on what was called a housing estate, which is like the projects – there were a lot of old ladies and I enjoyed sitting around with these older ladies because they had these great stories, in this case about World War II. One in particular I used to visit and I’d go shopping for her – you know, she couldn’t get out. So I had that figure in my mind of a sort of lonely old lady.
Over the years, I’ve met a couple of others, and maybe their loneliness made me empathize with them. But I thought it was a great character, so I started this song about the lonely old lady who picks up the rice in the church, who never really gets the dreams in her life. Then I added in the priest, the vicar, Father McKenzie. And so, there was just the two characters. It was like writing a short story, and it was basically on these old ladies that I had known as a kid.”
In Observer Music Monthly, November 2008, McCartney said: “These lonely old ladies were something I knew about growing up, and that was what ‘Eleanor Rigby’ was about – the fact that she died and nobody really noticed. I knew this went on.”
There is a gravestone for an Eleanor Rigby in St. Peter’s Churchyard in Woolton, England. Woolton is a suburb of Liverpool and Lennon first met McCartney at a fete at St. Peter’s Church. The gravestone bearing the name Eleanor Rigby shows that she died in October 1939, aged 44. However Eleanor was not like the lonely people in McCartney’s song, as she was married. Another of the gravestones there has the word “McKenzie” written on it. McCartney has denied that that is the source of the names, though he has agreed that they may have registered subconsciously.
Ah, look at all the lonely people Ah, look at all the lonely people Eleanor Rigby Picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been Lives in a dream Waits at the window Wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door Who is it for? All the lonely people Where do they all come from? All the lonely people Where do they all belong? Father McKenzie Writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear No one comes near Look at him working Darning his socks in the night when there's nobody there What does he care? All the lonely people Where do they all come from? All the lonely people Where do they all belong? Ah, look at all the lonely people Ah, look at all the lonely people Eleanor Rigby Died in the church and was buried along with her name Nobody came Father McKenzie Wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave No one was saved All the lonely people (ah, look at all the lonely people) Where do they all come from? All the lonely people (ah, look at all the lonely people) Where do they all belong? Writer/s: John Lennon, Paul McCartney Publisher: Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC Lyrics licensed and provided by LyricFind