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"Eleanor Rigby"

Categories: Beatles songs

Launched simultaneously with Revolver as "Yellow Submarine"'s double-A, "Eleanor Rigby" revealed yet another facet of Mr McCartney's ongoing quest to become 'the complete composer', a man for all tastes.

Whereas Paul had at least provided the acoustic guitar on "Yesterday", this time the track has none of the band playing on it: although Lennon and Harrison do sing backing vocals. A double string quartet — in itself an unusual ensemble — served as the only accompaniment to Eleanor's sad story, though it was originally composed on the piano. In the YS movie, it went on to provide a perfect backdrop for the sub's brief tour round the town where they was born ('a lonely place on a Saturday night: and this is only Thursday morning').

The sophisticated structure, once again the fruit of George Martin's efforts, really helps to set the sombre tone of the tale. His 'strings only' version is featured on Anthology 2 (psimilarities to Psycho entirely intentional), and he subsequently interwove it with the vocal mix to marvellous effect forty years later, on LOVE. It also seems to've become one of the fave Fab raves for house/techno remixers, for some reason or other...

Where do they all come from?!!

Lyrically as well as musically, it's a fine example of McCartney's developing maturity as a composer. It's hard to imagine him having come up with a line like wearing a face that she keeps in a jar by the door even a few months earlier. And, while John and George are normally considered to be the social critics of The Beatles, Paul's indictment of the Church's apathy for the plight of the needy here is as sharp as the needle with which Father McKenzie nonchalantly darns his hol(e)y socks:

No one was saved.

OK, I do realise that darning needles are normally blunt, but you get the point. It's also worth considering that — aside from the folkies — not many folk were actually singing songs about folk dying back in mid-'66. It had contemporary critics scratching their heads to find a stylistic label to stick on it.

But just where did "all the lonely people" really come from? George Harrison actually contributed the line: and Paul was quite convinced that he had invented the characters' names, having tried out various combinations during the song's evolution. He discovered years later, however, that both Eleanor Rigby and someone called McKenzie — like the priest who laid her to rest in the song — have their tombstones in a Liverpool graveyard which he and John had hung around in together during their teenage years, skiving off school.

Just a memory lapse, or inspiration from the great beyond?

Either way, it had Macca rattled for a while — and has left us with one of his most haunting themes for good measure.
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