Eleanor Rigby

 

Eleanor Rigby” (released in 1966)  was written by Paul McCartney and credited to  Lennon / McCartney

The song continued the Beatles’ evolution from a pop, live-performance band to a more experimental, studio-orientated band It was a very important move forward. both musically and lyrically, marking a  break with the optimism of the band’s earlier work, and in its place presented an almost unbearably dark cynicism

Paul McCartney wrote most of this song. He got “Rigby” from the name of a store in Bristol, (Rigby & Evens Ltd, Wine & Spirit Shippers) and “Eleanor” from actress Eleanor Bron. who had starred with them in the film   Help!.  He liked the name “Eleanor Rigby” because it sounded natural. However, it has been pointed out that a graveyard in St. Peter’s Churchyard in Woolton, Liverpool, where John Lennon and Paul McCartney first met at a  garden fete in 1957, contains the gravestone of a woman called Eleanor Rigby. McCartney may have been subconsciously influenced by that  name.

The gravestone bearing that name shows that Eleanor Rigby died in 1939, at the age of 44. However Eleanor was not.  She was born on 29 August 1895 and lived in  Liverpool,  where she married a man named Thomas Woods on Boxing Day 1930, so she was not  like the lonely people in the song. She died on 10 October 1939 and was buried three days later.

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; it was then sold at auction in November 2008 for £115,000.  This  document is a  salary register from Liverpool City Hospital, and “E. Rigby” is identified as a scullery maid.

Another of the gravestones in that churchyard has the word “McKenzie” written on it. Paul said that the name Father McCartney was the first that went to his mind. But then he  thought that people would think he was referring to his father sitting knitting his socks, so he  went through the telephone book and picked out  the name “McKenzie”.

This is the only Beatles song where none of the Beatles play an instrument. They only sing while a string ensemble plays on.  McCartney’s choice of a string backing may have been influenced by his interest in the classic composer Vivaldi..

“Eleanor Rigby” was  not the first pop song to deal with death and loneliness, but it  came as a shock to pop listeners in 1966.  Its message of depression and desolation was very  explicit, and the  loneliness described  didn’t mean  just missing the loved one, which is a standard pop theme, but represented  a spiritual dimension.

The song tells the story of two lonely people :a  churchgoing woman named Eleanor Rigby, who is seen cleaning up rice after a wedding and a pastor whose sermons “no one will hear”, either because  nobody goes to his church, or  because they don’t get through to the congregation on a spiritual level. In the third verse, when Eleanor dies in the church, Father McKenzie buries her:  they only meet at her  funeral

Former US President Bill Clinton has stated that this is his favorite Beatles song

 

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