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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Eleanor Rigby/Yellow Submarine

The album Revolver was released in August of 1966.  On the same day, two songs from that album were also released as a single.  For the second time, the Beatles' brain trust decided to make it a double A-sided single, unsure which song would fare better in the charts.  As before, the results were mixed in the UK and the US.  Two more dissimilar songs could not be found, although Paul McCartney was the principal composer of both.  Yet they serve as an ideal representation of the album from which they were drawn.

Eleanor Rigby - This brilliant composition is another over which Lennon and McCartney disagree as to who wrote what.  Lennon claims that Paul had the only started on the lyrics, and John then took over and pretty much finished the song.  Most others say that John actually had little to do with the song at all.  Writers generally regard it as a McCartney piece.  The music is definitely his, but it is certainly an uncharacteristic lyric for Paul - about as bleak a portrait of loneliness and alienation as one could imagine, and an unlikely subject for a hit single.

In addition to the outstanding music and lyrics, the recording is graced by a remarkable arrangement by George Martin.  This time, he writes for an octet, creating a stunningly sharp, syncopated backdrop for Paul's vocal.  Martin has said that he was inspired by Bernard Herrmann's score for the Truffaut film Fahrenheit 451, but unless he heard it months before it was released, this is highly unlikely.  Whatever the source of his inspiration, his work is so good that it is presented on Anthology 2 without vocal the track, so it can be appreciated for itself.

John and George add harmony to the line "Ah, look at all the lonely people" the first few times through, making this a true Beatles' recording, unlike Yesterday.

Yellow Submarine - At the opposite end of the spectrum, McCartney wrote this song for Ringo, which can be regarded as a children's tune, a pub singalong or even a psychedelic anthem.  It immediately became a signature piece for the Beatles' drummer, displacing the rockabilly numbers and fast rockers which he had previously sung.

The recording is an absolute lark, with all involved having a blast.  Sound effects abound to create the feeling of the submarine - chains being swirled in watery tubs, bells ringing and, best of all, John way off mike shouting out orders and mirroring Ringo's lines for the final verse.  Everybody in the studio joins in for the last chorus, with Beatles' assistant Mal Evans banging away on a marching band's bass drum.

There was originally a somewhat curious and altogether unnecessary preamble to the song which was later omitted at the mixing stage.  It can be heard (along with some additional sound effects) on the EP Real Love, released in 1996 after Anthology 2.  It features Ringo speaking about walking from Land O'Groats to John O'Green with the sound of marching feet behind him.

In the UK, Eleanor Rigby was a number one hit.  However, in the US, the song only rose to number eleven.  Yellow Submarine was the bigger hit in the States, but just missed out on the top spot, stalling at number two.

Only several months later, Brian Epstein and United Artists agreed to produce a feature-length animated film based on the song Yellow Submarine.  Eleanor Rigby would also be used for what is perhaps the best musical sequence in that film.

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