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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Eleanor Rigby

The headstone pictured above is in the graveyard at St. Peter's, Woolton, very close to the spot where Paul first saw John and his band the Quarry Men at the Woolton Fete in 1957.  Yet McCartney claims that he got the name from two other sources - Eleanor Bron, the band's co-star in the film Help! and a shop he saw in Bristol called Rigby & Evens Ltd.

The greater debate, however, concerns who contributed to the song and how large those contributions were.  Lennon claims that Paul only had the first verse and that he (John) wrote the rest.  Most others agree that in the course of a brainstorming session at John's house one evening Ringo came up with the "darning his socks" line and that John's old Liverpool school chum Pete Shotten suggested having Eleanor and Father MacKenzie's stories intertwine in the final verse, an idea which John immediately dismissed but which Paul eventually embraced.

Once again, all arguments aside, the results are what matter, and Eleanor Rigby stands out as one of the finest accomplishments in the entire Beatles catalog.  The storytelling device would be used often by McCartney as the years went by, but he rarely wove a tale so bleak as this striking commentary on loneliness and alienation.

Paul met with producer George Martin early on during the sessions for the album Revolver to play the composition for him and to discuss how he wanted it to be arranged.  Martin's score was prepared by April 28th, 1966 as they met at Abbey Road Studios with the eight musicians who would perform the arrangement.  These musicians were horrified as engineer Geoff Emerick placed the microphones much closer to the strings of their instruments than was normal in order to capture their sound as never before.

On the following day, Paul taped his lead vocal and John and George their brief backing vocals.  The track was then considered to be complete until Paul decided to add a second vocal line of himself singing "Ah, look at all the lonely people" during the final chorus.  This addition was recorded on June 6th.

The song was not intended to be a single, but manager Brian Epstein wanted a single to accompany the release of the album Revolver, so the number was chosen along with Yellow Submarine to appear simultaneously in both formats.  The double-A sided single went to number one in the UK, but this song only reached number eleven in the US while the flip side climbed to the number two spot.

The two songs were forever linked together when the animated film Yellow Submarine used Eleanor Rigby to great effect in a sequence depicting life in an English seaport city.  While the song did not appear on the original Yellow Submarine album in 1969, it was remixed and remastered for the 1999 Yellow Submarine Songtrack.  Between those two releases, Anthology 2 in 1996 treated us to a strings-only version, allowing us to truly appreciate the brilliance of George Martin's score as well as Geoff Emerick's engineering genius.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Eight Days A Week

Where did McCartney first hear the phrase?  From a chauffeur driving him over to John's house for a writing session?  Was it another Ringo-ism?  According to at least one source, the phrase appears in the American film For Those Who Think Young released in June of 1964.  Regardless of where he got them, the words "eight days a week" inspired Paul to come up with the best pure pop number on the album Beatles For Sale.

Paul wasn't aiming for an album track, though; he was thinking of the song as the group's next single.  The sessions for the album-in-progress had yielded two strong contenders from Lennon so far - No Reply and I'm A Loser - but these weren't really the stuff of singles from the Beatles in the latter half of '64, especially on the heels of the buoyant songs from A Hard Day's Night earlier in the year.  Eight Days A Week would fit the bill perfectly.

But first, there was the little matter of writing and recording the song.  The session on October 6th, 1964 was entirely devoted to the number, in part because Paul and John did not have the arrangement completely worked out in advance, particularly the introduction.  Anthology 1 gives us a few variations of the intro including cascading "ooh"s by Paul and John, and a long, single "ooh" before we hear the full take five.  This, too, has variations such as the way they sing the title line and some aggressive drum fills by Ringo.

Take six began with the instrumental introduction we all know (though played at full volume, of course) and had the boys settling on the way they wanted to sing the title line.  After a brief break, multiple takes of overdubs began, the most notable being the handclaps and John's double-tracked vocal line, which is curious since the composition is primarily by McCartney.

They were still uncertain about the introduction as well as the ending of the song, which at this point was quite abrupt.  At the start of a session on October 18th, Paul, John and George tried another take of "ooh"s as a new intro, but it was deemed insufficient.  In his book Here, There and Everywhere, Geoff Emerick credits his predecessor as engineer Norman Smith coming up with the idea of simply fading up the intro as it presently stood.  The band then approximated that introduction for a more rousing conclusion to the song.  Later in this same session, a new Lennon song called I Feel Fine was recorded and chosen to be the next single, so Eight Days A Week suddenly wound up as an album track.

Capitol Records knew a single when it heard one, however, so the American label kept the song off of the album Beatles '65 (the US equivalent to Beatles For Sale) and held onto it for a few months, releasing it in February of '65 where it promptly became a number one hit.

Lennon was always dismissive of the song, despite his part in helping McCartney write it and the fact that his voice is the dominant one in the final mix.  His opinion probably kept the number from making it into the group's live act.  The one and only time that they promoted the song was on an appearance on the TV show Thank Your Lucky Stars taped on March 28th, 1965.  They merely mimed their performance to the record and, as you can see in the photo at the top of this post, didn't even bother to plug in their guitars.