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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.

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