|Sheet music for Eleanor Rigby, drawn by Klaus Voorman|
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the song, Eleanor Rigby. It is a song that is still much loved among fans of the Beatles as well as music fans in general. Paul McCartney sang it in his 1984 film "Give my Regards to Broadstreet" and continues to perform the song in concert to this day.
Paul began writing the song earlier in 1966 and explained to Hunter Davies in a 1966 interview how he got the idea:
‘I was sitting at the piano when I thought of it. Just like Jimmy Durante. The first few bars just came to me. And I got this name in my head – Daisy Hawkins, picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been. I don’t know why. …
So as the legend goes---Eleanor Rigby started off as Daisy Hawkins. However, that doesn't really fit with the tune and Paul was looking for another name. He didn't have to look far---he was acquainted with a woman named Eleanor, as he explains,
We were working with Eleanor Bron on ‘Help!’ and I liked the name Eleanor…I’d seen her at Peter Cook’s Establishment Club in Greek Street, then she came on the film ‘Help!’ so we knew her quite well, John had a fling with her…it was the first time I’d ever been involved with that name.”
So the first name of the lonely woman in his song was set, but how about that last name, Rigby?
In January of 1966, Paul was visiting Jane in Bristol when she was doing a play and saw a wine and spirits shop with a good name
I was in Bristol when I decided Daisy Hawkins wasn’t a good name. I walked round looking at the shops and I saw the name Rigby. You got that? Quick pan to Bristol. I can just see this all as a Hollywood musical ...
‘Then I took it down to John’s house in Weybridge. We sat around, laughing, got stoned and finished it off. I thought of the backing, but it was George Martin who finished it off. I just go bash, bash on the piano. He knows what I mean.
And that is the story Paul has always told about Eleanor Rigby. He even says in his 1966 interview with Hunter Davies,
‘All our songs come out of our imagination. There was never an Eleanor Rigby.
But Paul was very wrong about that. There WAS an Eleanor Rigby and she lived in Liverpool. She was born in 1895 and died at the age of 44 in 1939, before any of the Beatles were even born. The odd thing about this is not that Ms. Rigby had lived in Liverpool and died there, the strange thing is that she was buried at the cemetery located next to St. Peter's church in Woolton.
Her grave stone is actually very close to John Lennon's uncle George's grave. Of course this was the very church where Paul McCartney first met John Lennon during the church fete. Who would have ever thought that the place where Lennon and McCartney met had on the grounds the name "Eleanor Rigby?" Surely Paul had seen the name on the tombstone and wrote the story around the name?
Paul has always denied this has he said in 2000,
"It was either complete coincidence or in my subconscious, “I suppose it was more likely in my subconscious, because I will have been amongst those graves knocking around with John and wandering through there. It was the sort of place we used to sunbathe, and we probably had a crafty fag in the graveyard…but there could be 3000 gravestones in Britain with Eleanor Rigby on. It is possible that I saw it and subconsciously remembered it…So subconscious it may be – but this is just bigger than me. I don’t know the answer to that one. Coincidence is just a word that says two things coincided. We rely on it as an explanation, but it actually just names it – it goes no further than that. But as to why they happen together, there are probably far deeper reasons that our little brains can grasp.”
I have always just thought this was a really, really strange coincidence and just chalked it up to yet another "strange but true" story of the Beatles.