Advantages Deeply affecting, superbly orchestrated
Disadvantages None, except that it's not the most cheerful of songs
|Quality of Lyrics/Music|
|How does it compare to the artist's other releases?||Outstanding|
It won't come as any surprise to most people to hear that this is a Paul McCartney composition, although as usual it's credited to "Lennon-McCartney". It tends to be "Yesterday" that gets all the attention, but although that's a lovely ballad, this is a better one. On the most basic level, it tells the story of the titular Rigby, who dies forgotten and lonely "along with her name" – even at a wedding, all she is able to do is "pick up the rice" from the floor; the implication being that it's as close as she herself will ever come to marriage. Even the priest, Father McKenzie, seems more interested in "darning his socks in the night" than in working on the sermon.
Unlike most Beatles songs, "Eleanor Rigby" does not feature backing instrumentation from any of the band members. Instead, a professional group of string musicians was brought in to provide the wistful, thought-provoking sounds that run through the song. It is said that McCartney decided on this after his then wife, Jane Asher, had introduced him to the classical music of Vivaldi, and the influences of the latter composer are certainly well in evidence. In contrast, the "front sounds" are sharp and staccato, emphasising the uncomfortable nature of the song's message.
This song was released in 1966, both on the album "Revolver" – which some people consider an even greater work than "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" – and on a double A-sided single, together with the fun but infinitely lesser "Yellow Submarine". The album was of course a worldwide sensation, but the single did not do as well in the United States as might have been expected, not even cracking the top ten. Back home, The Beatles' name was still a virtual guarantee of success, and the record sat at the top of the charts for four weeks.
In the animated film "Yellow Submarine", the sequence containing this song begins with a sunset over the rooftops of Liverpool – with the distinctive tower of the Liver Building rising above all – then, as the camera descends, the massed ranks of chimney-pots take on the identity of ships' funnels, and the mournful note of a foghorn takes us down further, into the graveyard where Eleanor Rigby herself lies buried. I'm not sure the animation really works – the tiny Beatles figures moving around cut-out gravestones remind me too much of Terry Gilliam's work for "Monty Python"!
Despite this little niggle, however, the song itself is a stunning piece of work, and has rightly taken its place – like, indeed, "Yesterday" itself – as one of those Beatles tunes that has become almost a standard. It offers both succour to the lonely and a warning to others not to neglect them; it has a powerful message of "not passing by on the other side", and it has some of the most beautiful orchestration of any song the Fab Four ever put out. In fact, "Eleanor Rigby" manages that rare feat of being a song which, once you've heard it, you can't believe hasn't always been there.
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