Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney
Released: August 5, 1966
Appears on: Revolver
Lead vocal: Paul
"Eleanor Rigby" is...something else. If there ever was a time when you wanted Eric Idle to walk in and say "And now for something completely different" between two Beatles songs, it is right here - right during that second of silence between "Taxman" and "Eleanor Rigby".
I can't possibly remember the first time I heard "Eleanor Rigby", but even today, after giving Revolver more spins than any other record, it still feels jarring, even more so than "Yesterday" being sandwiched between a folk song and a show-stopping cover.
The song details the life of a lonely woman who, as seen in the first verse, looks for love despite never being an outgoing person. She waits at the window, wearing a face that she keeps in a jar by the door, but no one is going to come. The second verse uses a rather ingenious film technique. It throws us into the situation of another, entirely different character...or so we believe. In reality, Father McKenzie (Paul apparently did want to say McCartney, but cooler heads prevailed, thankfully) is just like Eleanor - another lonely person, who writes a sermon no one will hear and fixes (that's what darning is) his socks in the night when there's nobody there. For the final verse, the two characters come together, like in so many films where two characters are introduced separately (Pulp Fiction being an obvious example). Eleanor has died and was buried along with her name. Nobody came. McKenzie finishes burying Eleanor, seemingly with his own hands (wiping the dirt from his hands). No one was saved, meaning that McKenzie has failed, as a priest, to do his job. Paul's chorus is equally as bizarre as his verses. All the lonely people, where do they all belong? You mean to tell me that there are more people who have lives as dreary as Eleanor and McKenzie? It certainly puts it into perspective. Paul means to tell us that these two are just caricatures - there are lonely people who live and die everyday and these are just two. We cannot know who they all are and most of the time they die and go on with their lives without notice.
George Martin wrote the orchestral backing for an octet that backs up Paul (and John & George's harmonies), providing the song with an air of classicism - almost as if the song could have been recorded at any point from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries. None of the Beatles play any instruments on the song. This just proves that the Beatles continued expanding out of the box. "Yesterday" included just a string quartet, but now Paul was open to doubling that and "Eleanor Rigby" was a perfect fit for that.
"Eleanor Rigby" was chosen as the single for Revolver, sharing the double-A sided distinction with another song that seemed completely against the Beatles' image as rock stars. The single reached #1 on both sides of the Atlantic and in the UK, it was released on the same day as Revolver. Since then, it has appeared on practically every compilation (save for Rock 'n' Roll Music and Reel Music obviously).
Like "Yesterday", this is a brilliant song - one that you can get stuck in your head forever - but, to me, it doesn't represent the best of the Beatles. There are many more brilliant songs on Revolver that more properly do so.