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13th September 1964: Beatles Paul McCartney (left) and John Lennon (1940 - 1980) at the Variety Club Showbusiness Awards held at the Dorchester, London. (Photo by William Vanderson/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Like many Beatles‘ songs, there’s the story and then there’s another version of the story… a theory if you will.  This is the story and the theory behind The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.”  It is widely believed that Paul McCartney wrote most of “Eleanor Rigby.”  However, years later Lennon and McCartney disputed who had written more of the song. The song tells the story of two lonely people: Eleanor Rigby and Father McKenzie.

Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name
Nobody came
Father McKenzie wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave
No one was saved

Paul McCartney said that he came up with the first name from an actress. The last name came from a wine store.  However, years later, a gravestone with the name “Eleanor Rigby” was noticed in a cemetery. The cemetery connected to the church where Paul and John Lennon first met.  Another stone in the same cemetery says “McKenzie.”

The Beatles didn’t play ANY of the instruments on this track.  Session musicians came in to handle the strings. Four violins and two cellos made up the recording.

The Origin of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby”

Paul talked about the origin of “Eleanor Rigby” in an interview with GQ in 2018, “When I was really little I lived on what was called a housing estate, which is like the projects – there were a lot of old ladies and I enjoyed sitting around with these older ladies because they had these great stories, in this case about World War II. One, in particular, I used to visit and I’d go shopping for her – you know, she couldn’t get out. So I had that figure in my mind of a sort of lonely old lady.

“Over the years, I’ve met a couple of others, and maybe their loneliness made me empathize with them. But I thought it was a great character, so I started this song about the lonely old lady who picks up the rice in the church, who never really gets the dreams in her life. Then I added in the priest, the vicar, Father McKenzie. And so, there were just the two characters. It was like writing a short story, and it was basically on these old ladies that I had known as a kid.”

“Eleanor Rigby” May Have Originally been “Miss Daisy Hawkins”

“Miss Daisy Hawkins” is rumored to have been the original working title for “Eleanor Rigby.”  Multiple sources including, say that Paul first played the song for his neighbor and the words were “Ola Na Tungee, blowing his mind in the dark with a pipe full of clay.”  I researched this further and found that in The Beatles: In Their Own Words, Paul addresses this:

“‘Eleanor Rigby’ started off with sitting down at the piano and getting the first line of the melody and playing around with the words. I think it was ‘Miss Daisy Hawkins’ originally; then it was her picking up the rice in a church after a wedding. That’s how nearly all of our songs start, with the first line just suggesting itself from books or newspapers.”

Eleanor Rigby
Picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream
Waits at the window
Wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for?

Side note: the “face that she keeps in a jar by the door,” was a nod to cold creams meant to help with aging.

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Donielle Fynn is a Michigan native with two kids, two dogs, two cats, a love of yoga, and all things classic rock.

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