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Paul McCartney and John Lennon created a fascinating narrative when they wrote “Eleanor Rigby.” The story revolves around two characters who live tragic lives filled with loneliness. While the story is fictional, the origin behind the track has some truth and a haunting connection that McCartney discovered years later. 

Paul McCartney based ‘Eleanor Rigby’ on a few old ladies he knew

paul McCartney performs at Save Mart center in Fresno, California on his One on One Tour
Paul McCartney | Steve Jennings/Getty Images

“Eleanor Rigby’ is a depressing song by The Beatles, who typically write upbeat, optimistic music. In an interview with GQ, Paul McCartney said that the idea for the story of “Eleanor Rigby” was based on an old lady he knew in his hometown of Liverpool. He thought this idea of a lonely old woman would make for an intriguing character. 

“When I was really little, I lived on what we call a housing estate, which is like a project. There were a lot of old ladies,” McCartney explained. “And I enjoyed sitting down with these older ladies because they had these great stories, and in this case, about World War II. One in particular who I used to visit, and I’d go shopping for her, she couldn’t get out. So, I remember her. So, I had that figure in my mind of a sort of lonely old lady. 

“And over the years, I’d met a couple of others. I don’t know,” McCartney continued. “Maybe their loneliness made me sort of empathize with them. I thought it was a great character. So, I started the song about the lonely old lady who picks up the rice in the church who never really gets her dreams in her life. Then, I added in the priest, the vicar.”

The name ‘Eleanor Rigby’ has a haunting connection to McCartney’s hometown

McCartney told GQ that the inspiration for the name of the song came from his real-life surroundings. He used Eleanor as the first name for the character after working with the actor Eleanor Bron. The surname came when he found a shop in Bristol that said Rigby. However, it wasn’t until years later that McCartney discovered an eerie connection between the song and Liverpool. 

“Years later, somebody else is researching this, and they said, ‘You know, in that village where John used to live, there’s a graveyard in the church, and there is a gravestone there to an Eleanor Rigby.’ So, I said, ‘Did I subconsciously know that name? Why would I go around searching for it? I don’t know. I think it’s maybe a coincidence.”

McCartney initially named the priest ‘Father McCartney’


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The second character in “Eleanor Rigby” is a priest named Father McKenzie. However, Paul McCartney initially wanted to name the character Father McCartney. He later changed his mind and looked through the phone book with John Lennon, eventually stumbling upon McKenzie. 

“In the song, I originally had Father McCartney, but when I came to finish it up with John, I brought it to John, and we were playing it around, and I said, ‘I don’t want it to be Father McCartney because it’s like my dad and it’s a bit confusing,’” McCartney said. “He said, ‘No, it’s fine.’ I said, ‘No, I don’t like it…’ So we got the phonebook, and we just sort of went right down to McCartney, McCartney, McCartney, and looked for something, Mc-something. And the next one was McKenzie. And I said, ‘That’s better.’”