The Beatles: Paul McCartney Changed the Lyrics of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ Because of His Dad

Paul McCartney wrote a set of lyrics for The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” which John Lennon liked. Despite this, Paul decided to change the lyrics of the song because of his father. Paul said he played an early version of “Eleanor Rigby” while taking music lessons as an adult.

Paul McCartney and his father, James McCartney, sitting near a coffee table
Paul McCartney and his father, James McCartney | Keystone/Getty Images

Why The Beatles’ Paul McCartney took piano lessons in his 20s

Paul wrote an essay for The New Yorker in which he discussed writing “Eleanor Rigby.” Paul was dating actor Jane Asher, and Asher’s mother arranged for him to take piano lessons. He revealed he played an early instrumental version of “Eleanor Rigby” during the lessons.

“When I was in my early twenties, Jane’s mum, Margaret, organized lessons for me with someone from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where she worked,” Paul recalled. “I even played “Eleanor Rigby” on piano for the teacher, but this was before I had the words. At the time, I was just blocking out the lyrics and singing ‘Ola Na Tungee’ over vamped E-minor chords. I don’t remember the teacher being all that impressed. The teacher just wanted to hear me play even more scales, so that put an end to the lessons.”

Jane Asher and Paul McCartney in front of a group of people
Jane Asher and Paul McCartney | Bettmann / Contributor

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John Lennon liked an early ‘Eleanor Rigby’ lyric that Paul McCartney changed because of his father

When Paul wrote the lyrics for “Eleanor Rigby,” it took him some time to get them right. “Initially, the priest was ‘Father McCartney,’ because it had the right number of syllables,” Paul wrote. “I took the song to John at around that point, and I remember playing it to him, and he said, ‘That’s great, Father McCartney.’ He loved it. I wasn’t really comfortable with it, because it’s my dad — my father McCartney — so I literally got out the phone book and went on from ‘McCartney’ to ‘McKenzie.'” Paul felt the song was a lyrical breakthrough for him because of its serious tone.

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The way the world reacted to The Beatles’ ‘Eleanor Rigby’ with the new lyrics

“Eleanor Rigby” became a massive hit. The track peaked at No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100, staying on the chart for eight weeks. Its parent album, Revolver, was even more successful. It topped the Billboard 200 and lasted on the chart for 85 weeks.

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“Eleanor Rigby” became even more popular in the United Kingdom. The Official Charts Company reports it topped the charts in the U.K. when The Beatles released it as a double A-side with “Yellow Submarine.” “Eleanor Rigby” and “Yellow Submarine” lasted on the chart for 13 weeks. Meanwhile, Revolver peaked at No. 1 and lasted on the chart for 34 weeks.

“Eleanor Rigby” inspired a statue of the same name in Liverpool, England, as well as a sequence in the Beatlesque Cirque du Soleil show Love. “Eleanor Rigby” remains a classic Beatles song even if Paul was initially uncomfortable with its lyrics.