For years, when interviewers asked Paul McCartney how he came up with the name Eleanor Rigby for the song of the same name, he told the true story of how he knew someone named Eleanor and knew the name Rigby from somewhere else and put them together.
Now… if I told you that in the cemetery of the churchyard where McCartney and John Lennon first met as teenagers, there are a tombstone with the name Eleanor Rigby on it, would you believe me?
Yes – it’s true! And Paul McCartney knows it as well.
At some point, someone pointed out this strange fact to him and although he doesn’t remember ever seeing that particular name in the churchyard cemetery, he acknowledges that it’s true. He doesn’t know if the song title is simply coincidence or if he saw the name as a teenager and it remained lodged in the back of his mind somewhere, only to resurface years later when he was looking for a character’s name in his new song.
Well, in any case, Eleanor Rigby is a great song for we pianists to play and there are many ways to approach it. We can play it jazzy, as Chick Corea does. Or we can take a cue from George Martin’s string arrangement on the Beatles’ recording and keep with the classical feel. The modality of the song over the E pedal point also lends itself to an almost Renaissance-era dance style, and it also sounds great with gospel and blues overtones.
You find some inspiration for each of these interpretations on the Eleanor Rigby page in my Improvising Pianist’s Guide To The Beatles. I’ve also included a video to give you an idea of how to get your audience participating, even when playing an instrumental piano solo version of the tune!
You’ll find the page HERE.
Enjoy trying out the various ways you can play this great and surprisingly flexible song. By doing so, you’ll also find yourself improving as a pianist.
Good luck and have fun!