By the mid-1960s, John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote their songs apart, but they turned to each other for help perfecting them. According to Lennon, he helped a great deal with some of McCartney’s most popular songs. He explained that while one song was McCartney’s “baby,” he helped write all but the first verse.
John Lennon said he helped Paul McCartney write most of ‘Eleanor Rigby’
McCartney began working on “Eleanor Rigby” based on the image of someone picking up rice after a wedding. He believed this was so poignant that he wanted to write a song about loneliness.
When asked about the song, Lennon said it was “Paul’s baby, and I helped with the education of the child.” By this, he meant that the song would never have grown and matured if it hadn’t been for him.
“Ah, the first verse was his and the rest are basically mine,” Lennon said in the book All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview With John Lennon and Yoko Ono. “But the way he did it … Well, he knew he had a song. But by that time he didn’t want to ask for my help, and we were sitting around with Mal Evans and Neil Aspinall, so he said to us, ‘Hey, you guys, finish up the lyrics.’”
Lennon bristled at the way he asked, but he ultimately helped McCartney finish the song.
“[H]e had the story and knew where it was going. So we had to work out, ‘Well, is there anybody else in this story?’ We came up with Father McCartney for a bit, but Paul said his dad would be upset, so we made it into McKenzie, even though McCartney sounded better. And then we went on to new characters … It’s hard to describe, even with the clarity of memory, the moment the apple falls. The thing will start moving along at a speed of its own, then you wake up at the end of it and have this whole thing on paper, you know? Who said what to whom as we were writing, I don’t know.”
The Beatles’ bassist shared where he got the inspiration for ‘Eleanor Rigby’
McCartney spoke of the inception of “Eleanor Rigby,” noting that the early imagery drove the song’s direction.
“I wrote ‘Eleanor Rigby’ when I was living in London and had a piano in the basement,” he said in The Beatles’ Anthology. “I used to disappear there and have a fiddle around, and while I was fiddling on a chord some words came out: ‘Dazzie-de-da-zu picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been…’ This idea of someone picking up rice after a wedding took it in that poignant direction, into a ‘lonely people’ direction.”
As Lennon noted, McCartney had already invented the character of Eleanor Rigby when he asked for help on the song. McCartney explained that long after writing the song, he learned that Eleanor Rigby was a real person. Her name was on a headstone in a graveyard where he used to smoke with Lennon. He believes he subconsciously took note of her name.
John Lennon said Paul McCartney and George Harrison came up with a significant line
McCartney spoke about how the first line set up the song to be about loneliness. According to Lennon, George Harrison played an important role in this as well.
“I do know that George Harrison was there when we came up with [sings] ‘Ah, look at all the lonely people,’” he said. “He and George were settling on that as I left the studio to go to the toilet, and I heard the lyric and turned around and said, ‘That’s it!’”