Paul McCartney said The Beatles‘ “Eleanor Rigby” has a “madcap connection” to a character from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Despite this, the Psycho character doesn’t actually have much in common with the protagonist of “Eleanor Rigby.” Notably, John Lennon said the hit was inspired by the music of a famous composer.
Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ inspired The Beatles’ ‘Eleanor Rigby’ lyrically and musically
During a 2021 interview with The New Yorker, Paul discussed the origins of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.” “It did feel like a breakthrough for me lyrically — more of a serious song,” he recalled. “[Producer] George Martin had introduced me to the string-quartet idea through ‘Yesterday.’ I’d resisted the idea at first, but when it worked I fell in love with it. So I ended up writing ‘Eleanor Rigby’ with a string component in mind. When I took the song to George, I said that, for accompaniment, I wanted a series of E-minor chord stabs. In fact, the whole song is really only two chords: C major and E minor.
“In George’s version of things, he conflates my idea of the stabs and his own inspiration by Bernard Herrmann, who had written the music for the movie Psycho,” Paul added. “George wanted to bring some of that drama into the arrangement. And, of course, there’s some kind of madcap connection between Eleanor Rigby, an elderly woman left high and dry, and the mummified mother in Psycho.”
The mother from Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ is not sympathetic like Eleanor Rigby
Norma Bates, the mother in Psycho, is similar to The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby in that both characters are pathetic in their own way. However, Eleanor Rigby is sympathetic. Generations of listeners have empathized with her loneliness.
On the other hand, Norma Bates is a villain. She was an abusive mother and her memory causes her son, Norman Bates, to kill innocent people. The original Psycho doesn’t portray her in a sympathetic light and its belated sequel Psycho II, isn’t any kinder to her. While Paul was able to draw a connection between these two characters, it’s unlikely many Beatles or Hitchcock fans would.
John Lennon said George Harrison came up with the hook of The Beatles’ song
The book All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono features and interview from 1980. In the interview, John was asked about “Eleanor Rigby.” He said that he, not Paul, was the primary composer of the track. He said Paul wrote the first verse while he wrote the rest of the verses. In addition, John credited George with the famous “Ah, look at all the lonely people” hook.
He didn’t connect the tune’s lyrics or instrumentation to Psycho at all. Instead, he said the string section of “Eleanor Rigby” was inspired by Paul’s love of the composer Antonio Vivaldi. In John’s recollection, Paul’s girlfriend, Jane Asher, got the “Silly Love Songs” singer interested in Vivaldi.
“Eleanor Rigby” is one of The Beatles’ best songs and it appears the inspiration for it came from several different places.
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