Nov 212014

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

“Eleanor Rigby,” the second track on the Beatles’ Revolver album, may be the most atypical Beatles single. No Beatle played a note on it; instead, they were backed by a small string ensemble. Released as a single, it was the flip side of “Yellow Submarine,” and could not have been more diametrically opposed to that children’s song. It was a song not of love, but of loneliness and death, one that ran counter to their Fab-Four-moptop image. To quote Alan W. Pollack, a musicologist who gave close readings of all the Beatles’ songs, “As one of the most ‘serious’ pieces of the entire Beatles’ canon, this song straight-facedly vaporized several commonly supposed limitations of what the two-minute AM-radio pop/rock musical genre might be capable of including within its purview and power of expression. Pigeon-hole terms, such as Crossover, Fusion, or Hybrid, somehow don’t seem to do it justice.”

Paul McCartney, the main force behind the song’s authorship, started out writing about Miss Daisy Hawkins before changing her name to Eleanor Rigby; years later, a gravestone was found in a Liverpool cemetery, mere yards from where John first met Paul, with that very name on it, and now the world knows more about her than it will about any of us. Paul then tossed the song out for others to add to it. George came up with the “Ah, look at all the lonely people” hook; Ringo, the “darning his socks in the night” line. John’s friend Pete Shotton suggested bringing the song’s protagonists together at the end. John, who later admitted to being embittered by his songwriting partner throwing out the song for just anybody to finish, later claimed he wrote more than half the lyrics. “About half a line,” Paul responded years later.

It may have been cobbled together, but with the help of George Martin’s score and pathos like the top 40 had never seen, “Eleanor Rigby” quickly landed on the list of immortals. It has, of course, garnered any number of covers; Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin hold the crowns as king and queen of the interpreters, but even they couldn’t convince the world that the definitive covers had been done and nobody else should try (not that they ever would). Here are five other tries.

Blonde on Blonde – Eleanor Rigby (The Beatles cover)

Named, of course, after the Dylan LP, Blonde on Blonde was prog before prog was cool. Their 1969 debut album Contrasts recasts “Eleanor Rigby” so that it sounds like the work of a Renaissance traveling band.

The Free Design – Eleanor Rigby (The Beatles cover)

The Free Design brought sophisticated sunshine pop to the masses, but the masses didn’t realize it until two or three decades after the fact. Today, they’re recognized as the vocal pioneers they are, in small but significant circles. This cover of “Eleanor Rigby” comes from their second album, 1969’s prophetically titled You Could Be Born Again.

Dirt Poor Robins – Eleanor Rigby (The Beatles cover)

The Dirt Poor Robins’ CD The Cage is subtitled “An Entirely New, Interesting, Spectacular and Rare Display of Grand and Epic Picturesque Soundscapes that will Dazzle your Senses with a Tremendous and Astonishing Array of Tones.” They’re not wrong. Their cover of “Eleanor Rigby” moves the song from concert-hall piece to Broadway-stage rock.

Soulive – Eleanor Rigby (The Beatles cover)

The soul jazz trio Soulive released an instrumental all-Beatles cover album, Rubber Soulive, in 2010. It’s not all Rubber Soul songs; rather, it touches on albums from Help! to Abbey Road, moving in a smooth, sinuous glide. “Eleanor Rigby” shows them at their tightest and strongest.

Gene Chandler – Eleanor Rigby (The Beatles cover)

There’s more to Gene Chandler than “Duke of Earl” – he had a number of soul hits in the ’60s, many of them written by Curtis Mayfield. His cover of “Eleanor Rigby” uses the same backing track as Jackie Wilson’s version, but where Wilson showed curious restraint, sounding like he was on the outside looking in, Chandler moves in perfect synch with the music’s hints of danger, becoming a part of the story he tells.

If you don’t have Revolver by now, end your shame by getting it from iTunes or Amazon.

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  12 Responses to “Five Good Covers: Eleanor Rigby (The Beatles)”

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  1. What a great mix of interpretations some real special stuff here. Great work



  2. To quote Yoda:

    “There is another”
    Search For “PKM” (Pee Wee Watson, Kenny Soule, and Michael Gardner). I don’t know of any digital versions I can link to, but you missed a most unique interpretation, who’s dark and heavy sound, angry drums and fierce guitar, end with a scream that rings in your ears long after the song is over.

  3. I agree with Joe Galatha about PKM and their version of Eleanor Rigby. I’ve been searching for years for a digital version to replace the cassette tape my brother has in his possession. That version has haunted me since I first heard it in the 80’s and is the holy grail of MP3’s that I’m looking for. I once got in contact with Kenny Soule but had no luck in getting a digital version from him, he was amazed I even knew of it!

  4. I do agree about PKMs version of this song. A few years ago, David Cooke performed this on American idol and I was stunned at how similar it was to PKMs version. Hard and heavy. Would like to get my hands on the digital version as well.

  5. Joe ,Kevin and Mike I just went to a benefit show for Michael Gardner. Kenny and PeeWee were there of course plus a bunch of other Awesome Musicians. I stopped at the merchandise table and they had a reissue of one of their albums on CD and as I picked it up I was praying pretty pretty please let Eleanor Rigby be on it. AND IT WAS it was 5$. I’ll see if I can find the info for you to buy a copy of your own.

  6. If you have never heard Australian band Zoot perform their cover of Eleanor Rigby – check it out here; 70’s prog rock at its best

  7. I don’t know how, but I’ve always had the cover by PKM on my iPod. So I’m gonna try to upload it to Youtube soon.

  8. Big Country’s version is the best I’ve ever heard.–6mzw3eo

  9. Did Godsmack ever do Eleanor Rigby ?

  10. Joan Baez does a very good cover version.. however the best cover version I’ve heard ( and I’m a massive Beatles fan) is by Anita Harris. It’s well worth checking out

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