John Lennon on completing Eleanor Rigby's lyrics for Paul McCartney: "It's his first verse, and the rest of the verses are basically mine"

Paul McCartney and John Lennon in 1966
(Image credit: Bettmann / Getty)

It's 1966, and Paul McCartney has penned one of the Beatles' most poignant tracks as the band transition from ruling the world's stages to pushing the boundaries of rock arrangement and recording technology.

Or rather, according to John Lennon in 1980, "It's his first verse, and the rest of the verses are basically mine. But the way he did it was... he knew he'd got the song, so rather than ask me, 'John, do these lyrics' because, by that period, he didn't want to say that to me, okay..."

As Lennon recalls the song's completion in a 1980 Playboy interview, it's clear that while the facts may be in dispute - in 1997 McCartney said "John helped me on a few words but I'd put it down 80–20 to me" - the collaboration between pop's greatest songwriters was already strained, at least as far as John was concerned.

"So what he said was, 'hey, you guys, finish up the lyrics', while he was fiddling around with the tracks or arranging it, at the other part of the giant studio and EMI. 

"Now, I was sat there with Mal Evans, a road manager, who was a telephone installer, and Neil Aspinall who was a not-completed student accountant, who became our road manager."

"And I was insulted and hurt that he'd thrown it out in the air, but I wanted to grab a piece of it and I wrote it with them sitting at the table. 

"So you know, there might be a version that they contributed, but there isn't a line in there that they put in. That's the kind of insensitivity he would have which made me upset in the later years, because to him that meant nothing. That's the kind of person he is. 

"So he threw 'em out - "Here, finish these up" - like to anybody who was around, but he actually meant I was to do it. But Neil and Mal were sitting there. 

"We had the first lines about 'Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice...'. And we worked in a room together on it somewhere, to finish up a verse and a bit and then the rest of it was finished off in the studio. with me sitting at the table, thinking 'How dare you throw it in the air like that?'"

On 5 August 1966, Eleanor Rigby was released as one half of a double A-side single with Yellow Submarine on the same day as its host album, the Beatles' seminal Revolver.

Paul McCartney and John Lennon in 1966

A gravestone in the churchyard of St.Peter's church in Woolton, Liverpool, England. It was at St Peter's Church Hall in July 1957 that Paul McCartney first met John Lennon, who was then performing with the Quarrymen. (Image credit: Jim Dyson / Getty)
Will Groves

I'm lucky enough to be MusicRadar's Editor-in-chief while being, by some considerable distance, the least proficient musician on the editorial team. An undeniably ropey but occasionally enthusiastic drummer, I've worked on the world's greatest music making website in one capacity or another since its launch in 2007. I hope you enjoy the site - we do.