Jack Whatley·June 22, 2020 Far Out
The range of inspiration from which The Beatles’ principal songwriters Paul McCartney and John Lennon drew their song ideas from is wide and extremely varied. However, even the most diehard fans would be surprised to learn that one particular classic Fab Four song was influenced by Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Psycho.
As well as drawing inspiration from literature, lovers and everyday life, seemingly it was also perfectly within Paul McCartney’s wheelhouse to also find his muse in the most terrifying of places, horror films.
McCartney’s prowess for songwriting is not to be underestimated, the singer and bassist has long since been heralded as one of the best British songwriters of all time. Drawing inspiration from across the human spectrum, Macca also once revealed that Alfred Hitchock’s horror classic Psycho influenced one of his most beloved songs, ‘Eleanor Rigby’.
We will add the quick caveat that Macca was not intrinsically drawn to the character of the murderous Norman Bates, it was instead the film’s iconic score which acted as the instigating moment for McCartney, convincing him that strings could be “edgy” and a perfect fit for the song.
The score, written by Bernard Herrmann, is one of the most recognisable in cinema history and it was an avant-garde moment for the 1960 feature film. Herrmann took the previously heralded classical instrument, the warm violin and turned it into a violent weapon, capable of putting any person on edge—who can forget the piercing shower scene.
Having been so ingrained in the musical world for such a long time, it feels strange that McCartney could be so dismissive of classical music. But it took the singer watching Hitchcock’s masterpiece for him to be convinced of the genre’s capabilities.
He took his inspiration to George Martin, the Beatles’ producer extraordinaire, who recalled: “He [Paul] came to me with ‘Eleanor Rigby,’ which cried out for strings.” Martin said the strings shouldn’t be “the smooth, legato stuff of ‘Yesterday,’ but something very biting…[and] very edgy.” McCartney handed over the score for Psychoto Martin as a spark of influence.
Martin took the score, along with another Herrmann soundtrack, this one for François Truffaut’s film adaptation of Fahrenheit 451, and began to work diligently on the strings for ‘Eleanor Rigby’. Both scores combined strings with electronic instruments and Martin was keen to introduce a degree of bit and a “tight rhythm.”
Psycho may well have completed the track but the first line of the song was inspired from something very different indeed. “It just came. When I started doing the melody I developed the lyric. It all came from the first line. I wonder if there are girls called Eleanor Rigby?” We imagine there certainly are now! The luscious trace is beautifully mirrored in the lyrics which depict the story of a lonely old woman.
One of many great McCartney tracks from Revolver—arguably his best showing on record for the band—the song is a continuation with Macca’s fascination with the unloved and forgotten. As well as shining a light on those lost stories, McCartney always puts a mirror to our actions and asks if we’ve done enough.