- Album Songs recorded during this session officially appear on the Revolver (UK Mono) LP.
- EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road
More from year 1966
Some songs from this session appear on:
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This was the fifteenth day of the recording sessions for the “Revolver” album, focused on Paul McCartney’s track “Eleanor Rigby“. This was not a conventional Beatles session as none of the Beatles played any instrument on this track (only Paul and John Lennon attended the session). Instead, an octet of studio musicians, comprising four violins, two violas and two cellos, was invited into the studio to perform a score composed by George Martin.
This was a short session lasting from 5 pm to 7:50 pm. Fourteen takes of the backing track were recorded with take 14 deemed the best. From Wikipedia:
Whereas “Yesterday” is played legato, “Eleanor Rigby” is played mainly in staccato chords with melodic embellishments. McCartney, reluctant to repeat what he had done on “Yesterday”, explicitly expressed that he did not want the strings to sound too cloying. For the most part, the instruments “double up” – that is, they serve as a single string quartet but with two instruments playing each of the four parts. Microphones were placed close to the instruments to produce a more biting and raw sound. Engineer Geoff Emerick was admonished by the string players saying “You’re not supposed to do that.” Fearing such close proximity to their instruments would expose the slightest deficiencies in their technique, the players kept moving their chairs away from the microphones until Martin got on the talk-back system and scolded: “Stop moving the chairs!” Martin recorded two versions, one with vibrato and one without, the latter of which was used.
Paul came round to my flat one day and he played the piano and I played the piano, and I took a note of his music. I was very much inspired by Bernard Herrmann, in particular a score he did for the Truffaut film Farenheit 451. That really impressed me, especially the strident string writing. When Paul told me he wanted the strings in ‘Eleanor Rigby’ to be doing a rhythm it was Herrmann’s score which was a particular influence.George Martin – From The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions by Mark Lewisohn, 2004
I remember showing this to George Martin. We’d already done ‘Yesterday,’ so this was like, ‘I think this song can suit (strings).’ But instead of a quartet, it was now an octet just to do something a bit different. And I brought it in like…(demonstrates on piano)…and then George would show me. He said, ‘Well, ok, that’s sort of rock ‘n’ roll, it’s all pretty much in one octave.’ He would then say, ‘Ok, so the cello would go there and then the viola would go there and then…’ So he would seperate all of the notes and that’s the fabulous orchestration that he did.
About the absence of piano:
That was the thing because, y’know, ‘Yesterday’ had just been the one guitar, so we decided we’d kind of try and go a little bit further and just have this and then I would sing to this, y’know. So I’d showed George (Martin) the chords, he would then transpose it.Paul McCartney – From McCartney 3,2,1 documentary series, 2021 – Transcribed by beatlesebooks.com
On ‘Eleanor Rigby’ we miked very very close to the strings, almost touching them. No one had really done that before; the musicians were in horror.Geoff Emerick – From The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions by Mark Lewisohn, 2004
There was also a bit of stress during the recording of “Eleanor Rigby,” though for an entirely different reason. After hearing Paul play this beautiful song on acoustic guitar, George Martin felt that the only accompaniment that was necessary was that of a double string quartet: four violins, two violas, and two cellos. Paul wasn’t immediately enamored of the concept – he was afraid of it sounding too cloying, too “Mancini” – but George eventually talked him into it, assuring him he would write a string arrangement that would be suitable.
“Okay, but I want the strings to sound really biting,” Paul warned as he signed off on the idea. I took note of what he said and began thinking of how to best accomplish that.
String quartets were traditionally recorded with just one or two microphones, placed high, several feet up in the air so that the sound of the bows scraping couldn’t be heard. But with Paul’s directive in mind, I decided to close-mic the instruments, which was a new concept. The musicians were horrified! One of them gave me a look of disdain, rolled his eyes to the ceiling, and said under his breath, “You can’t do that, you know.”
His words shook my confidence and made me start to second-guess myself. But I carried on regardless, determined to at least hear what it sounded like.
We did one take with the mics fairly close, then on the next take I decided to get extreme and move the mics in really close – perhaps just an inch or so away from each instrument. It was a fine line; I didn’t want to make the musicians so uncomfortable that they couldn’t give their best performance, but my job was to achieve what Paul wanted. That was the sound he liked, and so that was the miking we used, despite the string players’ unhappiness. To some degree, I could understand why they were so upset: they were scared of playing a bum note, and being under a microscope like that meant that any discrepancy in their playing was going to be magnified. Also, the technical limitations at the time were such that we couldn’t easily drop in, so they had to play the whole song correctly from beginning to end every time.
Even without peering through the control room glass, I could hear the sound of the eight musicians sliding their chairs back before every take, so I had to keep going down there and moving the mics back in closer after every take; it was comic, really. Finally, George Martin told them pointedly to stop moving off mic. In the end, the players did a good job, though they clearly were annoyed, so much so that they declined an invitation to listen to the playback. We didn’t really care what they thought, anyway – we were pleased that we had come up with another new sound, which was really a combination of Paul’s vision and mine.Geoff Emerick – From “Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles“, 2006
Downstairs at Abbey Road, the eight guys assembled and they did it live… I would go down and say ‘hi’ and listen to it down there, which is always nice first. There you go up and see what the engineers are making of it. Y’know, they’d put it all together, put the right little bits of fairy dust on it and they now made it like a record!Paul McCartney – From McCartney 3,2,1 documentary series, 2021 – Transcribed by beatlesebooks.com
I got about £5 [ie the standard Musicians’ Union session fee which was £9] and it made billions of pounds. And like idiots we gave them all our ideas for free.Stephen Shingles – Viola player – From The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions by Mark Lewisohn, 2004
‘Eleanor Rigby’ stemmed from the Psycho score [Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 horror], and that’s why it’s such strident strings… I can’t think of another song by a band which just has strings or voices on it which isn’t seen as prog or classical. It’s very unusual. It doesn’t seem like an odd song because it’s so familiar, but it really is.”
People don’t realise how [George Martin] was heavily involved in the concept of how it should be. It’s like punk strings, and when you hear the sessions, you hear how collaborative the whole thing is. My dad had a great turn of phrase, the way he says to the players ‘we won’t use vibrato unless you have something to say’. It’s such a pleasant way of putting it.Giles Martin – From The Beatles’ ‘Revolver’: inside the remixed release with Giles Martin (nme.com), October 24, 2022
At the end of the session, a tape reduction mix (named take 15) was created to have the string section reduced to one track and allow for voice overdubs (which would be recorded on the following day).
Last updated on October 22, 2023
The definitive guide for every Beatles recording sessions from 1962 to 1970.
We owe a lot to Mark Lewisohn for the creation of those session pages, but you really have to buy this book to get all the details - the number of takes for each song, who contributed what, a description of the context and how each session went, various photographies... And an introductory interview with Paul McCartney!
The second book of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC)-nominated series, "The Beatles Recording Reference Manual: Volume 2: Help! through Revolver (1965-1966)" follows the evolution of the band from the end of Beatlemania with "Help!" through the introspection of "Rubber Soul" up to the sonic revolution of "Revolver". From the first take to the final remix, discover the making of the greatest recordings of all time.
Through extensive, fully-documented research, these books fill an important gap left by all other Beatles books published to date and provide a unique view into the recordings of the world's most successful pop music act.
If we like to think, in all modesty, that the Paul McCartney Project is the best online ressource for everything Paul McCartney, The Beatles Bible is for sure the definitive online site focused on the Beatles. There are obviously some overlap in terms of content between the two sites, but also some major differences in terms of approach.