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I find it hard to say nice things about “Eleanor Rigby,” recorded 50 years ago today. This is the result a longstanding aversion to Paul McCartney’s more pretty-pretty pop songs, which I think are generally overrated in comparison to some of The Beatles lesser-known, more interesting songs (mostly John’s and George’s). In the interest of scholarly objectivity, I have been trying to get over this, with mixed success.

But taken on its own terms, “Eleanor Rigby” is actually — grrr (grits teeth) — a really good song. More than just a plain pop tune, it has a truly haunting quality, due in large part to those strings. George Martin says the arrangement was inspired by film composer Bernard Herrmann, and while he cites Fahrenheit 451, I hear more than a touch of Psycho in those shrieking violins. You can hear an isolated string track on Anthology 2 if you’re so inclined.

The string sound on “ER,” apparently, was the result of some unusual recording techniques. Geoff Emerick:

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 [to make the sound “biting”] in mind, I decided close-mic the instruments, which was a new concept. The [classical session] 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.”

Which would have been a good name for his book, but he went with Here, There and Everywhere, for obvious reasons.

So all things considered I will give “Eleanor Rigby” the benefit of the doubt, though I do think that its placement on Revolver is a bit questionable. After all the lovely momentum generated by “Taxman,” it brings things to a bit of a grinding halt. Here’s an idea, boys: Let’s put “Rain” in this spot on the album, and make “Eleanor” a double A-side with “Paperback Writer.” What? It’s already 50 years later? Oh, well, never mind.