Sunday, November 6, 2011

Look At All The Lonely People


Although never much of a fanatic for The Beatles, for some reason their 1966 song 'Eleanor Rigby' has always been a must-hear-at-least-every-few-weeks kinda song. Recorded for their pre-psychedelia album Revolver, it captured a mood of despair that was immaculately underplayed by an incidental movie music-type arrangement of a string quartet. Throw in the comedown Tuesday lyrics "waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door" and you've got what's known as 'haunting'.

And then there were the covers... give the song a unique singing voice and a spartan arrangement and it can't go that wrong. [But there are those who can make it ordinary, see B.o.B.'s 'Lonely People', The Fray's overwrought reading and Twisted Sister's Eddie Ojeda doing a metal take on it.]

Having first heard the song as recorded in 1970 by Adelaide mod-turned-heavy-rock band Zoot, it was a crap-your-pants moment to discover that 'Eleanor Rigby' was not originally intended as a metal anthem. Years later another moment was had to find out that between the original recording and Zoot's version, a dozen or so major artists had tackled the song. There were the mandatory psych-out covers (Vanilla Fudge), soul renderings (Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles), spoken word re-imaginings (Steve Allen, Tony Bennett) and, of course, folk takes (Bobby Gentry, The Free Design, Joan Baez).

But it's the version by PP Arnold that has lodged itself as the one-that-must-be-heard-above-all-others. Released in 1968, at a time when the young British singer was working with The Small Faces (that's her on 'Tin Soldiers'), starting out on a career that would lead to her having a house hit with Beatmasters, singing with KLF, forming a musical partnership with ex-Blockhead Chaz Jankel, becoming Roger Waters' back-up vocalist and using Primal Scream as her backing band. With a CV like that, her 'Eleanor' is as you'd expect: simple, soulful and depressing as all shit. Although Richie Havens had recorded it in a similar style in 1967, Arnold's voice possessed a purity and innocence that made the lyrics ever-so-much-more of a downer. [Australian Idol winner Casey Donovan was once scolded by knuckle-jockey judge Dicko for attempting a soul version of 'Eleanor Rigby', screeching that no one should ever mess with a Beatles song... would like to hear him say that to PP Arnold, Sarah Vaughan, Shirley Bassey and the others who have 'messed' with it.]

And, in recent years more and more versions have made themselves known: from a recent Soulwax  'Tour De Eleanor Rigby' cut-up of Kraftwerk and The Beatles' original, through to another 1968 version, this time by Booker T And The MGs, and. most surprisingly, an Italo disco-flavoured remake from the non-Italo Uranium. All these people befriending Eleanor, yet still so lonely...

[The sound quality of the below clips aren't spectacular... so kick your volume up.]

Uranium - Eleanor Rigby by Death Of A Disco Dancer

1 comment:

Drew Mackie said...

The P.P. Arnold version gave me goosebumps.