Released in 1966, "Eleanor Rigby" is a popular song by The Beatles that explores, in a straightforward manner and with a haunting tone, the loneliness and isolation experienced by the elderly. The message the words and melody convey clearly resonates strongly with people: the song won a Grammy award and a spot on Rolling Stone's list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time," and it continues to play on radio stations today.
Here's a quick summary of the lyrics: an old woman and an old man (a priest) live separate, lonely lives. Eventually the priest buries the woman when she dies.
Here's a more detailed summary:
The song opens with the line "Ah look at all the lonely people," sung twice in a row. With these simple, direct words, the singer calls our attention to the fact that loneliness is everywhere and that we must pay attention to it.
The first verse introduces the fictional character for whom the song is titled. The singer describes a few brief images in the life of "Eleanor Rigby," a lonely woman who interacts with no one but seems to yearn for companionship. By herself, she picks up the celebratory rice thrown at a wedding, and she wears makeup that no one will see. This woman "lives in a dream" and seems to always "wait" by a window or a door, but no one comes to visit her.
In the chorus, the singer again calls our attention to "lonely people," asking where they come from and where they belong. The unspoken responses to these rhetorical question seem to be that, in our society, lonely people come from everywhere and belong nowhere, with no one.
The second verse introduces the song's other character, Father McKenzie. Like Eleanor, he busies himself with meaningless tasks (including writing a sermon although no one will come listen to it and repairing his socks) and has no companions or family members. He seems to live in a perpetual "night" of pure loneliness.
The chorus repeats, reminding listeners that it's not just Eleanor or Father McKenzie who are lonely, but a lot of other people as well.
Before the chorus closes out the song, a third and final verse brings Eleanor and Father McKenzie together, but not in a way that provides companionship for either. Father McKenzie presides at Eleanor Rigby's funeral. He is unable to save her soul, and she has no one to mourn for her. He wipes dirt from his hands, and her name is utterly forgotten.