When The Beatles started out, they had a formulaic approach to songwriting that helped them become the undisputed greatest band ever to exist. The Lennon-McCartney partnership took over the world because of their incredible ability to write a beautiful love song. They were raconteurs, creators who were on a magical journey that nobody had been on before. Together, the band produced music at such a constant prolific rate that they ended up using a different girl’s name in 18 of their songs throughout their career.
Writing love songs was The Beatles’ bread and butter for several years before Bob Dylan came along to force them to reevaluate their songwriting method, making The Fab Four begin penning more diverse lyrics. However, they never stopped with love songs; it’s part of the reason why the band became such an unstoppable force and why Beatlemania took over the entire world. The hoards of screams that their female fans created was the sound of thousands auditioning to get their name inserted on the tracklisting for the next Beatles record. In truth, the band played on the heartthrob image with their music, which only enamoured their female fanbase even more to the point of obsession. The Beatles could sing names from the phonebook, and they would still be swooned over.
Their constant reliance on only writing about love became a source of frustration for McCartney’s aunt Lil. It inadvertently led to him writing the track ‘Paperback Writer’ in response to her criticism. “The idea’s a bit different,” McCartney recalled at the time of release. “Years ago, my Auntie Lil said to me, ‘Why do you always write songs about love all the time? Can’t you ever write about a horse or the summit conference or something interesting?’ So, I thought, ‘All right, Auntie Lil.’ And recently, we’ve not been writing all our songs about love.”
Many of the female names included in Beatles tracks aren’t actually about a specific person. Instead, the name fits, such as ‘Sexy Sadie‘ which effortlessly rolls off the tongue. ‘Eleanor Rigby’ is the only one on the list that features a full-name and is based on a real person, even if Paul McCartney didn’t realise this until some time later.
McCartney initially believed that he made up the surnames in the track and decided to use the name ‘Eleanor’ because of Eleanor Bron, an actress who appeared in The Beatles’ film Help!. The Eleanor Rigby character’s surname had initially been Bygraves before Macca changed it to Rigby after stumbling upon a Bristol wine merchant called ‘Rigby & Evens Ltd, Wine & Spirit Shippers’.
Some years later, however, McCartney would admit that he was, on some level, subliminally influenced by his adolescence. This revelation happened after many eagle-eyed fans noticed something intriguing near his childhood home in Woolton, Liverpool, in the graveyard of St. Peter’s Church which is a location McCartney would frequent with John Lennon in his youth.
In The Beatles Anthology he would discuss this in more detail, exploring whether, with hindsight, this did influence him or was it all just a huge coincidence: “I thought, I swear, that I made up the name Eleanor Rigby. But it seems that up in Woolton Cemetery, where I used to hang out a lot with John, there’s a gravestone to an Eleanor Rigby. Apparently, a few yards to the right there’s someone called McKenzie.”
‘Lovely Rita’ was written and sang by Paul McCartney. It details the protagonist’s doting affection for a traffic warden. The track has never quite become a Beatles classic with Lennon being particularly scathing about it. “I’m not interested in writing about people like that,” Lennon once said of the song. “I like to write about me, because I know me.”
The Beatles also used female names for double entendre, some more subtle than others such as the ode to marijuana, ‘What’s The New Mary Jane’. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out where the inspiration for that song comes from, but, is it a coincidence that ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ spells out LSD?
According to Lennon, it is, “I had no idea it spelt LSD,” he once commented. “This is the truth: my son came home with a drawing and showed me this strange-looking woman flying around. I said, ‘What is it?’ and he said, ‘It’s Lucy in the sky with diamonds,’ and I thought, ‘That’s beautiful.’ I immediately wrote a song about it.” The jury is still out on that one.
Check out the full list of tracks, below.
All Beatles songs with female names in the title:
- ‘Lady Madonna’
- ‘Dizzy Miss Lizzy’
- ‘Polythene Pam’
- ‘Sexy Sadie’
- ‘Eleanor Rigby’
- ‘Maggie Mae’
- ‘Martha My Dear’
- ‘Long Tall Sally’
- ‘Lovely Rita’
- ‘What’s The New Mary Jane’
- ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’
- ‘Anna (Go To Him)’
- ‘Dear Prudence’