The Beatles inspired a generation of legendary musicians, including performers like Dave Grohl, Joe Walsh and Joni Mitchell. Those three singer-songwriters, and countless more, have said they were influenced by the music of John, Paul, George and Ringo.
But who inspired the Beatles? There are the well-publicized answers like Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly. And then there are the lesser-known influences, like the global movement known as Scouting.
We know that John Lennon and Paul McCartney were Scouts in England as boys. In fact, in the summer of 1957, McCartney had to miss his first scheduled gig with Lennon and the Quarrymen — the band that later evolved into the Beatles — because McCartney and his brother were at Scout camp. Priorities!
There’s even more. We recently learned of another Scouting connection to the legendary British rock group.
Writing for The New Yorker in its Oct. 25, 2021, issue, McCartney shared how the song “Eleanor Rigby” came to be.
Growing up, I knew a lot of old ladies — partly through what was called Bob-a-Job Week, when Scouts did chores for a shilling. You’d get a shilling for cleaning out a shed or mowing a lawn. I wanted to write a song that would sum them up. ‘Eleanor Rigby’ is based on an old lady that I got on with very well.
Bob-a-Job Week got its name because everyday citizens would donate a “bob” — a slang term for a shilling (or 5 pence) — to local Scout groups in exchange for the completion of a household job. One bob for one job.
Flyers for the annual Bob-a-Job Week show Scouts walking dogs, sawing firewood and shining shoes. Some of these adverts feature the slogan, “Why not let a Cub or Scout do it?”
Bob-a-Job Week ended in 1992 and was later replaced by Scout Community Week. Instead of individual Scouts doing jobs, entire troops completed tasks in exchange for a donation to local Scouting.
This annual fundraiser was in addition to all the acts of service Scouts complete year-round without any payment at all.
Who was Eleanor?
While the elderly woman McCartney met as a Scout inspired the song many consider one of the Beatles’ best, her name was not Eleanor Rigby.
In fact, McCartney writes in The New Yorker that he almost called the song “Daisy Hawkins.”
“I can see that ‘Hawkins’ is quite nice, but it wasn’t right,” McCartney wrote.
McCartney goes on to address the legend that he and Lennon saw the name “Eleanor Rigby” on a grave marker in Liverpool and that’s what inspired the name. There is indeed a gravestone at St. Peter’s Church that bears the name “Eleanor Rigby.”
But in The New Yorker, McCartney writes that while the songwriting duo spent a lot of time in that graveyard,“I don’t remember seeing the grave there.” He adds, “I suppose I might have registered it subliminally.”
While McCartney met “Eleanor” through his Bob-a-Job Week duties for Scouting, the two formed a kinship that lasted longer than a week.
The woman lived on her own and was unable to complete many household tasks, so McCartney stopped by several times a week to help — not to earn another 5 pence but just because being helpful, friendly and courteous is the Scouting way.
“I would offer to go and get her shopping. She’d give me a list and I’d bring the stuff back, and we’d sit in her kitchen,” McCartney writes. “Hearing her stories enriched my soul and influenced the songs I would later write.”
For the full story of how “Eleanor Rigby” was created, read The New Yorker piece.
Even more Scouting connections
Like the BSA, the U.K. Scout Association is part of the World Organization of the Scout Movement. And in 2020, our fellow Scouts across the pond shared even more stories about Lennon and McCartney’s time in Scouting.
The whole piece is worth a read, but here are three interesting takeaways:
- McCartney included a Scouting reference in the song “That Was Me,” which was featured on his 2007 solo album Memory Almost Full. The song looks at transformative scenes from McCartney’s life, so it’s no real surprise that Scouting was referenced. The song begins with these lyrics: “That was me, at the Scout camp, in the school play // Spade and bucket by the sea, that was me.”
- Lennon was a member of the 3rd Allerton Scout Group, which had its meetings at St. Peter’s Church, where Lennon first met McCartney. Volunteer David Ashton said Lennon enjoyed Scout meetings for their “easygoing, relaxed atmosphere.”
- Scouting developed in Lennon and McCartney a love of nature that would be a theme throughout their work, including in songs like “Mother Nature’s Son” and “Blackbird.” It appears as if spending time outdoors was McCartney’s favorite part about being a Scout. In the 2000 book The Beatles Anthology, McCartney writes that while he “didn’t get many badges,” he did earn “a Bivouac Badge for camping out.”
Beatles fans, let’s hear it
What Scouting themes can you recognize in your favorite Beatles songs?
Share your comments below.
Thanks to Eagle Scout and author Robert Birkby for the blog post idea.