December 31, 2014

Paul Is Dead…Is That Your Final Answer?

Long before the tragic passings of John Lennon and Linda McCartney, a rumor sprang from the Great Lakes State of Michigan that sent fans scurrying to their turntables and rummaging through record bins to decipher the ominous intimations which indicated Paul McCartney was no more. After an anonymous caller phoned WKNR radio of Detroit with album hints of Paul’s death, the University of Michigan newspaper soon picked up the story with an article describing dark clues hidden on the Abbey Road record cover. From that point on, during the latter months of 1969, fans the world over became instant Scooby Doos, reporting on telltale deadly signs they’d uncovered amongst the Beatles’ musical output. The following list highlights some of the more well-known “clues”:

The Accident

It was widely assumed Paul had perished in an automobile mishap.

  • On the back cover of the “Sgt. Pepper’s” LP, the lyrics to “She’s Leaving Home,” along with the other tunes of the album, are printed across a photo of the Beatles. George Harrison seems to be pointing to a line from the song which reads “Wednesday morning at five o’clock” – the time the accident supposedly occurred.
  • “He blew his mind out in a car,” and “he didn’t notice that the lights had changed” were verses in “A Day in the Life” which also suggested a crash.

The Double

Beatle fans felt that a double, perhaps William Campbell, the winner of a Paul McCartney lookalike contest, had been groomed by the other three members of the group and was now taking the place of the fallen moptop.

  • On “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” the line “So, let me introduce to you, the one and only Billy Shears,” was assumed to be the passing of the torch to Mr. “Billy” Campbell.
  • A foldout poster in the “White Album” had a picture of a man resembling Paul who had a beard and glasses – it could only be his replacement!

The Confirmation

Many so-called “clues” seemed to confirm to Fab Four conspiracy sleuths that Paul had permanently left the stage.

  • “Yesterday and Today”’s infamous baby butcher cover supposedly mimicked the carnage of the tragedy. When released with a replacement photo, the album portrayed Paul sitting inside an open footlocker. Many thought it symbolized a coffin.
  • “Sgt. Pepper’s” cover photo resembled a funeral, presumably Paul’s. A flower arrangement seemed to be Paul’s bass guitar, with only 3 strings (symbolizing the 3 remaining Beatles). Paul held a black musical instrument (death) while the other Beatles clutched shiny brass ones. A mystic Shiva doll supposedly had its “death” hand pointing directly at Paul. Another girl doll seemed to have blood running down her dress (perhaps she was caught up in the accident). An unfounded notion regarding some mythical Eastern culture’s belief that an open hand placed over one’s head implied that person was about to be buried caught popularity as a hand was seen above Paul’s head in the photograph. Inside the album cover, a large picture of the foursome showed Paul with a patch reading OPD on his jacket sleeve. This was assumed to be the British variant of “Dead on Arrival” – in this case “Officially Pronounced Dead.” (It actually was a patch from Canada, not clearly seen in the picture, and read OPP, which stood for “Ontario Provincial Police”).
  • The interior booklet of “The Magical Mystery Tour” LP had a picture of Paul sitting at a desk with the words “I WAS” printed on a placard. Another picture featured that pesky “funeral” hand over Paul’s head. One shot portrayed all four Beatles in white formal wear, everyone with a red carnation in their lapels – all except Paul; he had a “deadly” black one. Paul’s shoes in another shot appeared to have blood on them. On the cover, Paul was dressed in a black walrus outfit which supposedly symbolized death in Norway or Greenland or Siberia…somewhere! At the end of the song “Strawberry Fields Forever,” John Lennon is heard mumbling “I buried Paul” (he later claimed he said “cranberry sauce”).
  • “The White Album” brought the lyrics “the walrus was Paul” in the song “Glass Onion.” John’s mumbling style once again was a factor at the end of “I’m So Tired,” which when played backwards, sounded like he was saying “Paul is dead, man, miss him, miss him.” Rotating the turntable back on the repetitive “Number Nine” cut revealed the line “Turn me on dead man.”
  • The “Abbey Road” cover yielded yet another funeral scenario, with Paul out of step in the crosswalk with his fellow mates, cigarette unlit, and barefoot (ready for burial). John was dressed in white (like a priest), Ringo looked the part of a formal undertaker, and George in his jeans and denim shirt had to be the gravedigger. A Volkswagen’s license plate in the background read “28IF,” the age Paul would’ve been had the “accident” not occurred. On the back cover, rivet holes on a brick wall seemed to form the number 3, right in front of the printed word “Beatles.” And finally, John seemed to clearly sing “one and one and one is three” on the hit single “Come Together” for those of us who didn’t “get it.”

As Paul was fond of saying, “Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated,” the joke was truly on us. But it sure seemed like a lot of fun playing detective for those fleeting months before the Beatles bid farewell to rock history.


© 2000 Ned Truslow


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