For those who were not around for this episode in Beatles’ lore, you cannot imagine what a big deal it was. Everyone began playing their albums backward in search of finding additional clues the Paul McCartney had died in a car crash. Girls were sobbing, guys were merely amused.
Turn me on dead man, indeed….
In 1969, the Northern Star newspaper of Northern Illinois University ran a story claiming that Paul McCartney had been killed in a car crash in 1966 and had been replaced by a look-alike. Russell Gibb of WKNR-FM in Detroit picked up on the claim and the story went worldwide.
Below is a great example of how much time and energy was used in proving and/or debunking Paul’s untimely demise:
On 21 October 1969, the Beatles’ press office issued statements denying the rumor, deeming it “a load of old rubbish”and saying that “the story has been circulating for about two years—we get letters from all sorts of nuts but Paul is still very much with us.” Rumors started to decline when, on 7 November 1969, McCartney came out of seclusion at his Scottish farm to deny the story. When McCartney was asked to comment by a reporter visiting Macca’s farm, he replied, “Do I look dead? I’m as fit as a fiddle.”Life magazine published a contemporary interview with McCartney in which he said,
Perhaps the rumor started because I haven’t been much in the press lately. I have done enough press for a lifetime, and I don’t have anything to say these days. I am happy to be with my family and I will work when I work. I was switched on for ten years and I never switched off. Now I am switching off whenever I can. I would rather be a little less famous these days….
One of the greatest urban legends ever, this story just grew and grew. The more people talked about it the more believable it became. The Beatles themselves and especially McCartney must have been highly entertained! The myth had more legs in America than it did in the UK, for one simple reason. People had seen Paul leaving his house in St John’s Wood or arriving at Abbey Road. The Beatle would also be spotted out on the town, attending gigs and the theater.
We knew it was him. Paul wasn’t dead.
American college students had published articles claiming that clues to McCartney’s death could be found among the lyrics and artwork of The Beatles’ recordings. Clue hunting proved infectious and within a few weeks had become an international phenomenon.
But who was the imposter? To spare the public from grief, the Beatles replaced him with “William Campbell”, the winner of a McCartney look-alike contest. Where and when did they hold that then?
Hundreds of supposed clues to McCartney’s death have been reported by fans and followers of the legend. These include messages perceived when listening to a song being played backward and symbolic interpretations of both lyrics and album cover imagery. One oft-cited example is the suggestion that the words “I buried Paul” are spoken by McCartney’s bandmate John Lennon in the final section of the song “Strawberry Fields Forever”. Lennon later explained that the words were actually “cranberry sauce”. Another is the interpretation of the Abbey Road album cover as symbolizing a funeral procession, where Lennon, dressed in white, to symbolize the heavenly figure.Ringo Starr, dressed in black, symbolizes the undertaker, George Harrison, in denim, symbolizes the gravedigger, and McCartney, barefoot and out of step with the others and holding his cigarette in his right hand when he is left-handed. Imposter! Also, on the sleeve, you see a girl in a blue dress walk past. Some people felt that this represented “lovely Rita”, the hitchhiker Paul was supposed to have been with at the time of the accident., symbolizes the corpse. In the background, a car’s license plate reads “28IF” meaning that Paul would have been 28 years old if he had lived (although McCartney was 27 at that point in 1969, not 28).
At this point, the rumor included numerous clues from recent Beatles albums, including the “turn me on, dead man” message heard when “Revolution 9” from The White Album was played backward.
You see, in this digital age you can’t do that, any hidden backward messages would be lost. That’s why I still listen to vinyl. I’m forever listening for hidden messages, and mysterious voices crying out from the grooves.
The Michigan Daily published a satirical review of Abbey Road by University of Michigan student Fred LaBour under the headline “McCartney Dead; New Evidence Brought to Light.”
More clues were found in “You Never Give Me Your Money”. The words n”1,2,3,4,5,6,7, all good children go to Heaven” – is “go to Heaven” a reference to Paul being dead? Curiously, the numbers here add up to 28.
In November 1969, Capitol Records sales managers reported a significant increase in sales of Beatles catalog albums, attributed to the rumor. Rocco Catena, Capitol’s vice president of national merchandising, estimated that “this is going to be the biggest month in history in terms of Beatles sales.” The albums Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour had been off the charts since February, but both re-entered the Billboard Top LP’s chart.
Before the end of October 1969, several records were released on the subject, including “The Ballad of Paul” by the Mystery Tour, “Brother Paul” by Billy Shears and the All Americans, and “So Long Paul” by Werbley Finster, a pseudonym for José Feliciano.
Terry Knight, a singer on Capitol Records, had witnessed the Beatles’ White Album session during which drummer Ringo Starr had walked out and, in May 1969, released a song called “Saint Paul” about the impending break-up of the Beatles. The tune made its way to the Bubbling Under Hot 100 chart at No. 114 in late June that year and was quickly forgotten until a few months later when it was picked up by radio stations as a tribute to “the late” Paul McCartney.
A television program was broadcast on WOR in New York on 30 November 1969, hosted by celebrity lawyer F. Lee Bailey, in which Bailey cross-examined LaBour and other “witnesses” about the rumor, but he left it to the viewer to determine conclusions. Before the recording, LaBour told Bailey that his article had been intended as a joke, and Bailey sighed and replied: “Well, we have an hour of television to do; you’re going to have to go along with this.”
Both Lennon and McCartney subsequently referred to the legend in their music, Lennon in his 1971 song “How Do You Sleep?” (describing as “freaks” those who had spread the rumor), and McCartney with his 1993 live album titled Paul Is Live (parodying the Abbey Road cover and its clues).
Well, I’ll tell you what – the remaining Beatles must have been exhausted keeping the secret about Paul’s death and on top of that, writing clues in songs. Clever sods, these Beatles.