Beatles legend Paul McCartney is not who he claims to be. That’s according to a number of conspiracy theorists who believe he was killed in a car crash in November 1966 and his death was elaborately covered up…
The “Paul is Dead” conspiracy theory and urban legend is one of the most bizarre that I’ve come across. To this day a lot of people believe that the Paul McCartney who currently walks the Earth is an imposter and a fake, that the real Paul left us long ago.
Could there be any truth to it?
The seeds of the “Paul is Dead” rumours were planted in January 1967, when Paul McCartney’s Mini Cooper really did crash and several newspapers reported that he had died. This was officially rebutted when the papers learned that Paul was at a party that night and wasn’t the one driving the car.
A few scattered rumours that Paul had died and been replaced by someone else were reportedly overheard at London parties after this. However, the rumours didn’t gain traction until 1969. Early that year, a song called St. Paul by musician and producer Terry Knight received heavy airplay. It’s generally believed that Knight’s lyrics talk about his own failed relationship with Paul McCartney and his apparent belief in The Beatles’ imminent breakup. But some interpreted the lyrics as alluding to Paul being dead and in heaven.
Later that year is when the rumours really told hold. Radio DJ Russ Gibb took an on-air call from a university student who’d discovered an alleged hidden message in Beatles song Revolution 9. The student said that when you play the song backwards, the words “turn me on, dead man” are heard repeatedly.
An article for The Michigan Daily by Fred LaBour soon followed the broadcast. Entitled McCartney Dead: New Evidence Brought To Light, the article identified several other clues in The Beatles’ songs and on their album covers, clues that exposed Paul’s death and a massive cover-up plot. Quickly the mainstream media cottoned on and the “Paul is Dead” conspiracy theory had tongues wagging all over America.
Piecing together the clues
Were The Beatles trying to tell us something? Using the clues, fans were able to piece together the story of Paul’s death and the cover-up. Let’s break this down…
A Day in the Life
Firstly there was the song A Day in the Life. The song was about a man who “blew his mind out in a car” because “he didn’t notice that the red lights had changed”. Even more suspiciously, “a crowd of people stood and stared” because “they’d seen his face before”. Coupled with those newspaper reports from the earlier accident with Paul’s car, this led fans to believe that he’d been killed in a car crash.
We have the already mentioned “turn me on, dead man” from Revolution 9. Then there’s the song Strawberry Fields Forever, in which you can supposedly hear John Lennon saying “I buried Paul” repeatedly near the end.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
The cover art for the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album is said to be filled with clues. It depicts a grave scene and the yellow flowers in a guitar shape allegedly spell the word “Paul”. Paul is wearing a patch that says “OPD” meaning “Officially Pronounced Dead”. (However, some say that it actually says “OPP”, meaning “Ontario Provincial Police”.)
Also, when you put a mirror through the drum, the words read: IONEIX HE DIE. The “IONE” is said to mean 11 and IX is the Roman numeral for 9. So it means “11 9 HE DIE”. Fans took this to mean that Paul McCartney died on November 9th.
Abbey Road and Lovely Rita
The Abbey Road cover is said to symbolise a funeral procession. John Lennon is dressed in white, representing the clergyman. Ringo Starr in black is the undertaker. George Harrison, in a shirt and denim jeans, is the grave digger. And Paul McCartney – barefoot and out of step with the others – is the corpse.
The back cover also depicts a girl in a blue dress walking past. Fans believed this woman represented “Lovely Rita”. Rita was a meter maid (an old name for a female traffic warden) featured in the song Lovely Rita from the Sgt. Pepper album. In the song, Paul takes a shine to Rita and gives her a lift in his car. Fans latched onto one particular line in the song: “Took her home and nearly made it”.
So Rita is said to have been with Paul at the time of the crash. One website I found purports to give her full name as “Carolyn Rita Northam”.
The imposter: ‘Faul’
It’s said that when Paul McCartney was killed, the rest of The Beatles didn’t think the public would be able to cope with the grief. They also believed, along with their managers, that the group would not survive Paul’s death and millions of dollars would be lost – and The Beatles were at the height of their fame at the time.
The remaining Beatles reluctantly agreed to cover up Paul’s death to save their careers. They hired a replacement called Billy Shears, a Paul McCartney lookalike who underwent plastic surgery to make him look even more like Paul. In the Sgt. Pepper album, the lyrics in the title track talk about The Beatles having formed a new band with “the one and only Billy Shears”.
Billy Shears has since become known as “Faul” – i.e. “False Paul” – for his many decades of impersonating Paul McCartney.
But the remaining Beatles couldn’t live with this decision, hence why they inserted clues into their songs and album artwork. They wanted to find a way of letting their fans know the truth.
Was John Lennon about to crack?
It’s also been theorised that over the years, John Lennon struggled the most with the decision to cover up Paul’s death. In 1980, he decided he was going to reveal all, that the secret needed to come out.
The rest of the conspirators had to do something. The Beatles were long split-up by 1980 and John Lennon had just released a poorly received solo album after a 5-year hiatus from music. Paul McCartney on the other hand was at the height of his solo career and part of the successful rock band Wings.
That meant it was not a good time for Paul for the secret to be revealed. John, on the other hand, was expendable.
On 8th December 1980, Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon in the back four times in New York City, right outside his apartment building. He was pronounced dead on arrival at Roosevelt Hospital.
Go figure, say the conspiracy theorists.
What should we make of all this?
Like all good conspiracy theories, “Paul is Dead” has never been conclusively proven. That’s not surprising. It’s a fascinating and beautifully far-fetched story that strains credibility to the absolute max.
The audio clues in the songs are generally regarded as mishearings or a kind of auditory pareidolia. Pareidolia is about finding a significant meaning in something that’s completely random. (I’ve discussed visual pareidolia before in the context of the ‘Face on Mars’.)
In other words, when you listen to the words “Number 9” backwards in the song Revolution 9, they sound a bit like “Turn me on, dead man”, but only because that’s what you’re trying to hear. And John Lennon reportedly isn’t saying “I buried Paul” in Strawberry Fields Forever at all. He’s saying “cranberry sauce”.
The album artwork and lyrical clues have also been described as the result of finding patterns and meanings where there aren’t any. Even the “Paul is Dead” believers have to admit that the story of the crash, of Rita, of the replacement of Paul McCartney with a lookalike, all come from an incredibly elaborate stringing together of clues. Clues that aren’t clues at all when you consider them in their respective contexts. For example, you’ll see that when you read/listen to the lyrics for A Day in the Life and Lovely Rita as a whole, they’re not really anything to do with Paul McCartney being in a car crash.
Still, you could argue that the architects of this cover-up wouldn’t want any of the clues to be too obvious, and that’s why they’ve disguised them…
It’s also generally believed that John Lennon’s killer, Mark David Chapman, was a nutcase. No more, no less. But John Lennon’s murder is surrounded by its own multitude of conspiracy theories. The Paul McCartney cover-up is only one of them. (In a future article I will look at John Lennon’s death in more detail.)
Just how dead is Paul today?
Just weeks after seizing the world’s attention, the “Paul is Dead” rumours died down. This was after Paul gave an interview with Life magazine on November 9th 1969, declaring to the world that he was very much alive.
A pocket of conspiracy theorists remain unconvinced by this, and in recent years, another figure in Paul’s life has helped refuel the legend.
Next month I will tell you who this person is and what they’ve been saying. Because it might be that the “Paul is Dead” believers were right all along…
“Behind The Curtain” is taking a Christmas hiatus and will be back in the New Year with tonnes more conspiracies, legends, monsters, myths and hoaxes.
However, I will let readers know on the blog as soon as the winter 2015 issue of Scribble magazine is available. As explained in my last article, this will feature Who is Rudolph Fentz? – the first of the Million Eyes Short Stories.
Remember that all five books in my illustrated, Christmas-themed children’s book series, The East Pudding Chronicles, are now available to buy from Lulu.com. These include the final book, The First Christmas, which I published last month. (You can find out more here.)
That just leaves me to say Merry Christmas! And thank you for reading “Behind The Curtain”!