Essay, Pages 10 (2328 words)
The Paul Is Dead Rumor
In the modern era of the internet, social media, tabloids, TMZ and other media, the death of anyone can be easily proven or disproven. It’s even easier in the case of a celebrity. Yet, in 1969, these things didn’t exist, and, in October of that year, there arose a controversial rumor about a member of the Beatles. The death of Paul McCartney had many people believing he WAS dead. It is known as the Paul is Dead rumor.
It seemed so far-fetched, yet it had fans ruining their vinyl Beatles records and dissecting their album covers for clues. Today, it has a new generation of people, with the help of modern software and technology, uncovering new Paul is Dead clues.
The purpose of this paper is to show where the rumor started, how the rumor spread across America, and reveal some of the clues that many people were sure proved Paul was indeed dead. There are literally hundreds of them; to list them all would require many more pages, perhaps a book or two! The clues, both visual and audio, will involve these four Beatles albums: Sgt.
Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Magical Mystery Tour, The Beatles (aka the White Album) and Abbey Road. This paper will not only cover the clues from the birth of the rumor, but also its revival, thanks mostly to the internet, social media, and modern computer software and technology.
Origin of the Rumor
The Paul is Dead rumor first began spreading throughout various universities and college campuses.
The first credited article about the rumor was printed in The Drake Times-Delphic in Des Moines, Iowa on September 17, 1969 under the title “Is Paul Dead?” (Reeve 20-21). It wasn’t until October 12, 1969 in Detroit, Michigan that the rumor was first aired publicly, on radio station WKNR-FM. Disc jockey Russ Gibb had just finished playing selections from Abbey Road, the Beatles new album at the time. Russ liked to rap with listeners, letting them share whatever they wanted to talk about. On this night, an Eastern Michigan University student named Tom asked Gibb about the Paul is Dead rumor:
- Gibb: Who do we have here? What is your name?
- Tom: It’s Tom on the line.
- Gibb: Hello, Tom. What’s going down?
- Tom: I was going to rap with you about McCartney being dead. What is this all about?
- Gibb: You heard that McCartney was dead?
- Tom: Yeah, that’s right
- Russ Gibb: I said, yeah. I hear that all the time. But he said, Have you ever played Number 9 Number 9 Number 9 (Revolution 9) backwards? So I get this out, put it on, and I back-cue it, which meant you actually had to turn the turntable with your hand (that’s how we used to cue up records in the old days) and CLEARLY comes out turn me on dead man, turn me on dead man, turn me on dead man with an English accent. And I freaked; of course, the audience freaked. Within minutes, that phone was lit up. People were calling, saying oh that was great. Do it again. What is that, what’s going on? And that’s how it all started. (Miss Him Miss Him Miss Him Volume 4 [CD] Disc 8 Track 3)
At the same time of the initial phone call, a Michigan University student and student journalist named Fred LaBour heard the WKNR broadcast. Writing an Abbey Road review at the time, he changed it into an obituary for Paul McCartney. Titled McCartney Dead: New Evidence Comes to Light, LaBour started his review by saying: Paul McCartney was killed in an automobile accident in early November 1966 after leaving EMI recording studios tired, sad and dejected. The Beatles had been preparing their forthcoming album, tentatively titled Smile, when progress bogged down in intragroup hassles and bickering, Paul climbed into his Aston-Martin, sped away into the rainy, chill night, and was found four hours later pinned under his car in a culvert with the top of his head sheared off. He was deader than a doornail. (Reeve 29) LaBour followed this by giving clues from the Beatles past album covers and songs before he gave his analysis of Abbey Road.
The Paul Is Dead Clues
Since it was rumored Paul died in November 1966, the first album released after his death was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The visual clues included a hand above Paul’s head, supposedly a Far Eastern symbol of death or of religious benediction associated with funerals. (Patterson 53) There is also a left-handed guitar made with yellow hyacinth flowers with three strings. Using imagination, one could make out the macabre message Paul (Patterson 52).
The back of the album has the printed lyrics to every song. George’s thumb is pointing to the first line from She’s Leaving Home: Wednesday morning, at 5 o’clock as the day begins (Sgt Pepper [CD] Track 6). That, according to the rumor, is Wednesday November 9, 1966, the day Paul died, 5 a.m. being the time he was pronounced dead. And how did people get November 9, 1966 as the date. On the drum that says the album title, if someone uses a pocketknife or a shiny little mirror and cut the words Lonely Hearts in half, it says “I ONE IXHE DIE.”
The diamond symbol points straight up to McCartney and down to the grave. Roman Numeral 1 (I) and ONE makes eleven and IX is Roman numeral 9, thus becoming 11/9. Because Sgt. Pepper was released in June 1967, the date reads November 9, 1966 (which, ironically, WAS a Wednesday!) (Reeve 253). The biggest audio clue was A Day in the Life, where John Lennon sings, He blew his mind out in a car/He didn’t notice that the lights had changed (The Beatles, Sgt Pepper [CD] Track 13). To those that believed the rumor, John was talking about Paul, but the verses were from John reading various newspaper articles.
Magical Mystery Tour came with a 24-page booklet of pictures from the TV special that was aired only in England. People pointed to a few specific pictures thought of as clues. On page 2, Paul, in military uniform, sits behind a desk placard that reads I You Was or I WAS (Patterson 195). On pages 14 & 15, Paul has on no shoes and the front of Ringo Starr’s bass drum reads Love the 3 Beatles (Reeve 259). On page 21, the Beatles are seen in white tuxedos miming to Your Mother Should Know. Paul’s flower on his lapel is black; the rest is red. (Patterson 195) For the music, at the end of Strawberry Fields Forever (The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour [CD] Track 8), some were convinced John Lennon said, I buried Paul. Asked about this in 1980, John told Playboy journalist David Sheff, I said, cranberry sauce. Cranberry sauce is all I said (Patterson 93). I Am the Walrus also became a focal point. John sings about a stupid bloody Tuesday, supposedly November 8, the night of Paul’s car crash (Miss Him Miss Him Miss Him Volume 8 [CD] Disc 8 Track 3). It was the end of the song that people paid attention to: mixed into the song was a BBC radio play of King Lear, Act IV Scene VI, where the words bury my body, O untimely death and What, is he dead were heard. (The Beatles, Magical Mystery Tour [CD] Track 6)
The White Album became the record that a lot of clues were found. In the song Glass Onion, John Lennon sings Well, here’s another clue for you all/the walrus was Paul (The Beatles, The Beatles [CD] Disc 1 Track 3). At the end of I’m So Tired, you can hear John mumbling gibberish; when it was played backwards, John is supposedly saying Paul is dead, man. Miss him, miss him, miss him (Reeve 263). Revolution 9 was the song that started the rumor in Detroit. The song is more of a sound collage of sound effects and bits of music, a precursor to sampling. Yet, when people played the entire track backwards, they heard MORE clue such as shouts of let me out (Patterson 196); played forwards, there are sounds of car horns, screams, crackling flames, shattering glass, and a discussion between John Lennon and George Harrison about an accident and bodily injury. (Reeve 264) In the poster that came with the album, there is a picture of Paul wearing glasses and sporting a mustache. Some claimed that was the fake Paul’s passport photo.
Abbey Road was also scoured for clues. The cover became the funeral procession for Paul. First was John dressed in white (the preacher), followed by Ringo dressed in all black (the undertaker). Next was Paul, looking out of step with the others, holding a cigarette in his RIGHT hand (he’s plays guitar left-handed) and is barefoot. (Many societies bury their dead without shoes) Last is George wearing work clothes (the gravedigger). (Patterson 196) To the left of the Beatles is a parked Volkswagen Beetle with the license plate LMW 28IF, symbolizing Paul McCartney would’ve been 28 years old had he lived. (Patterson 196) On the back of the album, there are a series of dots before the word Beatles. Connect the dots, and the number 3 is shown, as in 3 Beatles. (Reeve 267) The first song on the album, Come Together, has the line one and one and one is three (there are 3 surviving Beatles) and the chorus Come together, right now over me is referring to the wake over Paul’s coffin. (Patterson 197)
When Paul McCartney was featured in Life magazine on November 7, 1969, that helped to suppress the spread of the rumor, although some were still not convinced. Specifically, they referred to Paul’s statement about the patch on his jacket in the Sgt. Pepper gatefold with the initials O.P.D. In Britain, that stands for Officially Pronounced Dead (Reeve 252), but Paul claimed it stood for Ontario Police Department and that he picked it up in Canada. The patch says O.P.P. for Ontario Provincial Police (Patterson 144), yet the skeptics were dumbfounded that Paul could not have remembered something simple as a patch. Even so, the rumor did dissipate after the Life magazine article.
However, the Paul is Dead rumor was revived thanks to social media. There are number of websites and YouTube videos devoted to the rumor, some even presenting NEW clues. For example, there is one video that uses Paul McCartney’s song Gratitude from his Memory Almost Full album that, when played backwards, supposedly says, Who is this now? and I was Willy Campbell (YouTube Sgt. Pepper Channel). William Campbell, according to the original rumor, was the name of the person that replaced Paul after his death in 1966. (Reeve 31) There are some sites that claim they have photographic proof that Paul, after 1966, was not the same McCartney that came to America in 1964, citing changes in facial features. (Paul Really Is Dead website) Andru Reeve, in his book Turn Me On, Dead Man gives an example of a website that was started by a man named Andrew Spooner Jr., that gave photographic proof that was later disputed by a different website, PaulIsNotDead.com, where, after comparing two different pictures of Paul holding his trademark Hofner violin bass, the website host said, It has come to my attention that [Spooner] has altered this photo. I examined the pixels in the image more closely. I believe that [Spooner] pulled the image wider in either a non-RGB mode or failed to enlarge the image before making the stretch. (219) These were only a couple of examples of many different websites devoted to the Paul Is Dead rumor. For the audio clues, it is much easier to play Beatles songs backwards by using music software such as Audacity or by simply looking up the songs on YouTube and other sites.
The Paul is Dead rumor was and continues to be a source of controversy. With the 50th anniversary release of Abbey Road this year, the rumor will probably get a brief mention. (Waterfield) The internet and social media gave new life to a rumor that has reached the level of urban legend. To this day, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr have continually denied the rumor’s legitimacy. John Lennon and George Harrison, in a handful of interviews, downplayed the rumor as a joke.
Ironically, in 1969, because of the rumor, sales of Sgt. Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour and The Beatles caused those albums to re-enter the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart after absences of up to a year-and-a-half. (Reeve 120) Despite the rumor, The Beatles continue to sell albums. Their presence on Apple iTunes in 2010 made sure that the younger generation can listen to the Beatles one song or album at a time. (Ogg) On Christmas Eve 2015, the Beatles went on Spotify and set a record on their service a mere two days after the Beatles debut! (Wagstaff) It is remarkable, 55 years after the Beatles first came to America, their music continues to be heard by the older generation, as well as bring in newer and younger fans from all walks of life. Living proof that it doesn’t take a rumor to sell records.
- Gratitude Back mask (With Subtitles) YouTube Sgt. Pepper Channel
- Miss Him Miss Him Miss Him Volumes One to Four [8 CDs]. Darthdisc 2002.
- Ogg, Erica. The Beatles Come to iTunes R. Gary. The Walrus Was Paul: The Great Beatle Death Clues. Simon & Schuster, 1996.
- Paul Really Is Dead Andru J. Turn Me On, Dead Man: The Beatles and the Paul Is Dead Hoax. Author House, 2004.
- The Beatles, Magical Mystery Tour [CD]. Parlophone 1967
- The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band [CD]. Parlophone 1967.
- The Beatles, The Beatles (aka The White Album). Parlophone 1968
- Wagstaff, Steve. Let It Stream Sophia. Abbey Road 50th Anniversary