On this day 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of Northern Illinois University ran a story claiming that Paul McCartney had been killed in a car crash in 1966 and had been replaced by a look-alike.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. By late October 1969, the hoax was so well entrenched that 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.”
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 then 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 theatre.
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?
At this point the rumour 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 backwards.
You see, in this digital age you can’t do that, any hidden backwards 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.”
The theories were first class: The cover of Abbey Road has the four Beatles crossing the road, in a manner that is supposed to symbolize a funeral parade. John is wearing white, which is supposed to be a colour of mourning in Eastern religions, and Ringo is wearing funeral black. Paul McCartney is out of step, 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.
Paul was also shoeless on the Abbey Road sleeve, reminding us of the custom to bury people without their shoes in some cultures.
And the best one – in the background on Abbey Road is the Volkswagen Beetle with the number plate “LMW 28IF”, which is supposed to say that Paul would be 28 if still alive… However, Paul was 27 at the time. Some say that some cultures count you as 1 when you are born, and so that he would be 28 in their customs.
More clues were found in “You Never Give Me Your Money”. The words “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.
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.
Anyway, I’m very pleased Paul isn’t dead; we’ve lost two Beatles and that’s two too many already. But Ringo, now he’s been behaving a little strange now for a few years…. but that’s another story.