Hey, congratulations Macca! Long shot of 'Hop-along Heather the mad Geordie witch', he’s now on bride number three. However, some will tell you it wasn’t Sir Paul who shed tears of joy with Nancy Shevell at Old Marylebone Town Hall in 2011 but a double, as the ‘cute’ Beatle was killed more than 40 years ago.
“What the fuck?” I hear you ask - and I’m not surprised - but in late 1969 the rumour that the Fab Four were in fact the Fab-Three-Plus-An-Imposter swept across American college campuses, radio phone-ins and ultimately into the mainstream media. What’s more, a whole new game developed of trying to spot ‘clues’ in the Beatles’ work which hinted at McCartney’s demise.
While it does all sound a bit bonkers (although, let’s be honest, could the same guy really have written Yesterday and The Frog Chorus?) the story goes something like this: On Wednesday November 9, 1966 McCartney stormed out of the Abbey Road studios after a row, jumped into his Aston Martin, sped off in frustration and crashed, leading to his decapitation (A Day in the Life tells us how “he blew his mind out in a car/ he didn’t notice the lights had changed).
Others suggest Macca stopped to pick up a female hitchhiker he saw in the rain. Supposedly her name was Rita (In 'Lovely Rita' McCartney sings “I took her home, I nearly made it.”) Once Rita realised who the driver was, she excitedly tried to hug him causing the crash.
The band’s manager George Martin is then said to have bribed police and journalists to keep the crash under wraps, before persuading the remaining Beatles to stay together and accept a double as a replacement. Golly…
McCartney was held in prison for 10 days and some speculated this was because his fingerprints did not match those taken when the Beatles toured the country in 1966
This replacement was one William Campbell, who won a McCartney look-a-like contest, before mysteriously disappearing. In other variations of the tale the lookalike was named William Shears Campbell, Billy for short (The leader of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – a new band “but an act you’ve known for all these years” was one Billy Shears.)
Others claimed Paul’s death explained why the band stopped touring in 1966, as well as started growing beards, making it easier to disguise the necessary plastic surgery an imposter would have needed, right…?
The rumour had been swirling about for a while but it took off on October 12, 1969 when listeners of Russ Gibb’s show on Detroit’s WKNR-FM radio station heard a caller named Tom expounding his belief that McCartney was dead and clues had been left by the remaining band members.
Tom got Gibb to play the start of Revolution 9, from the White Album, backwards. When he did, the phrase “Number nine” (which is repeated several times) clearly became “Turn Me on Dead Man”. Likewise, the soft muttering before Blackbird on the same album, when played backwards says: “Paul is dead now, miss him, miss him, miss him.”
Another caller told Gibb to play the end of Strawberry Fields Forever backwards. There, supposedly was John Lennon saying: “I buried Paul” (however, Lennon and ‘McCartney’ would later claim he was saying “cranberry sauce”.)
A few days later Fred LaBour, a student at the University of Michigan, penned a review of the Beatles latest album, Abbey Road revealing more ‘clues’ pointing to McCartney’s ‘death’.
LaBour claimed the famous front cover photo of the group walking across a zebra crossing represented a funeral procession. Lennon dressed in white represented the church; Ringo Starr in a suit was an undertaker; McCartney, barefoot, out of step with the others and with his eyes closed was a corpse, and George Harrison, dressed in denim, was the grave digger.
McCartney’s also holding a cigarette in his right hand, despite being left-handed (suggesting he’s an imposter) and the number plate of the Volkswagen Beatle in the background says 28IF – the age McCartney would have been IF he was still alive.
LaBour looked at other Beatles albums too like Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band supposedly the first released after McCartney’s death. The famous front cover showed mourners looking down on a grave. Not only were there flowers spelling out “Beatles” but also some yellow hyacinths in the shape of a left-handed bass guitar - McCartney’s instrument.
McCartney has an open hand above his head – the sign of death in Far Eastern countries - and if you hold a mirror across the centre of the words “Lonely Hearts” on the bass drum in the middle of the scene this hidden message appears: “I ONE IX HE <> DIE”. “I ONE IX” is a reference to the date (11/9/66 – in American date settings) that “HE DIE”. To confirm this, the diamond pointed directly to McCartney.
From here the rumour exploded, with TV and radio specials spreading across the country before it was finally picked up by the national media. There was a TV special where famous lawyer F Lee Bailey (who is widely acknowledged for getting poor, innocent OJ Simpson acquitted) cross-examined those who believed the rumours, like Gibb and LaBour and those who didn’t like Peter Asher, Jane’s brother and McCartney’s friend.
As McCartney himself refused to comment, the world’s media went looking for him. He was photographed at Glasgow Airport by a local journalist, but this did little to dampen down speculation and Life magazine sent a team to McCartney’s remote Scottish farmhouse.
When they arrived he chased them off before eventually giving them an interview. He said he thought the whole thing was “bloody stupid” and had maybe started because he hadn’t been in the Press for a while. A picture of Macca and his family made the front of the magazine with the headline “The Case of the Missing Beatle: Paul is Still With Us”. Four days later Rolling Stone magazine lead with the headline: “PAUL IS NOT DEAD” though neither article did much to dampen down speculation.
Like all the best stories, there’s a lot missing in the way of that essential element – hard evidence. There’s no death certificate or post mortem report corresponding to the incident, there’s no eyewitness evidence, nor any police report. In fact, McCartney was on holiday with his girlfriend on the date of his supposed demise.
McCartney HAD been involved in quite a serious motorcycle accident while at his parent’s house around Christmas 1965 cutting his upper lip and chipping his tooth.
But, that’s not to say there isn’t an element of truth in the story. McCartney had been involved in quite a serious motorcycle accident while at his parent’s house around Christmas 1965 cutting his upper lip and chipping his tooth.
In early 1967 speculation started flying around London that McCartney had been killed after he crashed his custom-built Mini Cooper on the M1. A denial of the story was even printed in the February 1967 edition of the Beatles fanzine.
In 2000, Gadfly magazine published a story claiming to finally expose the truth about the accident - that in fact a man called Mohammed Hadjij had been driving the car.
The article detailed how, on the night of the crash, McCartney, along with several other leading British rock stars, decided to have a bit of R&R at Keith Richards’ mansion in Sussex and Hadjij was given the job of following behind with all their drugs. He did crash the car on the M1 but got out, got rid of the drugs and returned before being taken to hospital.
Witnesses will have seen a unique Mini Cooper and a dark-haired man being taken to hospital, put two and two together and come up with, well, a not-so-fab five.
And then there’s the date: November 9th 1966 was the day John Lennon met Yoko Ono. It might not have been the day Paul McCartney died but it was the beginning of the end for The Beatles.
In 1980 the rumour was a briefly resurrected when McCartney was arrested in Japan for possession of cannabis. He was held in prison for 10 days and some speculated this was because his fingerprints did not match those taken when the Beatles toured the country in 1966 – ‘proof’ that the real McCartney was dead.
All good stuff, but where did the rumour actually come from? Some believe it was a hoax started by the Beatles themselves, possibly motivated by their Abbey Road studio’s financial problems and if it was it certainly worked; sales of The Beatles records soared during the latter part of 1969 as kids across the world ruined their records playing them over and over again, forwards and backwards looking for clues. Rocco Catena, vice-president of marketing for Capitol Records boasted that: “this is going to be our biggest month in terms of Beatles sales” when asked about the rumour.
The group have always denied this, and some believe that’s because Charles Manson claimed they spoke to him directly through their lyrics. Manson believed the Beatles were sent by God to inform him of the forthcoming apocalypse in which racist and non-racist whites would slaughter each other before black Muslims would kill off those who survived.
Of course, once he and some of his ‘family’ members were found guilty of the Tate-LaBianca killings it wouldn’t have been too smart for the Beatles to admit they actually had been lacing their songs with hidden messages, even if they weren’t the ones Manson thought he’d heard. Helter Skelter – the title of a Beatles song - was painted on the walls of one of the murder scenes in the victims’ blood. Having said this, when talking about the Free As a Bird video during a radio interview in 1995 McCartney admitted: “We used to make a game of putting little clues in all our music back then…”
Whoever he is, McCartney has rarely commented directed on the rumours (the whole Paul-Is-Dead saga was ignored in The Beatles Anthology) but he’s still willing to have a laugh about it.
In 1993 he released a live album entitled Paul is Live. The front cover replicated the famous Abbey Road album but with just Paul and his dog crossing the road. In the background the famous Volkswagen Beetle can be seen, but this time its number plate reads “51 IS” - appropriate given that was McCartney’s age.
Two years later McCartney and his late wife Linda lent their voices to an episode of The Simpsons. As the credits roll some clear backwards speech can be heard. When it’s played the right way it’s McCartney reciting a recipe for lentil soup. When he finishes the cooking instructions he adds: “And, oh, by the way, I’m alive”.
So, that settles that then.