Rock history is full of urban legends – from Elvis’s passing being a hoax to Led Zeppelin allegedly hiding Satanic messages in their records. Yet one of the strangest, enduring pieces of rock ‘n roll hearsay is that music legend Paul McCartney is actually dead… and has been since November 9, 1966!
By all appearances, the beloved Beatles bassist, singer, and songwriter is alive and kicking, still selling out stadiums well into his seventies. However, these conspiracy theories about how he met his demise decades ago might make you quite skeptical too…
1. “I buried Paul”: Listeners have claimed that they hear John Lennon moan this creepy line towards the end of the psychedelic “Strawberry Fields Forever,” though Lennon claimed that he actually said “cranberry sauce.”
2. The Abbey Road cover: Besides the fact that Paul McCartney is out of step with his bandmates, some say there’s funeral imagery on this famous cover. They suggest that George Harrison is the gravedigger, Ringo Starr is the undertaker, Lennon is the priest, and McCartney, barefoot, is a supposed symbol of life after death.
3. “28IF”: Also on the Abbey Road cover is this license plate, which is significant to fans who say McCartney was 28 by the time the album was released. Granted, he was actually 27, but apparently some conspiracy theorists struggle with math.
4. “So let me introduce to you/to the one and only Billy Shears”: This line from the title track of 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is supposedly our introduction to McCartney’s impostor, though some say his real name is “William Campbell.”
5. “A Day in the Life”: This haunting final track from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is said to contain a number of references to McCartney’s alleged fatal car accident, especially the line “he blew his mind out in a car.”
6. “Paul is a dead man, miss him, miss him”: This supposed example of “backmasking,” or the hiding of secret messages that can only be revealed by playing a record backwards, is also said to appear on “A Day in the Life.”
TheBeatlesAtTheStudio231 / YouTube
Similarly, through backmasking the strange, psychedelic finale to “A Day in the Life” is also said to include the line “Will Paul be there as Superman?” What McCartney has to do with the Last Son of Krypton, though, remains unclear…
7. The original Yesterday and Today cover: This compilation album initially featured a grotesque “butcher cover,” with the band adorned in raw meat and mutilated baby dolls, which supposedly symbolized McCartney’s deadly car accident.
8. Moreover, the tamer Yesterday and Today cover that was ultimately released instead of the gory version portrays McCartney in a suitcase, which some have suggested is a reference to his burial.
9. “I ONE IX HE…DIE”: Eagle-eyed fans have claimed that if you hold a mirror to the “Lonely Hearts” text on the drumhead on the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Band cover, this message is revealed. If converted it becomes “11/9 He Die,” as McCartney “died” on November 9.
10. “231-7438”: This “phone number” is supposedly revealed when you look at the word “Beatles” upside down on the cover of Magical Mystery Tour. It is said to have been the “Paul is Dead” hotline where the secret would be revealed to fans.
This was bogus, of course. McCartney wasn’t even in a walrus costume—John Lennon was! Nonetheless, some claim that the walrus is a symbol of death in certain cultures, so the rumor persists.
11. The White Album liner notes: Fans have found some interesting clues inside the Beatles’ self-titled 1968 double album. Some theorized that a photo of McCartney dunking his head into the water in a bathtub represents the cleaning of his corpse by a coroner.
12. “Officially Pronounced Dead”: Again, on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, each Beatles member wears patches of memorabilia that they picked up from touring. McCartney’s bore the logo of the Ontario Provincial Police. Though the acronym is actually “OPP,” many fans misread it as “OPD”—or “Officially Pronounced Dead.”
13. The Beatles themselves messed with their fans: McCartney, understandably, didn’t enjoy the rumors of his demise, but Lennon had fun with the idea. “Here’s another clue for you all,” he sang on “Glass Onion” in 1968. “The walrus was Paul.”
14. “How Do You Sleep”: Even after the Beatles broke up, John referenced the hoax on his 1971 solo album Imagine. Only, this time, it was a scathing insult in a whole song that was all about his bitterness towards his old collaborator: “Those freaks was right when they said you was dead,” Lennon sang.
15. The fake interview: A fabricated World Daily News Report was circulated in 2015 that contained a fake interview with Ringo Starr. In it, he claimed the band “panicked” when McCartney died, and they hired Billy Shears as a “temporary solution” at the suggestion of their manager, Brian Epstein.
Parlophone Music Sweden / Wikimedia Commons
Conveniently, according to this fake interview, Shears was “a pretty good musician and he was able to perform almost better than Paul. The only problem was that he couldn’t get along with John at all.”
Roger / Flickr
16. Paul Is Live: McCartney eventually got in on the joke himself! Not only was the title of this 1993 live album a cheeky reference to the long-running rumor, but the cover, based on the iconic Abbey Road album art, was riddled with “clues.”
For example, fans have suggested that the three “surviving” Beatles bribed police to keep silent about McCartney’s death, symbolized by a police vehicle on the Abbey Road cover. However, no such car was on the Paul Is Live cover!
West Midlands Police / Wikimedia Commons
Even if Paul McCartney died in a 1966 car crash, this “Billy Shears” character sure wrote a heck of a lot of songs that were just as great as the ones written by the man he was impersonating. Just take a listen to “Hey Jude” or “Let it Be” or “Band on the Run” or “Jet” or… there are too many to name!
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