In the late 1960s there was a popular theory that Paul McCartney had died and that he had been replaced by an imposter. The Beatles had announced that they would never tour again, and many people wanted an explanation for this - and the fantastical 'Paul McCartney death theory' was the favoured option. The theory suggests that Paul McCartney died in a car accident on 9 November, 1966, and was replaced by someone called Billy Shears, who had undergone surgery to look like Paul McCartney.
The evidence was purported to be contained in clues in the albums released by the Beatles, in the words and pictures they contained. Here then are those clues, and the 'evidence' that claimed that Paul McCartney was indeed dead.
Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
This was the album that launched the 'Paul is dead' mania. In it there were several supposed clues.
The Album Cover
On the album, there is a flower display of yellow hyacinths, in the shape of a yellow left-handed guitar. Paul McCartney is left-handed, so many believed that the guitar represented him. It only has three strings on it, so many believed that this represented the fact that there were only three Beatles still alive. Many also believed that the flowers spelled out 'Paul?'.
Another flower display is the name 'Beatles' itself. Curiously, this was the first time the band had called itself 'Beatles' and not 'The Beatles'. Many believed that the name 'Beatles' is saying that they are no longer The Beatles, merely some, ie three. Another view is that it spells out 'Be at Leso' if you include the flowers on the right - supposedly the resting place of Paul McCartney's remains. However, nowhere with the name of Leso is listed in modern atlases.
Issy Bonn, a member of the crowd, has his right hand raised above Paul McCartney's head. This supposedly is a symbol of death in many Eastern societies. This symbol is repeated several times in later albums, but only over Paul's head.
Paul McCartney is holding a black cor anglais (an alto woodwind instrument of the oboe family). He is the only member of the Beatles holding a black instrument, and black is the colour of Western funerals. He is holding it with three fingers - did this symbolise only three Beatles?
On the front of the cover there is statue of Kali, a goddess that symbolises rebirth and regeneration. Did this hint that there was a new member of the Beatles?
On the doll on the right of the album there is an Aston Martin, which was thought to be the car involved in the McCartney accident. The doll sits on the lap of a grandmother figure. She has a (bloodstained?) driving glove on her left hand, perhaps symbolising the car accident. The fact that Paul was left-handed was also portentous of ill omen for many.
The biggest clue is on the drum in the centre of the picture. The drum was designed by a Joe Ephgrave - a name considered by some to be an amalgamation of 'Epitaph' and 'Grave'. If you hold a mirror horizontally through the middle of 'Lonely Hearts', the message 'I ONE IX HE <>(diamond) DIE' - the 'I One' has been interpreted to mean 11 - and so the message reads '11 9 HE DIE' or the 9 November, the date of the accident. The <> is a diamond shape that points straight up at the figure of Paul McCartney, demonstrating who has died. But would the Beatles, being English, have used the American tradition of putting the month before the day?
The album is also bright red - the colour of Paul's blood, perhaps?
Sgt Pepper - the first album after the accident - is also the first album by Apple. Many believe 'Apple' sounds like 'A-Paul', meaning without Paul in the same way that 'amoral' means without morals and 'asexual' means without sex.
Lyrics and Booklet
'I took her home, I nearly made it' from 'Lovely Rita' constitutes one theory that Paul was driving and gave a hitchhiker a lift, when he died in the crash.
In the original album's lyric sheet (but sadly not in the CD), the lyrics were written over the pictures of the Beatles.
George Harrison's finger distinctly points at a line from 'She's Leaving Home' that reads 'Wednesday Morning at five o'clock as the day begins'. This has been used to show the time of the death - 9 November was a Wednesday, the day that Paul McCartney 'died'.
The words to 'Within You Without You' were printed on the LP's lyric sheet over Paul's body:
We were talking about the space between us all
And the people who hide themselves behind a wall
Of illusion never glimpse the truth
Then it's far too late - when they pass away.
Does this mean no-one glimpses that Paul has died? Is Paul the one who passed away?
5 o'clock is also mentioned in 'Good Morning, Good Morning':
People running round it's 5 o'clock
Everywhere in town is getting dark
Everyone you see is full of life
Did this refer to the fact that Paul was dead, but that his death was covered up? Another line in 'Good Morning, Good Morning' is 'Nothing to do to save his life' - did this mean that Paul could not be saved? Many believed that the title has 'Morning' as a play on mourning, weeping for someone's death.
There are many clues in the song 'A Day In the Life'. The line 'He blew his mind out in a car' can only refer to some form of car accident. 'They'd seen his face before, nobody...' - had they seen his face as one of the Beatles? Some people interpreted 'nobody' to mean decapitation, or 'no body'.
Who exactly is Billy Shears, who is being introduced? And by saying 'I don't really want to stop the show', did it mean that the Beatles planned to carry on, regardless of Paul's death?
One theory, that Paul McCartney is wearing a badge with the letters OPD (standing for 'Officially Pronounced Dead') is, though, false. It quite clearly says OPP - and is the logo of the Ontario Provincial Police (see page 13 in the CD booklet). However, one theory says that sometime after Sgt Pepper was released, a worldwide Paul look-alike contest was held. The winner was from Toronto, Ontario, Canada, which is in the area where the OPP work.
However, on pages 9 and 23, Paul is the only one seen sitting in what is described as the foetal position - how people are buried in Celtic traditions. He is also interestingly the only Beatle whose back is turned to the camera (on page 11 and 13 of the CD booklet) meaning Paul wouldn't be facing us anymore?
Another theory was that on the photo where Paul turns his back (pages 10 and 11 of the CD booklet), the Beatles had changed their epaulets to their left shoulders, and not right as elsewhere in the album. This practice is appropriate for funeral processions. Many believed that this was a clue in itself regarding Paul's death as they are epaulets - however, this photo is merely the mirror image of the photo on pages 12 and 13.
Fans seeking Paul McCartney death clues even went as far as to seek clues in other albums before Sgt Pepper. In Help! it was noticed that Paul was the only Beatle not wearing a hat, and the album title Rubber Soul was interpreted as 'rubber' referring to screeching tyres and 'soul' referring to death. It is also said that the Beatles are looking down into a coffin. Rubber Soul though, was released in 1965, before the supposed accident in 1966.
From Revolver, there are more clues. 'Got to Get You into My Life' states 'I was alone, I took a ride, I didn't know what I would find there', which was interpreted as meaning the drive before the accident. The song 'She Said She Said' also says 'I know what it's like to be dead', and this has been considered a death clue also.
What these albums show is that there were many people who had different versions of the theory and the date of the death was disagreed upon - and that it is possible to construct clues from anything.
The Beatles Yesterday and Today
Another album released before was the American album The Beatles Yesterday And Today, which was reported to hold several clues.
The first of these was that the original cover, which contained the Beatles dressed in white coats with figs, meat and headless dolls - symbolising decapitation. There is also a set of false teeth on Paul's right arm. People have claimed that Paul's watch says 5 o'clock, but in truth it is impossible to prove. When that cover was banned, the new cover showed the group around a trunk, with Paul sitting inside - many people considered this to be a coffin.
In both copies of the album, the title and Today was on a separate line to Yesterday. Many people felt that this symbolised that the Beatles today were different to the Beatles yesterday, as Paul was dead. 'Yesterday' is also the title of Paul's most famous Beatles song.
The play list in Yesterday and Today has been considered a clue. Songs on it are:
'Drive My Car' - did this refer to the car accident?
'I'm Only Sleeping' - did this mean Paul is 'sleeping', meaning dead?
'Act Naturally' - was this the imposter's task? Or what the Beatles themselves planned to do without Paul.
'If I Needed Someone' - was this the search for a Paul replacement?
'Dr Robert' was said to be the name of the plastic surgeon who operated on 'Paul'.
A Collection of Beatles Oldies
This was a British album released just before Sgt Pepper in time for Christmas. It also contained clues. On the front cover, a Paul-like Beatle sits with a cigarette in his right hand, just like on the cover of Abbey Road. There is also a picture of a car driving straight towards his head - suggesting a car accident and decapitation.
The title Beatles Oldies on the drum Paul is sitting on also contains clues, and is the second drum to contain clues. Firstly, it says 'Beatles' and not 'The Beatles'; the significance has been discussed before. The word 'Oldies' is also interesting. The last four letters are, of course, 'dies'. The first two, are O and L. What letters come after O and L in the alphabet? P and M - Paul McCartney's initials - so the title says 'P M Dies'.
On the back cover, Paul is the only Beatle dressed in black - the colour associated with funerals.
Magical Mystery Tour
Like Sgt Pepper, there are clues in the Magical Mystery Tour film, booklet, cover and lyrics. Unfortunately, the 24-page photo booklet that was with the original LP version is not available with the current CD.
The Cover, Booklet and Film
The cover has the four Beatles dressed in different costumes - one of which is a black walrus costume. In some Scandinavian countries, a walrus is said to be a harbinger of death. Rumours that 'walrus' is Greek for 'corpse' are, however, false. Black, as has been said, is the colour of funerals in the West. Who is the Beatle in the walrus suit? The Beatles said it was John, yet the bird-like creature on the top right seems to be wearing John's glasses.
Yet again, on the cover, the group are referred to as 'Beatles'.
In the booklet, an examination of the centre picture (pages 4 and 5 on the CD) reveals many 'clues'. Ringo's drum has the message 'Love 3 The Beatles' - why the three? Did this refer to the fact that there are only three Beatles and Paul is dead? Also note the shoes by the drums, and that Paul is not wearing any, like in Abbey Road. In some societies, corpses are buried without shoes on.
Another photo in the booklet has John Lennon's hand raised over Paul McCartney's head, similar to the Sgt Pepper cover.
At the end of the Magical Mystery Tour film, George, Ringo and John are wearing red carnations, yet Paul's is black - why? Paul is also the only Beatle to receive a bouquet of dead flowers. Were these intended for his grave?
In the leaflet, underneath the song name 'I Am the Walrus' are the words '"No You're Not" said Little Nicola'. As we later learn that the walrus was supposed to be Paul, did this mean that Paul was an imposter?
In the film, and in the longer, original booklet, Paul McCartney, when in uniform, sits behind a desk with the words 'I was' in front. Above his head there is a cross of flags. Crosses bring to mind ideas of gravestones, and death. Another picture is of John Lennon in the tour ticket shop, with the words 'The Best Way To Go Is By M & D Co' to his right. M & D Co is said to be the initials of a British funeral director - but this is a tenuous link. What does remain scary is that the company's initials - M D C - are also the initials of Mark David Chapman, John Lennon's murderer.
Magical Mystery Tour was released as an album on 8 December, 1967 - 13 years later, to the exact day on 8 December, 1980, John Lennon was murdered.
From 'I Am The Walrus':
'I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together' - did this refer to John Lennon, Paul and Paul's imposter?
'Stupid bloody Tuesday' is said to refer to when Paul 'dies' - yet this disagrees with the Wednesday clues. One argument is that it refers to the night before the accident, when Paul allegedly got drunk and into an argument with the other Beatles.
The line 'Waiting for the van to come' is said to refer to an ambulance for Paul.
'Goo goo g'joob' is a quote of Humpty Dumpty's last words - the 'Eggman'. Did this symbolise a Humpty Dumpty fall and a break-up of the Beatles with Paul's death - like a broken egg?
At the very end of the song verses from King Lear are heard, including the words:
Oswald: Slave, thou hast slain me: villain, take my purse:
If ever thou wilt thrive, bury my body;
And give the letters which thou find'st about me
To Edmund earl of Gloucester; seek him out
Upon the British party: O, untimely death! [Dies]
Edgar: I know thee well: a serviceable villain;
As duteous to the vices of thy mistress
As badness would desire.
Gloucester: What, is he dead?
This has been interpreted to suggest that the imposter has in effect slain the real Paul McCartney. He has taken his purse and money by impersonating Paul McCartney, the one who has suffered an untimely death.
In 'Blue Jay Way' George sings 'Please don't be long, please don't you be very long'. Some claim that this, when reversed, says 'Paul is bloody, Paul is very very bloody'.
If you listen closely to the very end of 'Strawberry Fields Forever', the words 'I buried Paul' are said to be audible, yet this is muttered, and the Beatles all said that it was really John saying 'cranberry sauce'. This seems most likely, as on the Anthology version, the words 'cranberry sauce' are audible loud and clear. However, in the video for 'Strawberry Fields Forever', as soon as the words 'nothing is real' are sung, we are greeted with a close up of Paul's face. Was this saying that it wasn't Paul?
There are very few clues on the Yellow Submarine album.
Firstly, on the cover, John has his raised hand above Paul's head - identical to in Magical Mystery Tour and Sgt Pepper.
The song 'Only a Northern Song' also contains clues in its lyrics:
If you think the harmony
is a little dark and our of key
You're correct, there's nobody there
When you're listening late at night
You may think the band's not quite right
Is the band not right because Paul wasn't there, and so not singing the harmony?
The Beatles aka The White Album
There are clues in this album also. The cover, being white, is the colour of death in some societies, such as Japan. The photos inside also contain clues, as do the lyrics, and even some songs when played backwards!
The Booklet and Cover
On page 3 of the CD booklet there is a picture of Paul lying in a bath. It has been suggested that the water that's up to his neck symbolises decapitation - the photo also does not seem of a lifelike Paul.
On page 7, in the bottom middle, there is a picture of Paul, with what appears to be skeletal hands reaching out to grab him from behind.
The main photograph of Paul McCartney has also been said to show a scar above Paul's lip - allegedly the imposter's plastic surgery.
In 'Glass Onion' John sings 'Here's another clue for you all, the walrus was Paul' - a direct reference to Magical Mystery Tour, the implications of which have already been discussed.
Ringo sings 'You were in a car crash, and you lost your hair' in 'Don't Pass Me By'. Did Paul lose his hair and his head through being decapitated? Once again, a reference to a car crash.
George 'Look[s] at the floor and I see it needs sweeping' in 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' - sweeping up blood?
And just what is being referred to when Paul suggests that 'No-one will be watching us, why don't we do it in the road?' Was this a reference to the accident that no-one saw being covered up?
In 'Yer Blues', the lines 'the Eagle picks my eye/the worm he licks my bones' refer to a corpse decomposing, and the lyrics 'Yes I'm Lonely, Wanna Die, If I'm not dead already, girl you know the reason why' refer to Rita, the hitchhiker who witnessed the accident? And 'If I'm not dead already' - does this mean Paul is, in fact, already dead, and so there is an imposter?
Is the 'Blackbird' a symbol of death?
'Revolution 9' endlessly repeats 'Number 9' did this refer to the date of Paul's death? Or did it refer to Paul, as 'McCartney' is a name with nine letters? Curiously, 9 November 1966 - the day of the supposed accident - was the day that John and Yoko met, and it was also the fifth anniversary of Brian Epstein meeting the Beatles on 9 November, 1961.
There are also clues when tracks are played in reverse. Between 'I'm So Tired' and 'Blackbird' is a mumble, which when reversed, is supposed to say 'Paul is dead man, miss him, miss him, miss him'. 'Revolution 9', when reversed, apparently has messages including 'Turn me on, dead man' and 'Let me out! Let me out!', which are said to be the death cries of Paul McCartney, trapped in his car...
Let it Be
This album does not contain many clues, only that the cover is funeral black, and that Paul McCartney's photo is the only one with a blood-red background.
Booklet and Cover
The cover of Abbey Road has the four Beatles crossing the road, in a manner that is supposed to symbolise 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 again holds a cigarette in his right hand when he is left handed, similar to in A Collection of Beatles Oldies .
Paul is also shoeless, similar to in Magical Mystery Tour, reminding us of the custom to bury people without their shoes in some cultures.
The Beatles are walking east-west, and in ancient Egypt, pharaohs were buried facing west.
In the background 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 one when you are born, and so that he would be 28 in their custom.
On the back cover of the album is the name 'Beatles', yet again repeating the idea that they are just some Beatles, not The Beatles. The 's' of Beatles has a crack in it - does this symbolise that there is a flaw in the Beatles themselves?
In the original album, but sadly not the CD, on the back you can see dots to the left of the word 'Beatles'. These dots, when connected, form the shape of a three - so that it reads 'three Beatles' on the back1.
You can also see a girl in a blue dress walk past. Some people feel that this represents 'lovely Rita', the hitchhiker Paul was supposed to have been with at the time of the accident. Another theory is that it is Jane Asher - the girl who Paul McCartney was engaged to, before he married Linda McCartney. Paul's marriage to Linda was thought to be proof of the fact that he was not Paul, as Paul's relationship to Jane ended at the time of his supposed death.
Clues in the lyrics include several in the opening track 'Come Together':
The phrase 'flat top' could refer to a headless corpse.
'He wear no shoe shine' - Paul has twice been seen without shoes.
'One and one and one is three' - does this refer to there being only three Beatles?
'Come together, right now, over me' conjures up images of a wake gathered around Paul's coffin at a wake.
The line 'Got to be good looking as he's so hard to see' - Paul was considered the good looking Beatle but he was he hard to see because he had been buried? Also, only the 'good looking' will be able to spot the hidden clues.
The song 'Sun King' could have a hidden meaning, as King Louis XIV was called the 'Sun King'. Alexander Dumas' famous novel The Man in the Iron Mask tells how the Sun King was replaced by an imposter.
In 'You Never Give Me Your Money' are the words '1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, all good children go to Heaven' - was the going to Heaven a reference to Paul being dead? Curiously, the numbers here also add up to 28 also...
During this time, some singles were released that were not put on any albums. 'Lady Madonna''s line 'Wednesday morning papers didn't come' has been interpreted to mean that on the day of Paul's death, a Wednesday, no report of it was in the news at all.
How likely are these clues? It cannot be denied that the vast majority are coincidences, interpreted in certain ways. It is true, though, that the Beatles did experiment with backwards tracks - the earliest example is the song 'Rain' where at the end there is a backward track of John singing the first line again. As for hidden clues in album covers, the original cover of Wings' Red Rose Speedway had a message in braille that read 'we love you, Stevie baby' that was included for Stevie Wonder.
Another curiosity is that on Wednesday 9 November, 1966, Paul McCartney did have an accident, but this was a motorcycle accident on the way to his Aunt Bett's house, and it did not happen at 5 o'clock. A local doctor was called, and the accident resulted in only a chipped tooth, and a scar to his lip. This is why in the 'Rain' and 'Paperback Writer' videos, Paul appears without a tooth - which was considered evidence of his being an imposter. It would also explain any scars seen in the White Album photo.
If Paul McCartney was dead and there were clues telling us this, then why did these clues stop? Why aren't there any references to this in the Beatles solo careers, with the exception of John Lennon's bitter line in 'How Do You Sleep?': 'Those freaks was right when they said you was dead'.
And is it really possible for a mere Paul McCartney look-alike to have written such classic songs as 'Band on the Run', 'Live and Let Die', 'No More Lonely Nights', 'We All Stand Together', 'Mull of Kintyre' and 'Somedays'? That seems unlikely.
One thing that remains is a curious legacy that perhaps tells us more about the time than the Beatles. It was a time when the theory of a conspiracy regarding John F Kennedy's assassination was on a lot of people's minds, and with Vietnam going on, it was a time of paranoia when it was easier to believe in the extreme than rationality.
Yet despite this, Paul McCartney has proven that he has a sense of humour regarding the whole thing. If you look at the cover of his 1993 album Paul is Live, he is crossing Abbey Road walking his son's dog, and the Beetle in the background has the number plate 51 IS - saying that Paul is 51, and is alive. And if you play some versions of 'Maybe I'm Amazed' backwards, you are rewarded with Paul reading out a recipe for lentil soup, and a message: 'Oh, and by the way - I'm alive'.