‘I buried Paul’
Your guide to the convoluted conspiracy theory that Paul McCartney died in 1966
This month marks the 50th anniversary of the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which means it also marks the golden jubilee of the infamous “Paul is dead” conspiracy theory. This was the popular urban legend that Beatle Paul McCartney had been killed in a 1966 car crash and replaced with an impostor by record executives. It’s obviously wrong, of course. But regardless, the Paul is dead theory remains an excellent example of how a group of dedicated conspiracists can gather surprisingly compelling evidence for a theory — even if that theory is still utterly and completely ridiculous.
Here are some of the “clues” of the Paul is dead theory.
Sgt Pepper is a famously busy album cover, so it’s also a rich source of conspiracy leads. There’s an open palm over McCartney’s head, which fans interpreted as being akin to a priest blessing the dead Beatle before internment. While the other three Beatles are carrying brass instruments, McCartney is carrying a cor anglais, a black woodwind instrument. In the corner, next to a doll wearing a “Welcome the Rolling Stones” jumper, is a reddish driving glove symbolizing McCartney’s bloody crash death. A bass guitar made out of flowers in the foreground only has three strings, allegedly symbolizing a dead McCartney as the “missing” string. Hold a mirror over “lonely hearts” in the drum logo and it appears to use numbers and Roman numerals to spell out 11/9 HE DIE — an alleged reference to McCartney’s dying on November 9, 1966. And finally, the whole scene depicts McCartney’s burial. In truth, the album is supposed to depict a burial, but a metaphorical one. The Beatles wanted a psychedelic way to communicate to fans that their mop-topped collarless suit days were over, and that the world should instead prepare for a quartet of sophisticated studio musicians who may or may not enjoy dressing in Edwardian military regalia.
The ‘funeral procession’
Although it has since become a rock icon, the cover for Abbey Road remains a triumph of lazy album artwork. The Beatles simply walked out of the studio in whatever they were wearing and posed on an adjacent crosswalk. McCartney, notably, didn’t even bother to put shoes on. But fans interpreted the four as representing a funeral procession of sorts: A gravedigger, a corpse, an undertaker and a priest. According to theorists, McCartney’s shoelessness was a nod to the practice of interring corpses without shoes. However, a persistent problem with Paul is dead evidence is that theorists kept referring to symbols for death that don’t really seem to exist. So it is with the shoeless theory; it’s not actually a practice to bury otherwise well-dressed corpses without shoes. “I was walking barefoot because it was a hot day,” is how McCartney explained it. Also, in the background, a Volk
‘I buried Paul’
In an audio from the end of Strawberry Fields Forever, the distorted voice of John Lennon can be heard saying something. Lennon claims he was saying “cranberry sauce,” the Beatles’ press officer claimed he was saying “I’m very bored” and conspiracy theorists thought he was saying “I buried Paul.”
Randomly interjecting during recording sessions was a favourite habit of Lennon. At the end of the White Album song I’m So Tired, Lennon fades out the track with a few seconds of gibberish. Play it backwards and it does indeed sound like Lennon is saying “Paul is a dead man, miss him, miss him, miss him.” One of the reasons that alleged secret messages were able to gain such traction with fans is because the Beatles actually did have a penchant to put secret messages in their albums. But rather than communicating a morbid coverup, they were usually just trying to slip naughty things past the censors.
Above are the two album covers for Yesterday and Today, a compilation album released for the North American market.
On the right is the cover that the Beatles wanted to use; an extremely abstract concept image intended to symbolize the fact that the Beatles remained flesh and blood despite their fame. On the left is the photo that ultimately ended up on the album when horrified record executives kiboshed the butcher cover.
For conspiracy theorists, the butcher cover’s symbolism was easy: It depicted the carnage of McCartney’s grisly death. But they even had an explanation for the mild cover. McCartney is seated inside a steamer trunk symbolizing the fact that the “real” McCartney was also in a box six feet underground.
The Canadian connection
Ontarians will immediately recognize the patch on McCartney’s left arm in this sleeve art from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It is the shoulder patch of the Ontario Provincial Police, and found its way into McCartney’s possession during a tour through Canada. Given the angle of the photo, however, theorists took it that the patch read “OPD,” an alleged abbreviation for “officially pronounced dead.” Once again, there is little evidence that British hospitals ever used the acronym OPD to refer to a deceased patient.