“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Harvey Dent’s words from The Dark Knight always remind me of John Lennon and Paul McCartney – the musical legend tragically gunned down by a madman, and his songwriting partner, who these days works with Kanye West, Rhianna, Jamie bloody Oliver and seemingly anyone who gives him a modicum of relevance.
Except there is a school of thought that it was John who lived to become the villain. Because Paul McCartney died in November 1966 and was replaced with a lookalike.
Sure, it sounds crazy, until you read all the evidence… Then it sounds even crazier.
But it’s an impressive example of the way a rumour can get, like, seriously out of hand decades before social media’s inventors were a twinkle in their fathers’ eyes.
The rumour kicked off in 1969, based on a number of ‘clues’ that fans had picked up on various records.
Musically, there was the outro to the 1967 hit ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’. For those who have only heard the radio edit, the final minute or so of ‘Strawberry Fields’ is a hodgepodge of sounds – the annoying crap a bunch of twenty-somethings with access to an amazing music studio and a seemingly endless supply of mind-altering drugs might make while in the middle of changing music forever.
Among the sounds you can hear John Lennon reciting over and over some mish-mash of words, which a bunch of fans heard as being “I buried Paul”. And, to be fair, the words kinda sorta do sound like “I buried Paul”.
However, in his book Summer of Love, George Martin – the producer of ‘Strawberry Fields’ and indeed most of The Beatles’ work – said John was saying “Cranberry sauce”, because it was close to Christmas, and who isn’t thinking of slathering their turkey in some delicious cranny and turning that lyric into a global hit?
Then there was the artwork for the seminal 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, where the cover features a bass guitar made of a wreath of flowers. Paul played bass. A wreath? Aren’t they for… Funerals!
What was more concerning was the sleeve art, which featured images of the band in their crazy, hippy military get-up, but Paul had his back to the camera where the rest of the band were facing forward. Because backward means dead?
More pressing than the images on Sgt. Pepper’s were the lyrics. On the album-closing epic ‘A Day in the Life’, John sings:
I read the news today oh boy
About a lucky man who made the grade
And though the news was rather sad
Well I just had to laugh
I saw the photograph
He blew his mind out in a car
He didn’t notice that the lights had changed
At this point it’s worth discussing what exactly ‘happened’ to Paul. The legend goes that on a night in November 1966, he had picked up a random hitchhiker. When they young lass realised her luck at not only being picked, but being picked up by one of the biggest rock stars on the planet she started hugging him.
He didn’t notice that the lights had changed.
So Paul was dead – his mind blown out – but The Beatles’ record company weren’t willing to let their gravy train end, so they organised for a young man named William Campbell, who had recently won a Paul McCartney lookalike contest, to replace Paul.
Another hint to Paul and William’s fate appeared on Sgt. Pepper’s, on the opening, title track, which closes with the introduction of ‘Billy Shears’ – a clear reference to William.
Basically The Beatles had been leaving these little clues behind for their fans for three years. Then in October 1969 The Beatles released their final album, Abbey Road (Let it Be was released in 1970 but had been recorded prior to Abbey Road) and the rumour mill went into overdrive.
While to the average person this is just a picture of four guys crossing the road, for the conspiracy theorists it was screaming confirmation that Paul McCartney was indeed dead.
For starters, look at the respective Beatles’ clothes: John Lennon is wearing all white. Ringo Starr is in black. Paul McCartney is barefoot. George Harrison is rockin’ double denim.
This was seen as the logical progression of a funeral. John was the preacher, Ringo the undertaker, Paul the dead man, George the grave digger.
If that seems tenuous, wait until you examine the numberplate on the VW Beetle in the background…
That’s right, it reads:
If that’s gone over your head (n00b), the number plate all but spells out how dead Paul truly is.
LMW means ‘Linda McCartney Weeps’, because Paul’s wife is in tears that her hubby is dead.
28IF means Paul would have been ’28 IF’ he was still alive.
What more proof do you need?
Well, for starters, if Paul died in 1966, Linda probably wouldn’t be shedding too many tears, since she didn’t even meet Paul until 1967.
More to the point, Paul McCartney was born June 18, 1942. Abbey Road was released at the end of September, 1969. So Paul wouldn’t have been 28 if he had lived, he’d have been 27.
This is hardly a definitive write-up of the 28IF legend. In the almost 50 years since the rumour began it has taken a life of its own, and there are hundreds of pieces of clues that theorists point to as evidence Paul is indeed dead. Just google ‘Paul McCartney dead’ or ’28IF’ – you could trawl through the pages for years and still find new ‘evidence’ every day.
The only way McCartney’s death kind of makes sense is because his later stuff has been… I don’t want to say it sucks, but it certainly doesn’t reach the heights he achieved in The Beatles.
But if he died in 1966, then the songs widely considered his best – ‘Penny Lane’, ‘Hey Jude’, ‘Let It Be’ and the amazing, merging back-end of Abbey Road – are the work of William Campbell too.
The only remotely plausible way I could consider the McCartney who charging upwards of $200 per ticket for his live shows these days actually being William Campbell is based on the another member of the McCartney family.
Living in Liverpool the last few years, I’ve met Paul’s brother Mike a few times (that’s not me name-dropping – it’s a small enough city, you’re bound to bump into him too if you’re here a bit).
Though Mike’s two years younger than Paul… Let’s just say Paul’s publicity shots show him in a more flattering light.
Surely there’s no way a man worth hundreds of millions of dollars could find a way to look more youthful than his younger brother? Unless he’s actually been dead for 50 years…