Those of you who know me just accept the fact that I have an unhealthy obsession with the urban legend surrounding the “death” of Paul McCartney and the subsequent cover-up by the remaining three Beatles. Truth be told, my interest has less to do with my believing in the legend and more with my fascination over how such a bizarre story could come to be accepted as truth by millions of people. Granted, this happened in the late 60s and there were a lot of controlled substances being ingested back then, but even today, there is a whole subculture devoted to finding clues related to McCartney’s death.
The biggest question I’ve always asked is: how did this bizarre tale get started? Most people point to the October 12th, 1969 broadcast of Michigan’s WKNR, when then-student Tom Zarski called in and told the DJ, Russ Gibb, that he “wanted to rap with (him) about Paul McCartney being dead.” Years later, Zarski would state that he had heard the rumors of Paul’s demise and that there were clues hidden in the records and was merely calling the radio station to see if the stories were true. In other words, the legend pre-dates October 12th, 1969.
The earliest mention of “clues” that I’ve been able to find in print (so far) is the September 17th, 1969 edition of Drake University’s Times-Delphic, which contains an article by Tim Harper entitled “Is Beatle Paul McCartney Dead?” But once again, Harper has stated in interviews that he was merely re-telling what he had heard or been told about the clues.
If we take the actual clues out of the legend, one of the earliest possible sources that people might have gleaned information about Paul McCartney being dead from was the single Saint Paul by Terry Knight, which was released in May of 1969. With numerous Beatle references sprinkled throughout the song, Saint Paul is obviously a reference to Paul McCartney. While the popular belief is that the song is about Knight becoming disillusioned after meeting several of the Beatles, including Paul, if one listens to the lyrics with their conspiracy hat on, they could be taken to be describing Paul’s death (click on the image below to listen to Saint Paul and decide for yourself what Mr. Knight is talking about).
Of course, none of the lyrics of Saint Paul mention the cause of Paul’s alleged death: a car crash. The earliest appearance I’ve been able to find of that is The Beatles Book from February of 1967, almost two years before the Paul Is Dead rumor broke.
Towards the back of this UK magazine, there is a section called Beatle News, which traditionally carried brief announcements of “light” news—this particular edition features a blurb about how all of the Beatles have decided to grow mustaches. But there’s also a rather intriguing article entitled False Rumour, which reads as follows:
For me, this would seem to be where the initial idea of Paul McCartney dying in a car crash came from. It’s interesting to note that even when the Paul Is Dead rumor finally hit in 1969, the story was that McCartney had died 2 years earlier, in November of 1966. That puts us in roughly the same time frame as the alleged January 1967 car crash.
So when you lay everything out in a nice little timeline, it appears as though the False Rumour article points to the original rumor that Paul had died in a car crash on January 7th, 1967. That story percolates for a while until Saint Paul is released, at which point people start thinking there might be clues hidden in that song’s lyrics. From there, it was only a matter of time before people were listening for clues in Beatles records…and playing them backwards. Of course, I might uncover another tidbit of information that sends my whole theory crashing down, but for now, that’s what I’ve come up with!
Interestingly enough, while researching the January 7th, 1967 car crash mentioned in The Beatles Book, I uncovered a whole slew of urban legends attached to it; did the crash really happen? Was it Paul’s car? Was Paul even in the car? But those are different legends for a different day!