Music, Pop Culture, The Beatles

Paul is Dead. The rumor revisited. Part IV

Part four abbey-road-album-cover-the-beatles

Original publish date:  June 29, 2015

Reissue date:  May 9, 2019

By the time The Beatles released their eleventh, and ultimately last, studio album Abbey Road on September 26, 1969, the “Paul is dead” rumor had developed a life of it’s own. Although Let It Be was the last album released before the band’s dissolution in 1970, work on Abbey Road began in April 1969. Although the band was barely speaking to each other at the time, Abbey Road is widely regarded as one of The Beatles’ best albums. Rolling Stone placed it at number 14 on its list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time”. In 2009, readers of the magazine also named Abbey Road the greatest Beatles album. But in the fall of 1969, many Beatle fans were in the throes of mourning for what they believed was their dearly departed bass player, Paul McCartney. And the cover of Abbey Road did little to quell the controversy.
z Beatles-696x464Almost immediately conspiratorialists saw the Abbey Road album cover as a funeral procession. Leading the procession is John dressed in white, symbolizing the clergy. Next comes Ringo, dressed in black like an undertaker. Paul, the presumed corpse, is third in line and walks out of step with the other Beatles, he is barefoot and his eyes are closed. George brings up the rear, dressed in work clothes the supposed gravedigger. Also, Paul is smoking a cigarette, also known as a “coffin nail”. The fact that he is holding the cigarette in his right hand, even though the “real” Paul McCartney was left handed, only added to the belief that this was an impostor posing as the dead bassist. z 995528_522730157803684_710584043_n
z Abbey-Road-facts-the-beetle-carThe death clues were not confined to the image of the lads in the crosswalk however. For behind the Beatles on the left side of the street is a Volkswagen Beetle with a license plate reading “LMW 28IF”, suggesting that Paul would have been 28 if he were still alive. Actually Paul would have been 27 when Abbey Road was released. This seeming miscalculation was explained away by the rumorists with the fact that Paul studied mysticism in the Near East. Most mystics believe we are all one year old at birth (counting the nine months of pregnancy) confirming that Paul would have been 28 IF he had lived!.” The first three letters on the license place, “LMW,” were interpreted as “Linda McCartney Weeps”. On the right side of the road is a police van, seen as a reference to the cover up of Paul’s death by police.
z IMG_1561-Version-3Perhaps as expected, the clues are not only confined to the front cover, for devoted clueseekers, many hidden secrets can be found on the back cover as well. To the left of the tiles spelling out “Beatles” are eight dots, which when connected form the number “3”, so the back cover actually reads “3 Beatles”. Also, there is a crack in the “S” at the end of “Beatles”. Some say that to the right of the tiles is an odd shadow that looks like a skull.
The woman walking by is supposedly Jane Asher, Paul’s girlfriend at the time of the accident, who was supposedly paid to keep quiet about the whole matter. The rumor also states that if you look at her elbow from a distance, the silhouette of Paul McCartney’s profile appears. The songs themselves of course hold clues to Paul’s demise in the lyrics. In “Come Together” the line “One and one and one is three” hints that there are three Beatles instead of four. And of course, “Golden Slumbers” and “The End” are easily open to macabre interpretation.
As previously stated, although recorded before Abbey Road, the last album the Beatles released was Let It Be. In the track “The Long and Winding Road” on Let It Be, Paul can be heard singing tearfully, as if he knows he is already dead. In the lyrics of the title song, “Let It Be”, Paul’s lyrics allegedly hint that everyone should “let it be” and accept the fact that is he dead once and for all. The mention of “Mother Mary” in the song confirms that Paul is dead, as the Bible indicates the she stands at the gates of heaven beside St. Peter. Lastly, the track “The Long and Winding Road” is said to be a reference to the road that led to Paul’s decapitation.
z letitbe-500x500Finally, on the “Let It Be” cover, the album cover is black. Said to symbolize the end, or death, of the Beatles. Or maybe it was to symbolize the death of a Beatle? The background squares of John, George, and Ringo’s photos are all adorned in white. While Paul’s square is depicted with a blood red background. Also, Paul is shown facing forward rather than in three-quarter profile. Another indication of Paul’s death is seen by the fact that he grew a beard, seen by some religions as a sign of death and mourning. The rest of The Beatles’ beards are clues as well, as they all indicate that the three surviving members are in mourning for their lost bandmate.

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On November 7th, 1969 Life Magazine ran an interview with Paul McCartney at his Scottish farm. Paul spoke about the various “death clues” including the OPD badge on his Pepper suit (which fans took to mean “Officially Pronounced Dead”), his black flower in Magical Mystery Tour, and his barefooted appearance on the Abbey Road album cover. Paul was quoted as saying, “It is all bloody stupid. I picked up that OPD badge in Canada. It was a police badge. Perhaps it means Ontario Police Department or something. I was wearing a black flower because they ran out of red ones. It is John, not me, dressed in black on the cover and inside of Magical Mystery Tour. On Abbey Road we were wearing our ordinary clothes. I was walking barefoot because it was a hot day. The Volkswagen just happened to be parked there.”
Paul continued, “Perhaps the rumor started because I haven’t been much in the press lately. I have done enough press for a lifetime, and I don’t have anything to say these days. I am happy to be with my family and I will work when I work. I was switched on for ten years and I never switched off. Now I am switching off whenever I can. I would rather be a little less famous these days. I would rather do what I began by doing, which is making music. We make good music and we want to go on making good music. But the Beatle thing is over. It has been exploded, partly by what we have done, and partly by other people. We are individuals – all different. John married Yoko, I married Linda. We didn’t marry the same girl. The people who are making up these rumors should look to themselves a little more. There is not enough time in life. They should worry about themselves instead of worrying whether I am dead or not. What I have to say is all in the music. If I want to say anything I write a song. Can you spread it around that I am just an ordinary person and want to live in peace? We have to go now. We have two children at home.”
Ringo dismissed the rumors as “a load of crap.” George never publicly spoke about the PID rumors. John proclaimed, “No. That was bullsh*t, the whole thing was made up.” But Paul had the last word on the rumors of his death. The cover of McCartney’s 1993 album “Paul Is Live” shows him with his dog on the famous Abbey Road crosswalk, obviously poking fun at the rumored funeral procession of nearly a quarter century before. In the background, once again, a Volkswagen Beetle is parked at the side with the license plate reading “51 IS”. Rather than being dead in his twenties, Paul was still alive and making music at age 51.

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Paul McCartney’s original Abbey Road album cover concept sketch.

As for the Abbey Road cover design, a photograph of The Beatles traversing a zebra crossing; it was based on sketched ideas by McCartney himself. The photo was taken from atop a step-ladder on August 8, 1969 outside EMI Studios on Abbey Road at 11:30 in the morning. Photographer Iain Macmillan was given only ten minutes to take the photo while policeman held up oncoming traffic.
The white Volkswagen Beetle belonged to one of the people living in the block of flats across from the recording studio. After the album was released, the car’s license plate (LMW 281F) was stolen repeatedly by adoring fans. In 1986, the car was sold at auction for $ 3,795.00 and in 2001 the VW Beetle was put on display in a German museum. The man standing on the pavement to the right of the picture is Paul Cole (1911-2008), an American tourist unaware he had been photographed until he saw the album cover months later.
z paul-coleCole, a Florida salesman, was on vacation with his wife, who wanted to go see “yet another museum.” Mr. Cole decided to wait outside on the north London thoroughfare. Cole watched as photographer Iain McMillan stood on a stepladder in the middle of the street, photographing the four Beatles as they walked, single-file, across Abbey Road. The entire shoot lasted 10 minutes. “I just happened to look up, and I saw those guys walking across the street like a line of ducks,” Cole remembered. “A bunch of kooks, I called them, because they were rather radical-looking at that time. You didn’t walk around in London barefoot.”
The image of the Beatles on the crossing has become one of the most famous and imitated in recording history. The crossing is a popular destination for Beatles fans and there is a 24-hour-a-day webcam aimed at it. Undoubtedly, in years to come some ghost group or spiritual investigation team will claim to see the ghost of John or George trodding across the stripes once more. As for Sir Paul McCartney, he’ll do his best to delay that walk for as long as he can.

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Music, Pop Culture, The Beatles

Paul is Dead. The rumor revisited. Part III

Part three White Album Poster

Original publish date:  June 22, 2015

Reissue date:  May 2, 2019

Last week, we once again visited the famous “Paul is Dead” rumor that haunted the Beatles rock band for many years. Obviously, the rumor that Paul McCartney died in a November 1966 car accident was just a rumor, to many Beatlemaniacs during the final years of the turbulent sixties decade, it was very real. It had become a national pastime to search for clues to Paul’s death in the music and artwork produced by the band. The albums Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery tour were allegedly rife with references to Sir Paul’s demise.
The band’s next album, a self-titled work known as “The White Album”, was released on November 22, 1968, prophetically 5-years to the day after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The death reference is not overstated, as soon, the “Paul is Dead” theorists would dissect the music and its accompanying poster for further clues of McCartney’s death. The death connection continued as, in time, the album would be blamed for inspiring Charles Manson and his “family” during their murder spree. Much of which was aimed at the music industry itself through the Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson and the band’s record producer Terry Melcher. But that’s another story.
z 316GrhxGleL._SY355_The stark snow white album cover was seen as an obvious reference to the white light of heaven, where Paul was supposed to be at its release. But it was the poster issued inside the white album (a collage featuring a number of random images of the Fab Four) that came under the scrutiny of those looking for “Paul is Dead” clues. In the lower right hand corner of the poster (page 7 of the CD booklet) is a grainy B&W photo of Paul dancing. Upon close examination, a pair of ghostly hands can be seen reaching toward Paul from behind.
In the lower left hand corner of the poster (page 18 of the CD booklet) is a cold war inspired passport photograph of Paul in disguise. Conspiracy theorists suggested that this image was actually of Paul’s replacement in the band, William Campbell Shears, taken prior to the plastic surgery that made him look more the “the late” Paul McCartney.
In the upper left hand corner of the poster (page 3 of the CD booklet) is a picture of Paul with his head partially submerged in a bathtub. The position of Paul’s head and the suds around him suggest the grisly accident scene of his fatal accident or perhaps the aftermath in the morgue. One version of the “Paul is dead” story claims that Paul left the recording studio after arguing with drummer Ringo Starr. In his song “Don’t Pass Me By”, Ringo is said to express his regret at the tragic turn of events after Paul’s angry departure from the studio: “I listen for your footsteps coming up the drive…I listen for your footsteps but they don’t arrive.” At the end of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, George Harrison is thought to moan the words “Paul, Paul”.
z beatles goThe song “Glass Onion” makes a number of references to Beatle songs and events. John mentions “The Fool on the Hill” and states, “I tell you man he living there still” thought by some to symbolize heaven. However, perhaps the most intriguing line in the song is “Well here’s another clue for you all…The walrus was Paul.” Seen as a final bow to his fallen bandmate and co-songwriter. Some sources have suggested that the phrase “goo goo g’joob” is from Finnegans Wake by James Joyce (Alas, the phrase “googoo goosth” is the closest Joyce gets in th book.) Never fear, the “Paul is Dead” rumorists claim that “goo goo g’joob” are the last words uttered by Humpty Dumpty before his fall. A fall that cracked his head open, much like Paul’s supposed fatal car accident.
Further proof is said to be found in the odd conclusion to “Cry Baby Cry” as Paul asks “Can you take me where I came from? Can you take me back?” Not necessarily as much for what those lines are supposed to mean, but rather that the song leads into “Revolution 9”, the most analyzed of all “White album” tracks by “Paul is Dead” clue seekers.
z revolution 9 singleRevolution 9 was an innovative sound collage that, quite frankly, soared over most listener‘s heads. Later transcripts of the dialog heard early in the song reveals two men who can be heard saying “I know all about it George. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me? Yes.” Theorists claimed that this was John talking with George Martin about the secret placement of clues on Beatles records. However, the biggest clue to Paul’s death on the track is the title itself, whose repeated phrase “Number 9” is said to sound like “turn me on, dead man” when played backwards. A dark recall to the line “I’d love to turn you on” from “A Day in the Life”.
The sound collage of “Revolution 9” is said to contain a recreation of Paul’s fatal car accident. At one point listeners hear car horns, followed by a car crash, and concluding with the crackling sounds of a fire burning. When played backwards theorists claim the statement “Let me out! There were two. There are none now.” can be plainly heard. Most astonishingly, “Paul id Dead” devotees swear that, when played normally, the following disjointed lines can be heard throughout the song: “he hit a pole. We better get him to see a surgeon. So anyhow he went to a dentist instead. They gave him a pair of teeth that weren’t any good at all…So my wings are broken and so is my hair… I’m not in the mood for words… Find the night watchman… A fine natural imbalance… He must have got it in the shoulder blades… Take this brother, may it serve you well…” The final line marking Paul’s passing of the torch to his replacement William Campbell Shears.
z 150422235054-paul-mccartney-car-1100x619Ardent believers believed that other “Backwards” clues could be found on the track “I’m so tired / Blackbird” when some random mumbling is heard that they believe sounds like John and Yoko right after the abrupt ending of “I’m So Tired” and before the beginning of the next song, “Blackbird“. This passage makes no sense when played forwards. However, when played backwards, they believe that you can hear John say, “Paul is a dead man. Miss him. Miss him. MISS HIM!” John Lennon was said to be expressing his grief over Paul’s death in this line of the song followed by the very next line on the record, sung by Paul, “Blackbird singing in the dead of night”, that mentions death.
Ten months later, on September 17, 1969, an article titled “Is Beatle Paul McCartney Dead?” was published in the student newspaper of Iowa’s Drake University. Soon, the “Paul is Dead” story went viral. Almost immediately, other articles followed claiming that clues to McCartney’s death could be found among the lyrics and album covers of The Beatles’ recordings. Clue hunting proved infectious and for a couple of months in late 1969 it became an international phenomenon. Just in time for the Beatles’ next album, Abbey Road. Guess what? The clues continued and soon, Paul McCartney himself would finally be heard from.

Music, Pop Culture, The Beatles

Paul is Dead. The rumor revisited. Part II

Part Two Magical Mystery Tour

Original publish date:  June 15, 2015

Reissue date:  April 25, 2019

Last week, we revisited the famous “Paul is Dead” rumor swirling around the Beatles rock band during the last few years of the turbulent sixties decade. The rumor that Paul McCartney died in a November 1966 car crash seems silly to us now, but it was pervasive back in the day. As we covered in Part I of this series, the album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was released in June of 1967 to much well deserved fanfare. Both for the music it contained and the supposed references it made to the death of the Beatles’ heartthrob bass player.
z 514EFDAnUSLMagical Mystery Tour was released on December 8, 1967. After the success of Sgt. Pepper’s, Paul McCartney wanted to create a film based upon The Beatles and their music. The film was to be unscripted and would “star” various “ordinary” people who were to travel the countryside on a bus and experience “magical” adventures on film. The Magical Mystery Tour film was made and included six new Beatles songs. The film was universally panned and largely forgotten, but the resulting album / soundtrack is considered a classic. Produced by George Martin, Magical Mystery Tour was packaged by Capitol records as a full LP with a 24-page companion picture booklet.
The booklet was eagerly devoured by the “Paul is dead” theorists and the clues it supposedly offered only fueled the ever-growing conspiracy. So, dear readers go and dust off your copies of Magical Mystery tour as we thumb through it and decipher the clues. On page 3 of the booklet, Paul is dressed in a British military uniform posed seated behind a desk with a nameplate that reads “I Was” in front of him. Further interpretations of the nameplate claim it reads either “I You Was” or “I Was You,” both suggesting that Paul had disappeared and been replaced by a double. Also, the British Union Jack flags behind Paul are crossed as they would traditionally appear at a military funeral.z 5cc0bc9bb6d5645e975a0238
On page 6, John Lennon appears as a carnival barker manning a ticket booth with a sign reading: “The best way to go is by M&D Co.” According to the “Paul is dead” rumor, M&D Co. was a funeral parlor, but such a place never existed. Theorists also note that in the picture, a departure time is given but the return time is blank.z d76c076b0c7bc4a2699c0a574cc06d94
On page 9, “Fool on the Hill” is shown next to a cartoon image of Paul who appears to be standing on a grave shaped mound of grass. The second “L” in the title extends above Paul’s head and dribbles into his scalp as though his head were split open. This picture hints at the devastating head injury that Paul allegedly sustained in his fatal accident.
In the band photos on pages 10, 11 and 12, Paul appears without shoes, which would become a recurring theme among the “Paul is Dead” crowd in years to come. Also, on Ringo’s bass drum between the word “Love” and the name “The Beatles”, the numeral “3” can plainly be seen which seems to spell out the cryptic phrase “Love the 3 Beatles”. Eerily, in that same photo, blood appears to be dripping from Paul’s shoes resting next to the drum. Theorists assert that “empty shoes were a Grecian symbol of death.”
z magical_st1_2emi_emirim_bookh3_largeOn page 23, the Beatles are all wearing stark white tuxedos with carnations in the lapels. Paul’s flower is black while the other Beatles have red flowers. Years later, Paul denied that the black carnation had any significance at all; “I was wearing a black flower because they ran out of red ones.”

 

 

z carnations_zps14423978And on the final page of the photo booklet, once again, a hand appears over Paul’s head. Although this instance of a hand over Paul’s head isn’t nearly as dramatic as the Sgt. Pepper’s cover photo because several people have their hands raised above their heads in this picture. But it certainly did nothing to ease the conspiracies.
z nZ75ZWFHowever, there is one compelling image in the pages of the pictorial book that, when analyzed, virtually screamed out to all those looking for signs of death in the Beatles’ works to substantiate the rumors of Paul’s premature passing. On page 8 of the booklet, a dining scene, at the left of the image (but on the right as the image is rotated one turn clockwise), with a little imagination, you can see a skull in this picture. It occupies the left side of the picture, with the beret of the person seated at the table forming the eye and the hair of the woman seated next to him the mouth. Like a “Magic Eye” painting, once you’ve accepted it as a skull, it’s easy to see the damage to the top of the head. This grisly image suggests the damage to Paul’s head as a result of his car crash. The fact that this picture, unlike all of the other images in the booklet, does not appear in the movie again only encouraged the “Paul is Dead” crowd as proof of his passing.z none-magical-mystery-tour-skull-3-pau
Then there’s the cover image. The bandmates appear on the cover, as they did in the companion film, dressed in outlandish animal costumes. The animal costumes were in keeping with the predominantly psychedelic themes of the music on the LP. It’s a common misconception that Paul was the walrus, no doubt made famous by the lyric in Glass Onion on “The White Album” and the song’s innumerable references to it in the ‘Paul is Dead’ conspiracy. However, Paul isn’t the walrus, John is. This can be seen in the ‘I Am The Walrus’ segment of the Magical Mystery Tour film where the walrus is seated at the piano singing the song (just as John was at the start of the song). The hippo is standing in front playing left-handed bass guitar. In truth, Paul was the Hippo, John was the Walrus, George was the Rabbit and Ringo was the Chicken.
walrustourTheorists would claim a connection between Paul’s supposed Walrus costume and the death rumor, but the real controversy revolved around the word “Beatles” above the lad’s heads that purportedly reveal a secret phone number. As Rolling Stone famously pointed out, it’s not exactly clear what that phone number is supposed to be. Depending on whom you ask it could be read as “231-7438, 834-7135, 536-0195, 510-6643, 546-3663, 624-7125, no telling what city, maybe London.” If you turn the album cover upside down and hold it in front of a mirror you can see the numbers 8341735, which is a stretch because the threes, the seven and the five are backwards. If you simply hold the album cover upside-down, the numbers could be 5371438. Of course, there is no area code. The rumor claimed that when this number was dialed, the caller would receive information about Paul’s death, or the person would be able to take a trip to “Magical Beatle Mystery Island”, or maybe even speak to Paul in the hereafter. Stories circulated about the strange responses callers were receiving from the voices on the other end of the phone line. Later it was discovered that one of the phone numbers belonged to a journalist who was nearly driven crazy by the numerous phone calls from people hoping to connect with the late Paul McCartney.
z R-7799943-1449024243-9186But it was the music contained on the album that offered the clue seekers the most tantalizing hints at Paul’s demise. One of the best known “Paul is dead” audio clues comes at the end of “Strawberry Fields Forever”. As the song fades out for the second time, John allegedly says “I buried Paul.”‘ This audio clue can be heard more clearly when the record is played at 45 rpm as John’s voice is slowed down to a virtual crawl. Years later, John admitted that he was really saying “cranberry sauce,” which became evident on the “take 7 and edit piece” version of the song that appeared on Anthology II in 1996. Paul explained “That’s John’s humor. John would say something totally out of sync, like ‘cranberry sauce.’ If you don’t realize that John’s apt to say something like ‘cranberry sauce’ when he feels like it, then you start to hear a funny little word there, and you think aha!”
The “Paul is Dead” theorists prophetically point to the song, “I am the Walrus” on the album as definitive proof of McCartney’s death. The very fact that theorists looked for clues in “I Am the Walrus” was ironic, since John’s intent was to write a song with nonsensical imagery to poke fun at all those people looking for clues in every Beatle lyric. Still, John’s explanation didn’t stop them from looking for “Paul is Dead” clues in the song.
According to the “Paul is Dead” rumor: Paul left the recording studio in anger on a “stupid bloody Tuesday” after a quarrel with his bandmates. The refrain “I’m crying” is John expressing his grief over Paul’s death. The references to “pretty little policemen” and “waiting for the van to come” refer to the police present at the site of Paul’s fatal accident. The opening line of the song, “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together” suggests that all of the Beatles were aware of the death and ensuing cover-up. In the “Paul is dead” mythology, the walrus is an image of death. But no evidence for this statement has ever surfaced to explain why.
z Booklet 1-10The album, movie and pictorial booklet are arguably the most ambitious effort ever attempted by the Fab Four. Completed at a time when the Beatles were still having fun, but questioning their viability at the same time. Although they saw themselves as a rock band, their fans were looking at them as modern day prophets. Undoubtedly, this view was responsible in large part for the devastation perceived by the “Paul is Dead” rumors that continued to swirl around the band. The band’s next effort, “The White Album”, would do nothing to help end the controversy.

Music, Pop Culture, The Beatles

Paul is Dead. The rumor revisited. Part I

Part one sgt peppers lonely hearts club band

Original publish date:  June 8, 2015

Reissue date:  April 18, 2019

It has been over half a century since one of the most famous hoaxes in Rock-N-Roll history began. On Wednesday November 9, 1966 at 5 am, Paul McCartney, while working on the album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, stormed out of the studio during a recording session after an argument with the other members of the group. He jumped into his Austin-Healey and sped off down the road, lost control of his sportscar and crashed into a telephone pole. Paul McCartney was dead. Well, that was the rumor anyway.
Although teen-agers and music fans all over Britain began to panic upon circulation of the shocking rumor, Paul’s bandmates and the band’s management quickly discovered that there was absolutely no truth to it at all. As the Beatles’ Press Officer Derek Taylor found out when he telephoned Paul’s St. John’s Wood home and the voice responding on the other end of the line was Paul himself. Paul calmly explained that he had been at home all day and his black Mini Cooper (NOT an Austin Healey) was safely locked up in his garage. The Beatles management addressed the rumor in the February 1967 issue # 43 of “The Beatles Monthly Book” (the Beatles’ official fan club magazine) with a short blurb that appeared in the “Beatle News” section, entitled “FALSE RUMOUR”. Far from calming nervous Beatles fans, this only intensified the ferocity of the “Paul is Dead” rumor.z Mc 1966 1
Suddenly, the “Paul is dead” urban legend spread throughout the world. Now, not only was Paul dead, he had been secretly replaced in the band by a look-alike. The rumor could not have come at a worse time for the band. To say the Beatles were going through a rough patch would be an understatement. After releasing “Revolver” in August 1966, the band quickly grew tired of touring. They were frustrated with not being able to hear themselves onstage, due to the incessant shrieks and screams of their female fans at shows. The band had been touring and recording in the studio non-stop for nearly 2 years. They were growing tired of life on the road and not being able to play the songs they liked, to say nothing about debuting new material on stage.
z original_101During that last tour, the airplane they were traveling in was shot at as they landed in Texas, and a prankster threw a firecracker at the stage during their Memphis show which everyone thought at first was a gunshot. The Beatles were burnt out and the band had had enough. The band’s attitude and message became darker and soon, concerts became dangerous as the Beatles’ started to receive death threats after some comments made by John Lennon at a press conference that year. John’s quote “the Beatles are bigger than Jesus” was taken out of context and according to John Lennon, “upset the very Christian KKK”. In the Philippines they unintentionally offended Imelda Marcos, a former beauty queen, by not meeting with her privately before their show. Filipino citizens took this as an excuse to rob, harass and threaten death to the Beatles. They stopped touring soon after the show at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on August 29, 1966. Less than six months later, the McCartney death rumor had reached a fever pitch worldwide and just like Paul himself, it refused to die.

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John Lennon & Ringo Starr at the cover shoot.

Okay Baby Boomers, go dust off your “Sgt. Pepper’s” album for the rest of this article. For it is that cover and the songs found on it that fueled the mania. Released on June 1, 1967, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was rife with “Paul is dead” clues. Turns out, it was Paul’s idea that the Beatles immerse themselves in a new identity for the album’s release. The original idea behind the album cover was to show the Beatles assuming a new identity while laying to rest their earlier “Fab Four” image. The wax images of the younger Beatles look mournfully on the gravesite because the Beatles were no longer the same band. The “Paul is dead” crowd interpreted the cover as representing a funeral for Paul. z sgt_pepper_cover_promo_cropped_4jpg
Looking at the modern, psychedelic Beatles posed on the cover, one notices that, while three of the Beatles are standing at an angle, Paul is facing the camera as if his body was being propped up by his bandmates standing at his sides like a scene out of “Weekend at Bernie’s”. John, George & Ringo are holding shiny gold band instruments, but Paul’s cor anglaise woodwind instrument is black. A disembodied hand appears above Paul’s head, as though he is being blessed by a priest before being interred.
Across the gravesite is a bass guitar oriented the way that left-hander McCartney would have played it. The strings of the bass are made of sticks but there are only three sticks rather than four, representing the three Beatles without Paul. Some rumorists claimed that the yellow hyacinth flowers spell out the name “PAUL?” or that when the album is turned sideways, the flowers form the letter “P”.z untitled3
Another rumor claimed that if you held the album cover up to a mirror, the words “LONELY HEARTS” written across the front of the bass drum reflect back as “IONEIX HE<>DIE”. When arranged as “I ONE IX HE <> DIE,” this image suggests the date (11-9, or November 9, 1966) that Paul died and the diamond between the words “HE” and “DIE” points directly at Paul. Another interpretation suggests this could also be read as “1 ONE 1 X”, meaning that one of the four is gone, and then the “HE DIE” along with the ever present diamond / arrow pointing to Paul as the missing Beatle.

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Shirley Temple Doll.

The Shirley Temple doll at the right of the picture wears a sweater that reads “WELCOME THE ROLLING STONES”. Hinting that the Rolling Stones were involved in the conspiracy. After all, without the Beatles the Rolling Stones would have been the undisputed leading rock and roll band. A model of an Aston-Martin, the type of car that Paul was supposedly driving at the time of his fatal accident, is leaning against the doll’s leg. The interior of the car is red, symbolizing Paul’s bloody accident. Also, the doll rests on the lap of a cloth draped figure (which is creepy all by itself) that is wearing a blood stained driving glove.
The Japanese stone figure at the feet of the wax images of the younger Beatles has a line on its head, rumored to represent the head wound that Paul sustained in the fatal accident. The four-armed Indian doll at the front of the picture is Shiva, symbol of both destruction and creation. Two of the doll’s arms are raised, one pointing at the wax image of the younger Paul and the other pointing at Paul himself. The television set on the ground to the right of the Beatles is turned off, suggesting that the news of the tragedy had been suppressed.
The “Paul is Dead” controversy is not the only thing that the Sgt. Pepper’s album cover is known for. It was one of the first to feature a center gatefold sleeve and it was also the first album to have the song lyrics printed on the cover. Of course, a bi-fold album had never been seen before so rumors began that it was made this way to resemble a prayer book or funeral program. Naturally, clues were found within the folds of the album as well.
inside LPOn the inside photo, Paul is wearing a patch on his band uniform with the letters “O.P.D.” that theorists interpreted as “Officially Pronounced Dead.” According to tradition, this British Police jargon “O.P.D.” phrase is the equivalent of American police forces use of “D.O.A.” (Dead On Arrival). (Much later, in a Life magazine article Paul stated, “It is all bloody stupid. I picked up the O.P.D. badge in Canada. It was a police badge. Perhaps it means Ontario Police Department or something.” Actually, the badge Paul was wearing reads “O.P.P.”, which stands for the Ontario Provincial Police. The angle of the photograph makes the final “P” look like a “D”.)
On the original album the song lyrics are printed on the back cover over a picture of the Beatles. Unlike the rest of the Beatles, Paul has his back turned to the camera which, by its very appearance, further fueled rumors that he was dead. z sgt-pepper-the-beatles-back-cover-620Furthermore, the three black buttons on the waist above the tail of Paul’s coat are supposed to represent the mourning of the remaining Beatles. Although John, Paul and George were all about the same height (Ringo, much shorter), in the gatefold photo, Paul appears taller than the other Beatles, suggesting that he is ascending to the heavens. Another clue points out that next to Paul’s head are the words “WITHOUT YOU” from the song title “Within You Without You”.
Also, George appears to be pointing at the words “Wednesday morning at five o’clock as the day begins”, which was supposed to have been the time of Paul’s fatal accident. In reality, George deliberately positioned his hand in this way not to point to the printed lyrics, but to make the letter “L”, the first letter in the word “LOVE”. His fellow Beatles appear to be spelling out the word “LOVE” with their hands as well. John’s hands are arranged in a “V” shape, and Ringo’s clasped hands form an “E”. The “O” is missing as Paul’s hands are not visible.
The lyrics themselves added to Paul’s death legend and to his replacement by a look-alike. The title song introduces Billy Shears (Paul’s alleged replacement) in “With a Little Help from My Friends”. Insiders hint that Paul’s rumored replacement, a man named William Campbell Shears, was still working on perfecting his singing voice. This theory was again referred to in the same song with the line: “Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song/And I’ll try not to sing out of key”.

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Paul and his 1966 Aston Martin DB6.

Several other “Sgt. Peppers” songs purportedly make reference to Paul’s tragic accident. “Good Morning, Good Morning” opens with the line “Nothing to do to save his life call his wife in.” One version of Paul’s fatal accident story was that he had picked up a female hitch-hiker named Rita and she became so excited when she realized she was in a car with Paul McCartney that she threw herself on him, thereby causing the wreck. As told in the song “Lovely Rita,” “I took her home/I nearly made it”.
In “A Day in the Life” John sings “He blew his mind out in a car/He hadn’t noticed that the lights had changed/A crowd of people stood and stared/They’d seen his face before/Nobody was really sure if he was from the House of Lords”. This last lyric was, at the time, perhaps the most convincing argument that Paul McCartney was dead. Years later, John Lennon revealed that the inspiration for the spooky song lyrics was the death of Tara Browne, the 21-year-old heir to the Guinness fortune and close friend of Lennon and McCartney, who had crashed his Lotus Elan on December 18, 1966 in Redcliffe Gardens, Earls Court. Producer George Martin however, believes that the entire song, including this morose verse, is a drug reference and that Lennon was imagining a stoned politician who had stopped at a set of traffic lights.
z DRUMahiVAAAaazzRegardless, the album did nothing to quell the rumor that “Paul was Dead.” The Beatles, who were by this time totally fed up with dealing with the press, did little to dissuade the discussion of demise. Some pundits have speculated over the years that the entire affair was a ploy by the Beatles’ and their management designed to sell more albums. Which makes sense when you consider that the McCartney death rumor would continue to swirl around future album releases by the Fab Four in the coming years.
What cannot be denied about “Sgt. Pepper” was its impact on music history. The album regularly appears at the top of most music critic’s lists of “Greatest albums of all time.” The influence obviously extended beyond the music itself, as our short analysis of the cover art suggests, by changing the way the jackets containing the music told a story of its own. In pop-culture, the heavy moustaches worn by all of the Beatles band members swiftly became a hallmark of hippie style. The brightly colored parodies of military uniforms worn by the band on the cover have been, at least in part, attributed by cultural historians as fueling the anti-authoritarian and anti-establishment movement of the hippy era.

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John Lennon, Brian Epstein & Paul McCartney

Nearly 3 months after Sgt. Pepper’s release, an incident occurred that further fueled the death rumor, changed the Beatles forever, and drove them further into seclusion. In August 1967, the band was informed of the death of the man responsible in large part for their success; manager Brian Epstein. The coroner ruled Epstein’s death an accidental overdose, but it was widely rumored that a suicide note had been discovered among his possessions. Epstein worried that the band might not renew his management contract, due to expire in October. Epstein’s death left the group confused and fearful about the future and did nothing to extinguish the rumors of Paul McCartney’s death. In fact, Brian Epstein’s death just added fuel to the fire.

 

Music, Pop Culture, The Beatles

The Quiet Ronette and the Quiet Beatle.

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Original publish date:  February 14, 2019

Ten years ago, the dead body of a 67-year old woman was discovered in Engkewood, New Jersey. Her death came sometime that week and, for the most part, her passing went unnoticed. It remains so a decade later. But, in the weeks and months before the British invasion hit our shores, she was the hottest third of a fairy-tale girl group featured on magazine covers, 45 sleeves and album covers all over the world. She dated George Harrison, Mick Jagger, George Hamilton and Johnny Mathis. Her name was Estelle Bennett and together with her sister Veronica and cousin Nedra Talley, they were known the world over as The Ronettes.

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The Ronettes. L.to R. Nedra, Ronnie and Estelle

One of the most popular groups (male or female) from the 1960s, they charted nine songs on the Billboard Hot 100, five of which became Top 40 hits. The trio came from Washington Heights in New York City, and took their name from lead singer Veronica; better known as Ronnie Spector. The Ronettes’ most famous songs were “Be My Baby”, “Baby, I Love You”, “(The Best Part of) Breakin’ Up”, and “Walking in the Rain”. The later won a Grammy Award in 1965, and “Be My Baby” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. The Ronettes were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, just a couple years before Estelle’s death, officially from colon cancer, but those who knew her said she died of a broken heart.
The girls had been singing together since they were teenagers in Spanish Harlem. In 1959, they entered a talent show at the Apollo Theater and won as “The Darling Sisters.” Ronnie was then 16, Estelle 17, and Nedra 13. Soon they were appearing at local sock hops and charity shows. By 1961 they were dancing and singing at New York’s Peppermint Lounge during the Chubby Checker “twist” dance-craze. They were featured in “Twist-A-Rama” shows and toured with Joey Dee and the Starlighters, whose song “Peppermint Twist” was a standard of the era. In time, they were discovered by New York city’s famous disc jockey “Murray the K,” who had them appear in his “rock ‘n roll revues” held at the Brooklyn Fox Theater. In March of 1963, they moved to Phil Spector’s Philles Records and changed their name to “The Ronettes”.

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Estelle

The Ronettes were an exotic contradiction, singing songs in flirting tones about puppy love like edgy big apple street sirens while still looking somehow lonesome and vulnerable. Their heavy mascara framed Cleopatra eyes, their tight slit skirts exposed shapely legs and their tall, jet-black beehive hairdos screamed sex appeal… and danger. All three girls were of mixed-race decent and all three were undeniable young beauties. Ronnie and Estelle had a white father and a mother of African-American and Cherokee descent. Nedra Talley was black, Indian and Puerto Rican. Despite their vampish appearance, the girls were kept off the street by their parents and led tame, sheltered lives. Sometimes at school, they were bullied for their mixed-race looks. Hard to imagine from the girls who Darlene Love (He’s a Rebel) described as “the bad girls of the ’60s.”
Estelle Bennett (July 22, 1941 – February 11, 2009) was the quieter of the two Bennett sisters. When they were in school, Estelle concentrated on her homework and brought home good grades. Ronnie, more of an extrovert, spent her time singing and cultivating her “look”. Estelle was thr fashionista of the two, always reading Glamour, Vogue, and other fashion magazines. Estelle was valedictorian of her class at George Washington High School in Manhattan and went on to study at Manhattan’s Fashion Institute of Technology. Estelle worked at Macy’s durig the day, attended fashion school at night, and sang with The Ronettes on the weekends. And above all, Estelle loved singing and the recognition that came with it. She was the “pretty” Ronette, the one whose dance card was always the fullest. Although content to remain in the shadow of her younger sister, Estelle always soaked up her fair share of the spotlight. Those who knew Estelle described her as gentle and intelligent, and the driving force behind the Ronettes’ style. As cousin Nedra recalled: “She was not pretentious at all, but she carried herself with a sophistication that a lot of guys thought was really sexy. And she had a very, very good heart.”
z 61GlwzA3WkLBy the time the girls signed with Phil Spector in 1963, thanks mostly to Estelle, the Ronettes had their look precisely calibrated. In August of 1963 “Be My Baby” was released and by October, it had shot to No. 2 on the Billboard pop chart, making the Ronettes instant stars. The girls embarked on a tour of Britain in December of 1963 into early 1964. The Ronettes were the only girl group to tour with the Beatles. The Rolling Stiones were their opening act. When they toured, the Ronettes always traveled with at least one family member. In late 1964, the group released their only studio album, Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica, which entered the Billboard charts at number 96.

 

 

It was during that tour of ’63-’64 when The Beatles George Harrison, the “quiet Beatle”, began dating Estelle Bennett. The two hit it off immediately. According to Estelle, “We kept running into each other at parties and gatherings and always found our eyes meeting no matter how many other people were in the room. George and I talked whenever we’d see each other. We found we liked the same things, long walks while wearing comfortable clothes and being with sincere people who liked us for ourselves and not because we were in show business. I think I was the happiest when I was talking with George. There was something about him that made me open up and spill out anything that was on my mind. I think he felt the same way, for he’d often call late in the evening and talk on the phone for hours.”

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Estelle Bennett and Paul McCartney

z EstThe duo were inseperable for the remainder of the English tour until The Beatles left for Paris. When The Beatles came to America, the Ronettes met them at their hotel in New York City. The Ronettes, in fact, were on hand February 8, 1964 to welcome the Beatles as they arrived in New York for their first U.S. visit and Ed Sullivan Show appearance. But the relationship fizzled out, Estelle saying, “We saw each other many times. I was with him at the party after their concert and on other evenings when we just sat around the hotel with the rest of the group. But somehow things weren’t the same. We couldn’t recreate the same relationship we had when I was in London…Over there he’s at his best, he’s relaxed, he’s George Harrison, Englishman and not George Harrison, Beatle.”
During that same tour, Estelle was also romantically linked with Mick Jagger.

 

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The Rolling Stones and The Ronettes.

z esIn Keith Richards autobiography “Life” he admitted that he was dating Ronnie when the Stones toured with the Ronettes in 1963. He recalled there that Mick Jagger got with Estelle because she was less “chaperoned” than Ronnie. The pairings were viewed as controversial for a couple of reasons. One was that management, particularly The Beatles’ Brian Epstein, wanted “the boys” to remain single for fans’ sake. And two, interracial pairings were taboo back in those days. Frowned upon in the U.K. and nearly suicidal in parts of the U.S.A.
z 1012_large_1In 1965, the Ronettes continued to record and tour while making a few appearances on television, including a CBS special and the NBC pop music show, Hullabaloo. However by this time, Phil Spector was busy with other artists. The 1965 song “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” produced and co-written by Spector for The Righteous Brothers, became a No. 1 hit. And by early 1966, he was preoccupied with Ike & Tina Turner. By now, The Ronettes were being moved to the back burner by Spector and some of their songs, such as “I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine”, and two songs co-written by Harry Nilsson, “Paradise” and “Here I Sit,” were held back for decades. They had one last hurrah in August 1966 when the Ronettes (minus Ronnie) joined the Beatles on their 14-city U.S./Canada tour as one of the opening acts. As for the Rolling Stones, during one visit they made to New York in the 1960s, Ronnie’s mother ended up cooking for them at her Gotham City home.

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John Lennon and Estelle Bennett

In late 1966, after several singles failed to make the charts, Phil Spector stopped releasing new records, the Philles label shut down and the Ronettes disbanded. Nedra Talley married New York radio station programming director Scott Ross. Estelle Bennett married road manager Joe Dong and the couple had a daughter, Toyin. After the Ronettes’ break-up, Estelle took it hard. Her cousin, Nedra said “Estelle did not want the Ronettes to end.” Estelle recorded one single for Laurie Records, “The Year 2000/The Naked Boy.” It didn’t do well and she quit the music business. After she left music, her life began a descent into another world.
By 1968, Estelle seemed to lose her moorings. At one point, she was hospitalized with anorexia. Not long after her grip on reality began to loosen considerably. Estelle was often seen wandering the streets of New York, telling people she would be performing with the Ronettes at a particular jazz nightclub. Estelle’s daughter Toyin explained she had never really known who her mother was. “From the time I was born she suffered with mental illness. I never really got to know Estelle in a good mental state.” Cousin Nedra Talley Ross, reported that Estelle had led a hard life, struggling with schizophrenia and anorexia.
z 5001334_wenn1183096Fellow 1960s singer Darlene Love, who once described The Ronettes as Rock’s tough girls, said the last time she saw Estelle, “She didn’t remember me.” By the early 2000s, Estelle Bennett was homeless. In 2007, The Ronettes were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Love recalled seeing Estelle at the induction ceremony. “They cleaned her up and made her look as well as possible…She looked the best she could for somebody who lived on the street. It broke my heart.” It was decided that she was too fragile to perform. A back-up singer with Ronnie Specter’s new group stood in for an encore performance of “Be My Baby”.

 

“Be My Baby” sold millions of copies, both in the 1960s and since then, having been used in the opening segments of films such as Martin Scorsese’s 1973 film Mean Streets and 1987’s Dirty Dancing. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked the song at No. 22 on their list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys has called “Be My Baby” one of the greatest pop records ever made and is his “all-time favorite song.” Wilson was in his car when he first heard the tune on the radio, and being the composer and arranger that he was, stopped the car to give the song a closer listen. “I had to pull off the road,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it. The choruses blew me away.” Wilson, in fact, wrote a famous Beach Boys song, “Don’t Worry Baby,” initially as a follow-up intended for the Ronettes, but it was turned down for that purpose.

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Estelle Bennett of The Ronettes with daughter Toyin March 2007

When Estelle was found dead in her apartment by police, after relatives had been unable to contact her, Kevin Dilworth, a friend and former Newark, New Jersey Star-Ledger newspaper reporter said, “I think she really just died of a broken heart. After the Ronettes disbanded in 1966, I don’t think she was ever right again…” Dillworth added that the only time he really saw her come to life was at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame of March 2007: “When they came out of the main ceremony… when she walked down the hallway, and the paparazzi … all the flashing cameras, and the people asking for autographs … her eyes just lit up. She was so excited, and she was back on top of the world again. But she went right back to anonymity.”
z 33775602_130379126909Posthumously, all agreed that growing up, Estelle had been a force in creating the Ronettes’ style and act – and that she had a heart of gold. “Estelle had such an extraordinary life,” said her cousin, Nedra. “To have the fame, and all that she had at an early age, and for it all to come to an end abruptly. Not everybody can let that go and then go on with life.” “Not a bad bone in her body,” said her sister Ronnie in a press statement. “Just kindness.” At that 2007 Hall of Fame ceremony, Estelle spoke only two sentences during her acceptance speech, “I would just like to say, thank you very much for giving us this award. I’m Estelle of the Ronettes, thank you.” No, Estelle, we thank you.