Perhaps one of the most exciting things to do, once you've completed your collection of your favorite band's musical catalog and run out of officially licensed merchandise to hoard, is take the group's image into your own hands by cranking up the rumor mill. 43 years ago this week in 1969, with the release of the final Beatles studio album, Abbey Road, Beatles rumors began to soar. The most powerful rumor would be that The Beatles' bass player, Paul McCartney had recently died and his label, manager, and bandmates were doing everything they could to keep it a secret.
The rumor was so powerful in popular culture that in the one month period following the release of Abbey Road, advocates of the morbid tale took it one step further by backtracking to a smaller rumor that previously claimed Paul was killed in a 1967 car accident. There were rumblings of a Paul McCartney look-alike contest winner, who was paid a life-changing amount of cash to secretly continue on as the bass player for the Fab Four. This new Paul was nicknamed "Faux Paul."
Bored, stoned, or both, Beatlemaniacs worldwide began to speculate on Paul's death, and believers began to cite "clues" that they claimed the band included in post-1966 Beatles songs and album artwork.
Issy Bonn, UK Comedian, raises his hand in blessing over the dead Paul, who—since deceased—can only wield a black colored instrument.
Some tip-offs to the clues the fans believed indicated that Paul had secretly died began to surface on the infamous 1967 LP, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Paul, the only member holding a black instrument on the album cover, is also the only member not showing his face on the back cover. Also on the cover, in the flowers below the word the "BEATLES," a bass guitar made of white flowers can found. Some people have even gone as far as to say that the actual flower arrangement spelled the phrase "PAUL?" There are more supposed clues, and they get increasingly ridiculous.
The White Album became another field day for the Paul is Dead believers. Although the plain outer jacket left little for the believers to work with, the double album was quickly dubbed the "Paul Memorial Album" and Paul is Dead believers looked further into the music this time, dissecting inaudible vocals and sounds (sometimes even reversing parts of songs). Songs such as "Blackbird," "Revolution No. 9," and "Don't Pass Me By" became songs of great interest for those seeking the truth of Paul's well-being.
Famous cover of the Paul is Dead fan magazine responsible for much of the Paul is Dead obsession relapse of 1969.
More clues indicating Paul's passing would surface in periodicals, fan club images, and the album cover artwork for Yellow Submarine…and then came Abbey Road.
As the band's final studio album, there grew a sense of urgency and denial in Beatles superfans, which more than likely contributed to the pure form of Paul is Dead mania. In search of empty answers and some sort of musical security, Abbey Road lent itself to the Paul is Dead phenomenon in several ways.
It didn't help that Paul began to prefer performing and posing while barefoot (this was apparently how the deceased were buried in the U.K.). That clue, alongside more singling-out of Paul on the Abbey Road cover photo, became the ultimate clue to fanatics. Believers claimed that the arrangement of the members in the crosswalk signified a funeral procession, with Paul as the person being mourned and buried. As if the fixation with Paul's alleged passing wasn't enough by now, fans went on to say that the license plate on a car pictured on the LP cover, which read "28IF," stood for "28 years old IF alive." A skull could be seen on the top right back corner of the LP, and on the top left of the back cover, some say there are dots in the wall that when connected form the number 3, leaving the back cover to read "3 BEATLES" followed by the aforementioned "skull."
From L to R: The Gravedigger, The Corpse, The Undertaker, The Preacher
Paul would finally step into the spotlight in the weeks following the release of Abbey Road (most notably via the November 7th 1969 issue of LIFE Magazine) and reassure everyone that he was in fact still alive. He claimed that he had been slowly sneaking out of the way of the media to lead a personal life with his wife and kids out on his farm in Scotland. Paul is Dead believers called it a cover up and credit all his work, 1970 to present, to the product of tight-lipped producers and that oh-so-familiar face they refer to as "Faux Paul."