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FLETCHER: McCartney's 'death' caused near hysteria

Opinion column

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

And in the end, the love you make Is equal to the love you take.

The Beatles

Two things I learned after publication of a recent column about late Beatle John Lennon’s at-the-time scandalous comment that his band was more popular than Jesus:

1) Martin Mosteller, a musician himself and one of the coolest dudes I’ve had the pleasure to get to know through this job, is perhaps more of a Beatles fanatic than I am. (The Most man even sent me photos of himself and his daughter outside John Lennon’s boyhood home, provoking me to extreme jealousy.) He — and banker Keith Fletcher, who’s on the Albany-Dougherty Aviation Commission — are the go-to guys around here for all things Beatles.

2) The latest two generations of music fans, who are no less ardent in their love for the Fab Four’s music than those of us who grew up watching them on Ed Sullivan and buying their music on vinyl albums (look it up, kids), know John, Paul, George and Ringo only through their music and what they read on Wikipedia. (Scary thought, that.)

So, to further these neophyte Beatles fans’ education and take those like Martin Mosteller on a trip down memory lane, I thought I’d look back at 1969 and recall the furor that surrounded the “death” of Paul McCartney.

The absurd — especially with the benefit of hindsight — theory, that was first presented as a radio joke and took on a life all its own, was that McCartney was killed in a car crash after a recording session in England on Nov. 9, 1966. The other Beatles were obviously not that broken up over the loss of their mate, because they immediately went out and hired a look-alike to replace Paul.

With no Internet or 24-hour news networks to refute such an outlandish claim — or, in the case of the Internet, to fuel it — a sort of hysteria swept the world as fans worried that the cute Beatle might be an imposter. And looking for “clues” of Paul’s death became something of an obsession. (McCartney was actually coaxed into making a statement as to the inaccuracy of his demise, which only fueled the rumor mill.)

Some of the clues were easily disproved, others offered a glimpse at the lengths to which fanatics would go to prove their theories, no matter how absurd.

To wit:

— If you spin the Beatles’ so-called “White Album” backwards, you clearly hear the words “Turn me on, dead man.”

— On the “Abbey Road” album cover, a Volkswagen Beetle’s licence plate includes the letters and numbers “28IF.” Clue seekers assured any who would listen that the tag was a plant, meant to suggest Paul would have been 28 if he had lived. (Fact checking, by the way, was not that big a deal back in the 1960s. Paul actually was 27 when “Abbey Road” was released.)

— At the end of “Strawberry Fields,” you clearly hear someone say “I buried Paul.” (Actually, what’s said is “I’m very bored.”)

— In “A Day in the Life,” the telling lyrics include the line “He blew his mind out in a car.”

— At the end of the “White Album’s” “I’m So Tired,” Lennon mumbles a nonsensical phrase that includes the words “monsieur, monsieur …”, and that somehow morphed into “Paul is dead, man, miss him, miss him.”

— In the mish-mash noises of “Revolution 9” on the “White Album,” there is a loud car crash.

— The flowers on the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album cover are actually funeral arrangements, including yellow flowers shaped like Paul’s bass guitar, and an open hand appears over Paul’s head, signifying death.

— McCartney walks across the street barefoot on the “Abbey Road” album cover, a sure sign of his demise.

— Paul has his back turned on the back photo of the “Sgt. Pepper” album.

— “Magical Mystery Tour” album art includes the once-again barefoot Paul’s boots that have apparent blood stains on them, and the Beatles bassist is also shown wearing a black rose on his lapel while Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr have red roses.

There were dozens more, and it really got to be kind of macabre fun looking for all these “clues” on subsequent Beatles albums. Eventually, though, we did what everyone should have done all along: dug the music.

Interestingly, in his scathing post-Beatles song “How Do You Sleep” — a song directed at McCartney in which Lennon sang, “The only thing you done was ‘Yesterday’” — John Lennon referred to the late-60s hysteria by hitting McCartney where it hurt most with the line “Them freaks was right when they said you was dead.”

Another quirky part of the greatest rock band ever’s amazing story.