I know you’ve heard about one of the craziest urban legends in rock music history. But in case you haven’t, I’ll give you a quick primer.
At some point in 1966, Paul McCartney left a Beatles recording session and drove away. He stopped and picked up a hitchhiker, who as he continued to drive, suddenly recognized that she was being chauffeured by Paul Freakin’ McCartney, and she tried to smother him with kisses and hugs. Paul lost control of the car, it hit a telephone pole, and Paul and the girl were killed.
The distraught Beatles were going to break up, but apparently the British MI-6 told them that they couldn’t do that, or every distraught female Beatles fan in the world would riot. So they held a Paul McCartney look-alike contest, and a William Campbell – also known as Billy Shears – joined the band.
But the Beatles felt guilty about what they believed was an overt deception to their fans, so they laid clues throughout their songs and album covers to alert the true fans that Paul McCartney is dead.
Or as the old poem in MAD Magazine went,
“Ringo, George, Paul and John
Played a joke and put us on
Dropped hints Paul was dead as nails
And rocketed their record sales.”
Hey, laugh if you must, but there’s the same “clues are right in plain sight” stuff that prove that Elvis Presley is a live, Theodore Roosevelt wrote William Shakespeare’s plays, and QAnon – well, I’m not even going to try to figure out how people are fooled by this QAnon bullshit.
But back to Paul McCartney. See, if he’s dead – remember, “IF” he’s dead – then there are people out there who will render a tribute recording to the fallen Beatle. Hey, when John Lennon was murdered in 1980, major rock stars released tribute records in his name, including songs from Elton John, Queen, and George Harrison. So why wouldn’t it be logical that some musicians either believed that Paul was dead and wanted to put out a tribute song … or knew that the “Paul is Dead” stories were horseshit, and that they could make a quick buck with a novelty song about the Beatle’s demise?
Well, I’ve found a few of those novelty songs right here. And they are … well … interesting.
Let’s start with …
ZACHERIUS AND THE TREE PEOPLE
We’re All Paul Bearers
I don’t know anything about Zacherias and the Tree People, other than their lead guitarist seems to fancy himself as the second coming of Eric Clapton. The lyrics of this song just go through the usual “clues” on the Beatles albums – the OPD patch on Paul’s sleeve, the 28IF license plate, the black carnation … but you know this song was recorded as a quickie to cash in on the “Paul is Dead” craze, and it shows.
Terry Knight was better known as the lead singer of Terry Knight and the Pack, which would later change into Grand Funk Railroad (with Knight as the manager). This track is full of Sgt. Pepper-like flourishes, including sections of “Hey Jude” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” and other Beatles tracks and lyrics. Reportedly, the Beatles’ publishing company, Maclen Music, successfully sued Knight for this track, and now “Saint Paul” is the only song in the Maclen publishing catalog that was not originally written or song by any of the Beatles.
Shane Hales was a very popular UK-born, New Zealand-based singer, and his cover of Terry Knight’s “Saint Paul” actually hit the top of the NZ charts. Hales would later have a follow-up smash with the song “Lady Samantha,” a song written by two up-and-coming tunesmiths named Bernie Taupin and Elton John.
So Long, Paul
You know that old story about an artist recording a song under an assumed name, or a band recording a track under a mystery identity? Well, this happened here. Because when you’re a serious, well-respected guitar legend like Jose Feliciano, and you want to pop out a Paul McCartney tribute song … sure, let’s come up with a fake name – “Mr. and Mrs. Finster, congratulations, you have a boy” “Oh darling, let’s name him Werbley. That name will fit him in the future, nobody would ever tease him in school for it.”
THE MYSTERY TOUR
The Ballad of Paul
God almighty, do these people not realize that Paul is still alive? No, this studio group did the whole “if you know where the clues are” recording about the “Paul is Dead” phenomenon. I can listen to this for maybe two minutes before I imagine that everyone involved in this recording must have been paid very well for their studio time.
BILLY SHEARS AND THE ALL-AMERICANS
I don’t know what’s worse about this travesty – the gruesome lyrics (“Are you getting older // or are you growing colder”), or the fact that the only copy I could find of this song was on an off-center pressing, which gives the record a ton of wow and flutter, to the point where the organ sounds almost like an ambulance siren. Hey, maybe that’s a clue …
And finally …
How Do You Sleep?
During that time period when John and Paul were releasing diss tracks back and forth through their solo albums (what, you think that diss tracks are new phenomena?), John dropped a snarky bon mot in this recording, “Those freaks were right when they said you was dead // the one mistake you made was in your head.” Aw, John, and after you led some of these “freaks” to believe the clues in Beatles songs with your quip in “Glass Onion” about the Walrus being Paul… hmm…
Well, there you have it. Paul McCartney is not dead, there is no doppleganger named Billy Shears or William Campbell or Ash Tyler or whatever.
Now Elvis Presley, however … we all KNOW that he’s living on a million-dollar ranch in Taos, New Mexico, with Marilyn Monroe and John F. Kennedy, I know this because I heard from his neighbor Kurt Cobain that it’s true. 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀