If you’ve paid any attention to Beatles history at all, you’ve heard at least something about the so-called “Paul is dead” rumor that broke here in Detroit in 1969. You can read about that anywhere. I’m not terribly interested in most of the “clues” other than for their comedic value.
I am interested, though, in other little signs and symbols that the Beatles put out there that hinted, probably unintentionally, at what was going on in their real lives. One of those signs was found on Abbey Road and was a supposed clue of Paul’s death. The “Paul is dead” nuts like to point out that Sir Paul was in black, barefoot and walking out of step with the other Beatles on the cover of Abbey Road. Indeed he was.
On the back of the album sleeve the band name is written in tile letters on a wall above the name of the famous road. Interestingly, there’s a crack right in the middle of the “S” in the name.
Were these images intentional messages placed there by the Beatles? Probably not. But the symbolism, to me, is still quite stunning.
In August 1969, when the band posed for what may be the most famous album cover in rock history, an iconic image if there ever was one, the band was all but done. Just a little over a month later, John announced to the group that he wanted a “divorce” and was leaving the band. Other than one recording session in early 1970 attended by George, Paul and Ringo, the Beatles recording career together was effectively over.
If the way in which the Beatles were dressed was suggestive of some kind of funeral procession or a death, it wasn’t Paul’s death but the band’s death.
While recording Abbey Road, the Beatles were at each others’ throats over business matters. John, George and Ringo had all decided Allen Klein should be the band’s manager. Paul held out for his father-in-law, Lee Eastman, or anyone but Klein. The fighting over this issue is legendary. The image on cover of Paul being “out of step” with John, Ringo and George is quite profound. He was, indeed, out of step with the direction in which the other three wanted to take the Beatles’ business dealings. The crack running through the band name on the back of the album sleeve was just another hint at what had happened to the group.
Symbolism in music, art and literature, in my view, often gets overstated. Sometimes a word or an image has no meaning deeper than what you hear, read or see on the surface. As Freud might have said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” But if we are going to look for deeper meanings, I don’t think those on the Abbey Road album sleeve are much of a stretch. Certainly they jibe with what was happening with the band at the time the album was made and released.