Fifty years ago, a Detroit DJ accidentally started the biggest hoax in rock & roll history: the “Paul is dead” craze. It blew up on October 12, 1969, when Russ Gibb was hosting his show on WKNR. A mysterious caller told him to put on the Beatles’ White Album and spin the “number nine, number nine” intro from “Revolution 9” backwards. When Gibb tried it on the air, he heard the words, “Turn me on, dead man.” The clues kept coming. At the end of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” John says, “I buried Paul.” What could it all mean?
It meant the Beatles were hiding a secret: Paul McCartney got killed in a car crash back in 1966, and the band replaced him with an imposter. The rumor spread like wildfire, as fans searched their Beatle albums for clues. Fifty years later, “Paul is dead” remains the weirdest and most famous of all music conspiracy theories. It became a permanent part of Beatles lore—a totally fan-generated phenomenon that the band could only watch with amusement or exasperation. As Paul told Rolling Stone in 1974, “Someone from the office rang me up and said, ‘Look, Paul, you’re dead.’ And I said, ‘Oh, I don’t agree with that.’”