Paul Is Dead: The Kooky Symbolism on the Beatles’ 'Abbey Road' Album Cover

Forty-five years ago this week on August 8, 1969, photographer Iain Macmillan captures the Beatles crossing the street outside of their Abbey Road studio. The photo becomes one of music's most iconic album covers.
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Forty-five years ago this week on August 8, 1969, photographer Iain Macmillan captures the Beatles crossing the street outside of their Abbey Road studio. The photo becomes one of music's most iconic album covers.

Ask your friends to name the biggest hoax of 1969 and you can bet someone will say the moon landing. But if you keep asking around—that is, after the horror of realizing you really didn’t know your friends at all—you might hear that the biggest hoax was the "Paul Is Dead" rumor. For much of the late 1960s, hearsay about the Fab Four had been building up until the strange meme hit newspapers everywhere: that Paul McCartney fatally crashed his Aston Martin in 1966 and for years had been replaced by an impostor. Conspiracists based their claim on a car accident report involving one of McCartney’s cars. They also note years’ worth of clues found in song lyrics and on album covers ranging from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band to the Magic Mystery Tour.

The speculation over Paul’s demise was at an all-time high when the band’s Abbey Road album cover was later released in September of '69. For many, the cover may simply show the band harmlessly walking across the London’s Abbey Road, but for some Beatlemaniacs, the imagery was a kooky dissertation in morbid symbolism. Was it grand conspiracy or an elaborate marketing scheme? Here are eight symbols pointed out over the years in no particular order of truthiness...

Beatles Abbey Road Photo

The Beatles: Abbey Road front album cover released in 1969.

1. It’s a funeral procession.

That’s what theorists likened to the photo of the band crossing the North London Street. They point out that John Lennon’s white suit symbolized the color of mourning in some Eastern religions while Ringo Starr is donned the more traditional black. What they neglect to point out, however, is that George Harrison is wearing denim—the color of mourning in Canada.

2. The smoking gun!

Paul held his cigarette in his right hand, even though he is a lefty. Clearly this proves he is an imposter.

3. Paul’s feet are bare.

Why? It’s a reminder, they said, that in some cultures the dead are buried without their shoes. No word on what’s symbolized by the fact that Ringo Starr was going commando.

4. The license plate.

In the background we see a Volkswagen Beetle with the plate "LMW 28IF" Conspiracists claim this to mean that Paul would be 28 if he were alive. (Nevermind the fact that he would actually have been 27 if the rumor were true.)

5. The police van.

Parked on the side of the road is a black police van, which is said to symbolize authorities who kept silent about Paul's fatal fender-bender. Say what you will the tenuousness of these symbols—there’s no denying that van is keeping mum.

Abbey Road Album Back Cover Photo

The back cover of the album.

6. The girl in the blue dress

On the night of Paul’s supposed car accident, he was believed to have been driving with a fan named Rita. Theorists say the girl in the dress featured on the back cover was meant to be her, fleeing from the car crash.

7. Connect the dots.

Also on the back cover are a series of dots. Join some of them together and you can make the number three—the number of surviving Beatles. Join them all together and you’ve got the makings of the first Sudoku.

8. Broken Beatles sign.

On the back cover we see the band’s name written in tiles on a wall and there’s a crack running through it. Of all the symbols, this one turned out to be the most meaningful, and sad. Although the release of Abbey Road was followed with ample evidence that Paul was alive and well, what the public didn’t know was that The Beatles had secretly broken up. Abbey Road would be the band’s penultimate studio album, and the group would call it quits only a year later.