The Beatles’ movie Magical Mystery Tour, originally broadcast on the BBC in 1967, opens with the line, “When a man buys a ticket for a Magical Mystery Tour he knows what to expect. We guarantee him the trip of a lifetime.” Perhaps the Beatles presumed that those who were “turned on” would understand what was going on, but the film was a poorly conceived and hard to follow. More than anything, this film showed that the Beatles were struggling to find their direction in their first major project after the death of their manager, Brian Epstein. Still, the record that accompanied the film, also called Magical Mystery Tour (1967), had plenty of good music to keep fans happy. With all of the nonsense and surreal imagery it was understandable that fans would be looking for clues about Paul McCartney’s rumored death and replacement by a lookalike on this album, particularly when the title song announced, “the magical mystery tour is dying to take you away”.
Magical Mystery Tour was packaged as double 7″ EP in the UK with a 24-page booklet that mixes cartoon images of the Beatles with stills from the film. In the United States, however, Capitol packaged the songs from the film with non-LP singles for a full LP. The 24-page booklet was resized accordingly, making the “Paul is dead” clues larger and more numerous on the American release. In Strawberry Fields Forever #51, Joel Glazier is quick to point out that the cartoon image of Paul on the inside cover establishes a theme that runs throughout the booklet: that Paul is often portrayed differently from the rest of the Beatles and in ways that hint at something dark. The image inside the cover shows the Beatles dressed as wizards, but only Paul’s wizard hat features black flowers.
On page 5 (using the page numbering from the 2009 CD reissue of Magical Mystery Tour) of the booklet, Paul is shown sitting behind a desk with a nameplate that reads “I Was”. The nameplate could also be read as “I You Was” or “I Was You,” perhaps suggesting that Paul had disappeared and been replaced by a double. Also, the British flags behind Paul are crossed as they would be in a military funeral. This scene, like the rest of the movie Magical Mystery Tour, is not easy to understand. “Major McCartney” is staffing an army recruiting office accompanied by “Army Sergeant” (Victor Spinetti). When some of the passengers on the Magical Mystery Tour bus file through the office, the sergeant barks orders incomprehensibly. He transports the bus riders to a field where he instructs them on how to attack a statue of a cow. As I said, not easy to understand.
On page 8 of the booklet, John is manning a ticket booth with a sign that reads “The best way to go is by M&D Co.” According to the “Paul is dead” rumor, M&D Co. was a mortuary, but such a place never existed. Note that in the picture, the departure time is given but no return time is listed. As Andru Reeve points out in his book Turn Me On, Dead Man: The Beatles and the “Paul Is Dead” Hoax, however, The image in the booklet was cropped. The full sign read “…by M&D Coach”, which is briefly visible in the opening scene of the movie where Ringo buys his ticket for the Magical Mystery Tour.
Andru Reeve points out that page 9 (page 11 in the CD booklet), which has the heading “The magic begins to work!”, has several images that could be interpreted as “Paul is dead” clues. In the second panel “Fool on the Hill” is shown next to a cartoon image of Paul. The final “L” in the title extends over Paul’s head, as though his head were split open, suggesting the head injury that Paul sustained in his fatal accident. Also, Paul’s eyes are closed in this picture. In the next panel all we see of Paul is his head in the corner of the frame. Above his head is a thought bubble containing only a question mark. On the bottom panel we see Paul with his black-flower wizard hat again. In the last panel is a cartoon image of John emerging from an egg, as though the Beatles were reborn, alongside a walrus riding on top of the Magical Mystery Tour bus.
In the group photos on page 12 and 18-19, like on the cover of Abbey Road Paul is shown without shoes. According to R. Gary Patterson in The Walrus Was Paul: The Great Beatle Death Clues, “in some countries, corpses are buried without their shoes.” Also, on Ringo’s bass drum between “Love” and “The Beatles” and the numeral “3”—that is, “Love the 3 Beatles”. Also, blood appears to be dripping from Paul’s shoes, which are lying next to the bass drum. In his “obituary” review of Abbey Road in the Michigan Daily Fred LaBour asserts that, “empty shoes… were a Grecian symbol of death.” LaBour would later make clear that he simply made up many of his assertions in what was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek review.
On page 25, the Beatles are all wearing carnations, but while the rest of the Beatles have red flowers, Paul’s carnation is black. In the article “Magical McCartney Mystery” by John Neary that appeared in the November 7, 1969, issue of Life magazine at the height of the “Paul is dead” hysteria, Paul denied that the black carnation had any significance at all. He explained, “I was wearing a black flower because they ran out of red ones.” According to the Online Flowers Guide, however, “Black carnations are quite rare and avoided mostly because they symbolize mourning and, therefore, death.”
And on the final page, a hand is over Paul’s head. Andru Reeve points out that a hand is over Paul’s head in several of the images in the booklet. As was the case with the hand over Paul’s head on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hears Club Band, this was interpreted as a symbol of death, as though Paul were being blessed by a priest before being interred.
Joel Glazier draws attention to a strange image appears in the booklet of Magical Mystery Tour. On the left is the image as it appears in the booklet, but on the right is the image rotated 90 degrees clockwise and blurred slightly.
With a little imagination you can see a skull in this picture. It occupies the left side of the picture, with the beret of the person seated at the table forming the eye and the hair of the woman seated next to him the mouth. Once you’ve accepted that this is a skull, it’s easy to see the damage to the top of the head. This grisly image suggests the damage to Paul’s head as a result of his car crash. The puzzling thing about this picture is that, unlike the other images in the booklet, this one does not appear in the movie.
The word “Beatles” on the cover of Magical Mystery Tour when when read upside-down in a mirror supposedly revealed secret phone number. The cover of the November 29, 1969, issue of Rolling Stone announced, “Paul is not dead”, and the article pointed out that it’s not exactly clear what that phone number on the cover of Magical Mystery Tour is supposed to be. It could be “231-7438, 834-7135, 536-0195, 510-6643, 546-3663, 624-7125, no telling what city, maybe London” Supposedly when a person dialed this number they would receive information about Paul’s death, or the person would be able to take a trip to “Magical Beatle Mystery Island”—or perhaps even speak to Paul in the hereafter. Stories abounded about the strange responses that callers received from the party on the other end of the line. According to Philip Norman in Shout! The Beatles in Their Generation, this phone number actually belonged to a journalist for The Guardian who was nearly driven crazy by the numerous phone calls from people hoping to connect with the late Paul McCartney.
One of the best known “Paul is dead” audio clues comes at the end of “Strawberry Fields Forever”. As the song is fading out for the second time, John apparently says “I buried Paul.”
This “clue” is more apparent when the record is played at 45 rpm (using the terms of outdated technology, of course), as John’s voice sounds as if it has been slowed down. Actually, John was saying “cranberry sauce,” which is much more apparent on the “take 7 and edit piece” version of the song that appeared on Anthology II.
Paul explained “That’s John’s humor. John would say something totally out of sync, like ‘cranberry sauce.’ If you don’t realize that John’s apt to say something like ‘cranberry sauce’ when he feels like it, then you start to hear a funny little word there, and you think aha!”
Another interesting audio clue on Magical Mystery Tour is in the opening verse of “Blue Jay Way”. Andru Reeve reports that the “ghostly background vocalizations” are as follows:
There’s a fog upon LA (“…Paul…”)
And my friends have lost their way (“…died…”)
We’ll be over soon they said (“…Paul is buried…”)