Nine of the greatest conspiracy theories in music history

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Nine of the greatest conspiracy theories in music history

Words by Will Brewster

From Paul Is Dead to Dark Side Of The Rainbow, we dissect the most compelling urban legends in music.

Let’s face it: we all love a good conspiracy theory. Whether it’s the all-too-plausible mysteries of Area 51 or the hilarious absurdities purported by Flat Earthers, it’s these kinds of urban legends that prove to be the most entertaining methods to temporarily escape the drudgery of day-to-day life, and hey – sometimes, you just never know what’s going to turn out to be true.

Of course, conspiracy theories and urban legends aren’t just limited to crackpots and tragic world events: in fact, there’s more than a few instances that involve musicians that are regarded as some of the most compelling examples of all time.

To celebrate the anniversary of one such myth involving a member of The Beatles that circulated through the US press 51 years ago today, we’re putting on our tinfoil hats and diving deep into the web to discover, dissect and debate some of the greatest music conspiracies of the modern era.

Read all the latest features and columns here.

Paul Is Dead

The Paul Is Dead is a bit like watching The Masked Singer: it’s intellectually redundant in every way possible, but it’s also gloriously addictive in the most mundane form.

If you’re unacquainted with the great grandaddy of music myths, essentially, a rumour began circulating in 1967 that Paul McCartney had in fact perished in an automative accident, and that the Paul – if you could even call him that – subsequently seen with the Beatles was nothing more than an elaborate look-alike hired to keep the band going.

Of course, the story is bullshit, yet for some reason, the rumour picked up mass traction again in 1969 after it was published by several student presses in the US, forcing Apple Records and McCartney on a promo run to debunk the myth.

However, what really threw a spanner in the works was the release of Abbey Road later that year, with some sceptics claiming the cover symbolised Paul’s own funeral procession – spooky stuff!

Despite its sheer absurdity, the Paul Is Dead myth is considered by some academics to be one of the most unique hoaxes of the modern era, and more than 50 years on, still manages to captivate the attention of the masses.

David Roy Williams, a long-time tour promoter in the Australian market, even immortalised the Paul Is Dead theory in his side-splitting original composition ‘Where’s Willie Campbell Now?’, which seeks to solve one of the world’s greatest mysteries: just where did Paul McCartney’s replacement ever end up anyway?

 Poor old Paul – luckily the dude knew how to write a few decent tunes himself, huh?

Avril Lavigne is also dead

However, the Beatles weren’t the only ones with the capacity to secretly usher in a look-alike to replace a deceased artist – supposedly, the very same process was applied to Canadian pop-punk queen Avril Lavigne when she apparently kicked the bucket in 2003.

According to this theory, Lavigne, best known for her tracks ‘Sk8er Boi’ and ‘Complicated’, began using a body double named Melissa early in her career. Of course, when the real Lavigne died, it only made sense for the record label to replace her with Melissa on a full time basis – and there’s your rumour.

It goes without saying that this one’s probably just as absurd as Paul Is Dead, and the ‘proof’ backing it up is nothing but hogwash.

According to the tinfoil hat brigade, Lavigne chose to don trousers on the red carpet, whereas Melissa favoured dresses and skirts, and there’s plenty more forums that dissect Lavigne’s physical traits and compare them to those of her clone.

Unfortunately, it’s all bullshit, and as we all know, Lavigne is alive and well, and even proved it by marrying Nickleback frontman Chad Kroeger in 2013.

So, I guess that solves everything… expect for that promotional shot where Lavigne can be spotted with the word ‘Melissa’ scrawled on her hand. Checkmate, sheeple!!

Stevie Wonder can see

One of the most celebrated artists of the 20th century, Stevie Wonder is an icon in every sense of the word – but is he hiding a secret that’s even bigger than his success?

Of course, we all know that Stevie Wonder was rendered blind shortly after his birth, but there’s more than a few instances which have led people to conclude that Stevie can in fact see, and has done so, this entire time.

In 2014, a video emerged of Stevie Wonder miraculously catching a falling microphone stand during a live performance, and some have pointed towards the Motown legend’s penchant for court-side basketball seats and using cameras as further evidence towards his ability to see.

If that’s not enough, lifelong friend Lionel Richie is also convinced Stevie is bluffing, and last year, Shaquille O’Neil shared an anecdote that implied the exact same thing. We’re going to have to side with Stevie on this one, but we admit: the facts are damning…

The Ohio Players scream

This one is a little more sinister, but all the more ludicrous: Ohio Players, best known for their dancefloor incinerating 1975 hit ‘Love Rollercoaster’, are mired in conspiracy due to an ear-splitting scream that can be heard midway through the song.

According to the band, the scream was provided by keys player Billy Beck, however, there’s a conspiracy that claims that the screech is actually the sound of a woman being murdered in the studio while the band were recording the song.

As malicious as this theory may be, the Ohio Players never actually debunked this myth, which of course only set the rumour mill further into overdrive.

Drummer Jimmy ‘Diamond’ Williams would later go on record in The Billboard Book of Number One Rhythm & Blues Hits to clear the air, stating that their silence on the myth was nothing more than an elaborate marketing ploy: “…it swept the country. People were asking us, “Did you kill this girl in the studio?” The band took a vow of silence because you sell more records that way.”

Dark Side Of The Rainbow

The glory about many of these music myths is that most, if not all of them, can be traced back to people with an abundance of time on their hands and a fond affection for the Gatorade Saxophone.

If there’s any music conspiracy that’s associated with stoner folklore, however, it’s that of Dark Side Of The Rainbow, a myth that claims that Pink Floyd’s 1973 psychedelic opus Dark Side Of The Moon perfectly syncs up with the events of the 1939 cinematic classic The Wizard Of Oz.

As expected, this theory has been debunked time and time again by each member of Pink Floyd, with engineer Alan Parsons claiming the band didn’t even have a video projector in the studio while tracking the album.

Nevertheless, it’s quite a humorous conspiracy to entertain, and definitely sounds like a fun way to spend a good hazy hour or so.

The Debbie Harry and Ted Bundy connection

Out of every theory on this list, this one is probably the most believable, and Debbie herself has reiterated its authenticity several times on record.

Some time in the ‘70s, the future Blondie singer was searching for a taxi late at night when she was offered a ride by a man she’s since assumed to be Ted Bundy – one of the most infamous serial killers in US history.

After reluctantly accepting his offer and hopping inside the car, Harry claims that she soon realised the car had no way to open the doors or windows from the inside.

Assuming the worst, Harry made a desperate attempt to flee the vehicle by forcing open the exterior door handle.

Bundy, who witnessed her struggling, made a sharp turn in his car, which supposedly flung the door open and saw Harry spill onto the street – unharmed and alive to tell the story.

Harry would later join the dots after reading a newspaper story about Bundy upon his state-sanctioned execution in 1989, and has pled her case for the legitimacy of the rumour ever since.

Given that Bundy is dead, and that Debbie Harry is already famous enough that the story is nothing more than a bizarre sidenote in her story, we’re inclined to sit on the fence for this one, but I guess we’ll really never know the story for certain.

Robert Johnson’s crossroads encounter

Historically, the blues has always been mired in mythology: tales of evil and sometimes mysterious encounters with supernatural beings have been a huge part of the genre.

However, there’s none more compelling than that of Robert Johnson’s Faustian encounter at the crossroads of Highways 49 and 61 in Clarksdale, Mississippi, a legend that’s surely helped to assert Johnson’s legacy as one of the most famous bluesmen of all time.

As the story goes, Johnson took his guitar to the crossroads and was met by the Devil himself, who tuned his instrument, played a song and offered Johnson his talent in exchange for the bluesman’s soul.

Johnson would agree, and returned from the encounter with a mastery over the guitar that still manages to befuddle listeners more than 80 years on.

Jay-Z, Beyonce and the Illuminati

In the eyes of many, Jay-Z and Beyonce represent the pinnacle of power in the United States: on top of their vastly successful and influential discographies, the power couple boast a level of cultural capital that’s seen them become synonymous with the American dream, and that’s not to even mention Jay’s status as a billionaire.

However, there’s several parties out there who would claim that the duo’s success can be attributed to something far more shady than the music industry (but only just): the Illuminati.

Hilariously, the brunt of this urban legend can all be traced back to Jay’s Roc-A-Fella days, where he and his crew would throw up a diamond hand sign to show their allegiance to his record label. S

omehow, a small cohort of crackpots began to draw parallels between the Roc-A-Fella diamond and the Illuminati’s own triangular symbol, and when Beyonce flashed the diamond during her now-seminal 2013 Super Bowl performance, things just got sillier and sillier.

In 2016, Beyonce would put these rumours to bed once and for all on her Lemonade standout ‘Formation’, chiding the nay-sayers with in the song’s first verse with her declaration that ‘Y’all haters corny with that Illuminati mess’.

You’re right Bey, it is corny, but come on – life is pretty boring when you’re not a billionaire. Let the people have their fun!

Bob Marley versus the CIA

In 1981, reggae icon Bob Marley tragically passed away from brain cancer that stemmed from a melanoma he found on his toe, causing a massive outpour of grief from music lovers all around the world.

However, according to a since-debunked news story from 2018, the cause of Marley’s cancer in fact stemmed from an elaborate assassination plot instigated by the CIA, who supposedly pricked Marley with an infected nail that would lead to his untimely demise due to his support of the country’s democratic socialist leader Michael Manley.

While this version of the story is 100% bullshit, at risk of sounding like a crackpot, there is actually some provenance behind the story.

In 1976, Marley was the target of a failed assassination attempt by seven gunmen due to his political leanings, with two of the gunmen claiming that they’d been contracted by the CIA to pull off the hit in exchange for guns and drugs.

Given the United States’ staunch opposition to socialist leaders and their history with meddling in foreign affairs throughout the ‘70s, this is actually somewhat plausible, and the CIA have previously revealed that they did keep tabs on Bob Marley during the 1970s – tabs that remain classified up to this day. Is the truth perhaps still out there? I guess we’ll never know.

In the mood for more conspiracies? Here’s eight popular guitar myths, debunked by us.