In 1969 to advertise the forthcoming THE BEATLES album Abbey Road, Capitol Records commissioned artist Roland Young to design and paint a billboard on LA’s famous Sunset Strip, what happened next remained a mystery for over 40 years. BEN ADLAM tells the story.
“This album cover, designed in England by John Kosh, was sent over to Capitol Records, and they didn’t really get The Beatles at that time. They thought it was like the hula hoop—a fad that was going to pass, so they gave the job to Roland Young, the youngest designer there. He went to the site where the billboard was and figured out that the sky was the most interesting part of the location. He designed the billboard so that the heads of each Beatle would extend above the top of the frame and pop out against the sky.” says Robert Landau, author of Rock ‘N’ Roll Billboards to Interview Magazine.
As you can see that looks pretty amazing, but it didn’t stay like that for long. Today you would expect it to be covered in graffiti before the paint was dry, but things took a more sinister turn back in ’69. Landau continues “At that time, there were a lot of rumours going around that Paul McCartney had died. People were playing the record in reverse, looking for clues, and they had ascribed the imagery of Abbey Road to it. They thought that since Paul was barefoot in the picture, that this was a funeral march. At the height of this frenzy, someone got up on the billboard and cut his head off. The label called Roland Young and said, ‘Hey, somebody took Paul’s head. Do you want us to replace it?’ He drove out there to look at it and said, ‘You know, just leave it alone. It’ll get a lot more attention like this.’”
These billboards were painted by hand and left up for around a month before being re-painted, once the billboard was re-purposed the whole incident was quickly forgotten by most. Fast forward to 2012 when artist Landau was working on his book, Rock ‘N’ Roll Billboards Of The Sunset Strip and he stated that he would give a free book to anyone who could bring McCartney’s head to him. Step forward Bob Quinn.
On the occasion of his 17th birthday Quinn and a group of friends decided to add fuel to the “Paul is dead” story by climbing up the back of the billboard, on the junction of La Cienga and Sunset Boulevard, at 2am and sawing the head off plywood Paul.
Now if that is not the seconnd best bit of The Beatles memorabilia (after the one copy of The Beatles on blue vinyl) then I don’t know what is.
The Beatles Abbey Road Deluxe (and other editions) is out today