Hoax created best-selling album

November 1969 saw the release of a rock album called The Masked Marauders, so named because contractual obligations precluded identifying the world-famous musicians. Still, the liner notes declared it a “once in a lifetime” and “epoch-making” album. It sold more than 100,00 copies. The opening cut, “I Can’t Get No Nookie,” was reportedly called “clearly obscene” by the chair of the Federal Communications Commission. It turns out it was all a hoax.

The first mention of the album came in a review in Rolling Stone magazine’s issue dated October 18, 1969, but on newsstands before then. According to reviewer T.M. Christian, the Masked Marauders were a stunning supergroup: John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and an unnamed drummer. “It can truly be said that this album is more than a way of life; it is life,” Christian wrote.

The review, though, was concocted by Rolling Stone critic Greil Marcus. Marcus later said he and another writer talked about “how stupid all the then-so-called super session albums were.” So they imagined an ultimate supergroup, and Marcus wrote the fake review under a name taken from Terry Southern’s novel The Magic Christian. After seeing the review, Rolling Stone co-founder and editor Jann Wenner thought it would be a fun spoof for readers.

The review provided plenty of clues that it was satire. Side two of the two-record set, supposedly produced by Al Kooper, opened with “an extremely moving a cappella version of ‘Masters of War,’” by Jagger and McCartney. On side three, Dylan sang “Duke of Earl,” Jagger performed “The Book of Love,” and McCartney contributed “his favorite song, ‘Mammy,’” he wrote. “After the listener has recovered from this string of masterpieces,” side four opened with two songs written for the album, including Jagger’s “new instant classic, ‘I Can’t Get No Nookie.’” It closed with a group vocal of “Oh Happy Day.”

Shortly after the magazine went on sale, Rolling Stone co-founder Ralph Gleason reported it was a hoax. “It was intended as a joke. That’s right, son, a joke,” he wrote in his “On the Town” column in the San Francisco Chronicle. Calling it “simply incredible ANYBODY believed it,” Gleason noted that lots of people were taking it seriously. He was right. There was so much demand for this fake album that Rolling Stone’s November 1, 1969, edition, reported record stores were “swamped with orders.”

The magazine also began to receive plenty of letters about the album. The letters section in the next issue had an editor’s note warning readers not to be misled if they saw an album by that name. The review “was just a laugh. In other words, a fabrication, a hoax, a jest, an indulgence[.]”

Still, Rolling Stone writer Langdon Winner got the Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band to record the songs on the album. Marcus even contributed lyrics to “I Can’t Get No Nookie.” A few songs received some radio airplay, which increased demand for the album. Winner eventually convinced Warner Brothers Records to issue a full-length album, although with one record, not two. It released the album on “Deity Records” to match the review. Warner Brothers announced its “official position” in an in-house memo: “We do not know the names of the people comprising this group and the only thing we know about them is what we read in Rolling Stone.”

The week the album was released, Rolling Stone ran a full-page story on how its literally unbelievable review led to an album. “And if people failed to laugh at the Marcus review,” it concluded, “wait ‘til they get ahold of the record itself.”

T.M. Christian returned to write the album’s liner notes, which should have tipped off anyone who read them. Christian “mushed” a dog sled from an air terminal to Igloo Productions to attend the recording sessions. “I Can’t Get No Nookie” was recorded “after an all night party on the tundra with the local Eskimos.” It was named for “the lovely girl friend of Nanook of the North.” Any claims it was obscene “are nothing more than a vile ethnic slur cooked up by some demented mind.” Christian called the music “unmistakably, the sound of the future – the Hudson Bay Sound.”

Despite the hints and disclaimers, The Masked Marauders sold 65,000 copies in two months and more than 100,000 in total. It spent 12 weeks on the Billboard album charts, reaching number 114. On November 29, 1969, “Cow Pie” hit number 123 on the singles charts before disappearing the next week. Many believed they were hearing the purported artists. That didn’t mean the music was good.

“If these boys did do the album, they’ve slipped. It’s terrible,” said an April 3, 1970, review in the Baltimore Sun. Dylan’s rendition of “Season of the Witch,” the writer said, “sounds like Art Carney trying to sound like Bob Dylan doing an imitation of Donovan.” It was, according to the review, the “comedy album of 1969.”

On January 8, 1970, rock critic Robert Christgau called it the “album of the year”– before adding, “I wish I didn’t feel obliged to specify that Marcus intended The Masked Marauders as a parody of rock faddism, especially supergroups and super sessions.” But, he said, the album stood out for having both the world’s worst drum solo and the world’s worst guitar solo.

Playing out the hoax, Deity Records announced the break-up of The Masked Marauders in February 1970. “We don’t need the Marauders,” fictitious label president Solomon Pent-Howes said. “They were nothing until we promoted them and they aren’t really good enough to make it without us.” The end came in April 1971, when Rolling Stone reported Warner Brothers dropped The Masked Marauders from its catalog, relegating any unsold copies to “the drugstore racks.”

The end turned out as imaginary as the band. In 2003, Rhino Records released a limited edition called The Masked Marauders: The Complete Deity Recordings, which has subsequent reissues. In a way, the title continued the hoax. The Masked Marauders is the only Deity Records recording.

What is this anyways? I paid five dollars and eighty-six cents for a record that has Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, John Lennon, and an un-billed drummer — ooh — plus Mick Jagger, and what do I get? This piece of shit!

The Masked Marauders, “Saturday Night at the Cow Palace”

(Originally posted at History of Yesterday)

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