In the fall of 1969, Rolling Stone magazine ran an album review of an unknown group called the Masked Marauders. Credited to T. M Christian, the writer asserted "...the unmistakable vocals make it clear this is indeed what it appears to be: John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan, backed by George Harrison...." Not yet two years old, Rolling Stone had built credibility in the underground rock culture and was gaining respect in the mainstream world. Despite this being the first appearance of T.M. Christian’s work, why would anyone question his veracity? Readers took note.
Christian wrote that the album had been recorded covertly in a small Canadian town, due to its participants’ various contractual restrictions. A gathering of truly top-shelf rock stars was all but inevitable, he claimed, particularly with the recent lineup in super groups such as Blind Faith, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and the partnership of Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper and Stephen Stills for their 1968 Super Session LP.
The review then detailed the Masked Marauders LP’s four sides, noting Dylan this, Mick and Paul that, and a simple George and Bob acoustic guitar duet. As though Christians’ opinions weren’t gushing enough, he concluded “It can truly be said that this album is more than a way of life; it is life.”
Immediately after the October 18 issue hit the streets, the phones at Rolling Stone rang off the hook. Dylan’s manager Albert Grossman wanted details. Allen Klein, who had business interest in both the Beatles and Rolling Stones, wanted to know where to obtain a copy of the record. Disc jockeys clamored for theirs. Al Kooper, credited as the project’s producer in the review, deftly said “No comment” to inquiring reporters.
But the whole thing was a joke, written by real-life reviewer Greil Marcus. Rolling Stone founder/editor Jann Wenner, also possessing a skewed sense of humor, approved Marcus’s supergroup commentary for publication.
With all the attention the review received, the gag continued. An obscure Berkeley, California group called the Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band stepped up to fill the market demand and recorded an LP to sound like the album that had supposedly already been recorded! The group was reasonably able to imitate the styles of the Masked Marauders’ purported singers and players, even composing songs to match those mentioned in the review. (They had previously issued an album on the Vanguard label that commanded little attention).
Greil Marcus then took the tapes to San Francisco radio station KMPX, who of course immediately aired them. This further ignited industry interest, with Motown supposedly offering $100,000 for the masters. Warner Brothers Records, knowing what they were doing, did pay something like $15K and issued the Masked Marauders album on the appropriately named Deity Records. The main variation in this release from what had been written was that it was trimmed from a double to a single record. For good measure, the album contained a reprint of T.M. Christian’s rave. And in case buyers still didn’t get it, a subsequent Ralph J. Gleason San Francisco Chronicle article unambiguously revealing the ruse, was included on the back of the album’s Rolling Stone review insert.
Just as the fictitious Monkees became a real band, the album recorded to conform to a review took on a life of its own. 100,000-plus copies of the Masked Marauders were sold to gullible and curious consumers. One track, “I Can’t Get No Nookie,” (“Mick Jagger’s new instant classic” according to Mr. Christian) was issued as a single, backed by the Dylanesque “Cow Pie.” Did any unsuspecting stations actually air that 45?
In today’s culture of ubiquitous inside information sources, I wonder if such an elaborate music stunt could be pulled off these days. Or if it attempted, would anyone fall for it?
Masked Marauders - “I Can’t Get No Nookie”