I Want to Believe

Back on Friday I wrote about Orion, the Elvis soundalike who was believed by some to be the King hisownself, emerging after Elvis faked his own death in 1977. You can’t blame anyone who was fooled by Orion strictly on the sound of his records—the resemblance between his voice and that of Elvis is uncanny at times—although anybody who took a close look at the album covers should have been able to figure out that whoever Orion was, he wasn’t Elvis Presley. But if you really want to believe, perhaps you don’t look as closely as you should.

In October 1969, Rolling Stone carried a review of a forthcoming bootleg album documenting a “super session” that had involved Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, and the Beatles. It was said to have featured Jagger and Paul McCartney singing Dylan’s “Masters of War” and Dylan and George Harrison doing an acoustic version of “Kick Out the Jams,” as well as including old rock ‘n’ roll songs such as “Duke of Earl” and “The Book of Love.” The album was said to have been produced by Al Kooper and recorded at a secret location in Canada.

Once the review appeared, fans began besieging Rolling Stone for details—and so did the managers of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Dylan. There was no album, of course. The whole thing was a hoax dreamed up by critic Greil Marcus, supposedly in response to the supergroup craze that had recently birthed Crosby Stills Nash and Young and Blind Faith, but also in response to the growing interest in bootlegs since the release of Dylan’s famous Great White Wonder.

With interest boiling, Marcus chose, rather than admitting to the hoax, to take it up a notch, recruiting a group featuring fellow critic Langdon Winner to make the album for real. Tapes ended up on the radio in California, and the continuing interest in the music led to a record deal. In November 1969, The Masked Marauders was released. It sold 100,000 copies and spent eight weeks on the Billboard 200 as 1969 turned to 1970; a single, the instrumental “Cow Pie,” spent a week bubbling under the Hot 100 at the end of November. Critic Robert Christgau named it Album of the Year for 1970—more as a condemnation of the musical trends of 1969 than praise for the album itself, if I’m reading the review correctly.

What I’d most like to know is how many of the 100,000 people who bought the album believed it was a historic collaboration involving the biggest stars of the time rather than an elaborate joke. A close listen should have made clear which it was. “I Can’t Get No Nookie” features a weak Jagger impersonation; the Dylan on “Duke of Earl” is better, and “More or Less Hudson’s Bay Again” certainly sounds like it should have been a Dylan song. But if it’s not obvious to a listener that the Masked Marauders are a hoax by the time he reaches the album’s final track, the proof is right there: “Saturday Night at the Cow Palace” features the voice of what is supposed to be a disgruntled record buyer complaining about being had.

Forty years later, however, the ripple effect of the hoax continues to be felt. In some Internet precincts, “I Can’t Get No Nookie” is labeled as an outtake from the sessions that resulted in the Jamming With Edward album.

“I Can’t Get No Nookie”/Masked Marauders
“Cow Pie”/Masked Marauders

(The album is in print, believe it or not, so these tracks will come down at noon on Wednesday. Buy it here.)

One thought on “I Want to Believe

Leave a Reply to McBers Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.