Gotcha Where I Want Ya: The 7 Best Musical Pranks Ever Played


Ah, April Fools. The day when no one is safe from a good hoodwink, and adding a soundtrack makes the embarrassment smart even more. Even if you’ve already been had today, take refuge from the merry pranksters surrounding your desk and find comfort in snickering over the musical hoaxes that have fooled the best of pop stars and proletarians alike over the years.

The Masked Marauders

Let’s start off with a classic. In 1969, reports surfaced of a new album containing the results of a “super-session” with Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, and Paul McCartney. Entitled The Masked Marauders, the album supposedly couldn’t feature the names of the performers because of contract agreements, but the star-studded lineup was revealed before its release in the October 18, 1969 issue of Rolling Stone. Nice scoop, right?

Except the album was a prank dreamed up by then-Rolling Stone editor Greil Marcus, who went so far as to carry out part two of the joke and record the album with unknowns the Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band, featuring the instant classic, “I Can’t Get No Nookie,” supposedly sung by Mick Jagger. Those who purchased it realized the spoof as soon as they listened. The album was hilarious nonsense from start to finish, including its all-too-earnest liner notes: “In a world of sham, the Masked Marauders, bless their hearts, are the genuine article.” Cruel joke? Maybe, but hey, at least the Traveling Wilburys came along in the ’80s.

“Grunge Speak”

Rolling Stone got the last laugh with the Masked Marauders, but the media can also find itself the butt of a joke when it comes to musical trends. On November 15, 1992, the New York Times published an article called “Grunge: A Success Story,” a piece they believed would illuminate the budding grunge counterculture. The piece referred to certain words and phrases in the “grunge speak” vocabulary, such as “cob nobbler” (a loser), “lamestain” (an uncool person) and “swingin’ on the flippity-flop” (hanging out).

In fact, all of the terms listed were made up on the spot by Megan Jasper, a sales rep for Sub Pop records who was annoyed by the Times‘ repeated attempts to capitalize on grunge music. The prank was revealed by Thomas Frank of The Baffler, and the Times, believing him to be behind the hoax, demanded an apology. Instead, Frank responded in support of the joke, responding, “When The Newspaper of Record goes searching for the Next Big Thing and the Next Big Thing piddles on its leg, we think that’s funny.” Zing!

You can read the cringeworthy article here.

Young Lady Gaga Pranked on MTV’s Boiling Points

Lady Gaga may be the undisputed queen of pop music and certainly nobody’s fool, but in 2005, MTV got her good on their reality show, Boiling Points, in which contestants were unwittingly placed in a frustrating situation, and whoever kept cool the longest won. You may not recognize her right away minus the makeup and signature wardrobe, but the ‘tude she throws down when presented with a plateful of garbage at a restaurant is pure Gaga. MTV may have won the first round, but considering their relevance to music these days, I’d say Gaga is doing just fine without them.

The Neutral Milk Hotel Reunion That Never Was

Shortly before April Fool’s Day 2007, Tiny Mix Tapes announced that the headlining act for their first annual Tiny Mix Fest would be none other than the newly reunited seminal indie rock band Neutral Milk Hotel, sending the blogosophere into an uproar. The story was picked up by everyone from Billboard to The A.V. Club, who had to promptly recant their reports once Tiny Mix Tapes posted a “just kidding!” statement mere hours later: “Weirdest thing: all the artists simultaneously dropped out because they realized TMT is full of irresponsible journalists!” And hey, those of you still nursing a grudge out there, hope you got tickets to the Chris Knox benefit , where Neutral Milk Hotel’s renowned recluse Jeff Mangum really will perform.

Beyoncé’s “Unedited” Vocals from The Today Show

When he’s not busy circling “problem” areas on women’s bodies or perving on his interview subjects, it seems Howard Stern likes to do his share of foolin’ on the airwaves as well. Claiming that an “unedited” board mix had leaked from Beyoncé’s performance on The Today Show in November 2008, Stern aired a less-than-lovely version of “If I Were a Boy” on his show, claiming it revealed what Beyoncé sounded like sans Auto-tune. Now, we never doubted our girl for a second, but the Internet burst aflame, accusing the diva of being without talent.

Luckily, the tape was quickly discredited by (who else?) Matt Lauer of The Today Show, and TMZ snagged an interview with the schmuck who doctored the tape. “It’s a little bit crazy,” he admitted. “No one in their right mind would sound like that, and no one would cheer for someone singing like that.” Good effort on the part of the evildoers, but next time, maybe they should choose a pop star whose vocal talents are actually questionable. (Ashlee Simpson, anyone?)

Improv Everywhere’s Food Court Musical

Of course, not every prank has to be mean-spirited. In March of 2008, patrons in the food court of a Los Angeles shopping mall suddenly found themselves in the middle of a very musical meal, courtesy of the beloved crazies over at Improv Everywhere. Each of the 16 “secret agents” involved disguised themselves in mall employee uniforms, and in cooperation with the mall itself, used the room’s PA system and broke into song, complete with choreography, completely baffling the majority of people in the food court. Our favorite moment comes at 1:49, when a janitor who has been cleaning tables for half an hour suddenly begins singing and a bystander literally spits out her Chinese food. Once their song about (what else?) a lack of napkins for clean-up was completed, all of the participants went back about their business as if nothing had happened. Sheer foolin’ brilliance.

Paul Is Dead

And now for the granddaddy of all rock and roll pranks: The rumored death of Paul McCartney, which originated in 1969 when a caller asked Detroit DJ Russ Gibb WKNR-FM to play the Beatles’ “Revolution 9” backwards, and it supposedly revealed the words, “Turn me on, dead man.” After a couple of college students at the University of Michigan heard the subsequent radio features on McCartney’s “death,” they published a review of Abbey Road in the October 14, 1969 of Michigan Daily containing made-up “clues” from album covers that were meant to prove the grisly theory.

Taking the tale seriously, newspapers around the country picked up the story, referring to McCartney’s “corpse-like” bare feet on the Abbey Road cover and piecing together lyrics of songs that narrated his cause of death: a car crash (“He didn’t notice that the lights had changed” from “A Day in the Life,” and car crash sounds are heard in “Revolution 9” and “A Day in the Life”). The craze spun completely out of control, with linguistics experts claiming they heard “three different McCartneys” on Beatles records and an hour-long radio show discussing various theories and clues, featuring one of the original University of Michigan students, Fred LaBour, who had already confessed off-mic that he made everything up.

It didn’t take long for McCartney to respond to the issue of his alleged death in a characteristically good-natured, quixotic fashion:

Anyway all of the things that have been, that have made these rumors, to my mind have very ordinary, logical explanations. To the people’s minds who prefer to think of them as rumors, then I am not going to interfere, I am not going to spoil that fantasy. You can think of it like that if you like. However, if the end result, the conclusion you reach is that I am dead, then you are wrong, because I am very much alive, I am alive and living in Scotland.

Along with this statement, McCartney was also featured on the cover of, appropriately, Life magazine, bearing the title “Paul Is Still with Us.” Even today, the rumor perseveres, with the Italian version of Wired magazine publishing an article by researchers who claim McCartney’s present-day bone structure cannot possibly match that of the face shown in earlier pictures. Yikes. Some folks just don’t know when to take a joke.

So, as you inevitably find yourself the butt of an April Fools’ prank today, remember all of the folks who believed the elaborate fibs we’ve shared with you here. Just a couple tips: There’s probably something wrong with that tasty-looking sandwich labeled “eat me” on your desk, and your landlord isn’t lowering your rent; he just has a sick sense of humor. Cheers, and watch your back!