Graded on a Curve:
The Masked Marauders,
The Masked Marauders

The history of rock’n’roll is littered with great scams and practical jokes that took on a life of their own; I give you Klaatu (they’re really The Beatles!) and the great 1969 tour of America by The Zombies (two separate bands toured the States at the same time, and neither was the real Zombies, who had broken up). And of course there are Self Portrait and Metal Machine Music, both of which stand as great practical jokes regardless of their makers’ true intentions.

But the grandaddy of all rock’n’roll swindles is the 1969 “bootleg” The Masked Marauders, which supposedly documents a top-secret supersession involving John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney and other notables held at a top-secret location near Hudson Bay, Canada, which was supposedly produced by (it only figures) Mr. Supersessions himself, Al Kooper.

The whole affair started innocently enough with a practical joke of a record review concocted by Rolling Stone scribe Greil Marcus, but soon took on the dimensions of a conspiracy straight out of the mind of Thomas Pynchon. Writing under the pseudonym of T.M. Christian (swiped from Terry Southern’s The Magic Christian), Marcus penned a review of the nonexistent bootleg in which he extolled its myriad virtues, which included Dylan “displaying his new deep bass voice” on a cover of “Duke of Earl” and an eighteen-minute version of “Season of the Witch” on which Bobby “does a superb imitation of early Donovan.” The same song, gushed Marcus, “is highlighted by an amazing jam between bass and piano, both played by Paul McCartney.”

The sham might have ended there, but fate had other plans. An excited public wanted to know where it could find The Masked Marauders, and an emboldened Marcus (along with Rolling Stone editor Langdon Winner) went the next mile by sending San Francisco’s Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band into the studio to record a few singles from the imaginary album including the aforementioned “Duke of Earl,” the Stones parody “I Can’t Get No Nookie,” and the Nashville Skyline parody “Cow Pie.”

These songs actually got airplay in San Francisco and Los Angeles, rock fans grew even more frantic to get their hands on the real thing, and the practical joke took a third and perhaps inevitable turn when a bidding war erupted amongst clued-in labels eager to produce an actual LP. Warners won, the fantastical became real, and The Masked Marauders was snatched up by eager listeners (over 100,000 in number!) left to rue T.M. Christian’s merry pranksterish words in the album’s liner notes: “In a world of sham, The Masked Marauders, bless their heart, are the genuine article.”

I say rue because it wasn’t until AFTER they bought the album that buyers were alerted to the fact that they’d been had; the liner notes (and the LP itself) made clear the whole thing was nothing but an elaborate hoodwink. Buyer response was probably summed up best by the guy on the LP’s final track “Saturday Night at the Cow Palace” who grumbles, “I paid five dollars and eighty-six cents for a record that has Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, John Lennon and an umbilical chord. Plus Mick Jagger. And what do I get? This piece of shit!”

And the poor guy isn’t far off the mark, because even as parody records go The Masked Marauders ain’t all that. Aside from the truly astounding “I Can’t Get No Nookie” (best Stones song ever!), the goofy “Duke of Earl” (which has more heart and soul than anything Dylan himself plopped down on Self Portrait), and the could-almost-be-a-Basement-Tapes song “More or Less Hudson’s Bay Again” none of these joke songs stand out, although the country Dylan trifle “Cow Pie” affords some small pleasure if only because it’s so on the mark.

The album’s besetting shortcoming is its lack of good impersonations. The guy who does Mick is pretty good, the guy who does Bob is passable at best, and as for Beatles John, George, and Paul they’re basically missing in action. As a result, the covers of “The Book of Love” and the Cellos’ novelty hit “I Am the Japanese Sandman” have no context; if I can’t hear anybody even attempting to sound like some famous somebody on vocals, why are they on the record?

The 10-minute “Season of the Witch” is a parody of “supersessions” song bloat, and both “Bob” and “Mick” do their best to liven things up. If Bob sounds tired rather than inspired, Mick gets some good lines off; he introduces himself by saying, “Uh, thank you very much ladies and gentlemen!” and tosses off the hilarious line, “I look in the mirror in the morning and I…/I wonder who lives inside my face.” Meanwhile the band noodles, the guitarist serves up what Robert Christgau has proclaimed the “world’s worst guitar solo,” and we’re left with a quandary. The song, meant to be a send-up of the artistic excesses of the extended jam, becomes just another overlong example of the extended jam, and it would have taken a whole lot of great one-liners to make “Season of the Witch” a memorable piece of satire.

“More or Less Hudson’s Bay Again” splits the difference between Blonde on Blonde and The Basement Tapes; the group vocals and country-style guitar are happy-making enough, and the lyrics are a hoot. “I been hiding in the basement/Trying to figure out a way/To get the doctor off my case/He’s trying to have me put away” sing the boys, before adding the tip-off line “Not overlooking Hudson’s Bay.”

Which leaves us with the album’s only real contribution to the rock’n’roll canon, “I Can’t Get No Nookie.” The Stones impersonation is dead on, and the song is great; from the slide guitar to the piano to the maracas the boys have the Stones’ loosy-goosey sexual frustration sound down cold. And Mick is in top form; he plays some fine harmonica, throws in a trademark scream, and bequeathes us the immortal Jaggerism, “I went into a room/And she was lying on the bed, yeah yeah/And I said hey baby/Will you give me a little head?”

In the end concept exceeds grasp, but I’m not sure anybody could have delivered the goods promised by Marcus in his review. And in its own way the album is just as is it should be, because the point Marcus was making (I think) was that none of the “supersessions” so in vogue at the time could have lived up to their hype; the results of such jams were bound to be less than the sum of their brand name participants. I remember seeing a Brian Auger Meets Jimi Hendrix LP in the $1.99 cut-out bin at Woolworths when I was a mere sprog, and I also clearly remember thinking even then that it was a rip-off.

The whole concept of the supergroup was evolving; everybody figured that if you could just cram enough famous people into one studio and let them do what comes naturally the results would blow your head off. When the truth is that the unsatisfied buyer to be heard muttering about being ripped off on “Saturday Night at the Cow Palace” would almost certainly have been just as unhappy with the Real McCoy.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B
(Is for Bogus)

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • Glen Banks

    OK. But don’t blame Klaatu for this nonsense.

    • Michael Little

      Thanks for the laugh Glen!

  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text