originally published January 24, 2013
So it looks like Beyonce may have been lip-synching when she belted out the national anthem on Monday before a chilly Washington crowd at President Obama’s inauguration. Is this a big deal? Should we, the public, feel duped or deceived? On the one hand her voice may have been affected by the frigid winter air. On the other, her job is to sing, not to pretend to sing. I could have stood there and pretended to sing.
But in the pantheon of historical musical hoaxes, Beyonce’s possible blunder ranks pretty low. As long as there has been an audience ravenous for music, there has been someone who’ll try to take a shortcut. Many, I’d bet, never get caught. Here are a few who did.
Have you heard the Masked Marauders album? Seriously man, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan all in the same album! It’s a super-session! It’s incredible!
Except it’s complete bullshit. It was a hoax, unleashed by Rolling Stone editor Greil Marcus in 1969 – a year when a new legendary album was being released each week. The review, which Marcus wrote under the pseudonym T.M. Christian (a reference to the novel and then-current movie, The Magic Christian), sparked an avalanche of enquiries to the magazine. Everyone wanted a copy. Even the supposed artists’ managers wanted to know what the hell was going on.
Sure, people should have clued in. They should have known that Dylan wasn’t going to sing an 18-minute version of Donovan’s “Season Of The Witch”. They should have known McCartney wasn’t singing “Mammy”, credited as his favorite song. But they didn’t.
That’s when Marcus hired the Cleanliness And Godliness Skiffle Band to record the album, then released it as though it were the real thing. Rolling Stone eventually let the public in on the gag, but the album still sold over 100,000 copies. Not bad for a sham.
Once upon a time, the New York Times decided they wanted to know more about this new ‘grunge’ thing, so they called up Sub Pop Records in Seattle and asked receptionist Megan Jasper for examples of some of the slang being used by these mopey-looking kids in the flannel and ripped jeans. Megan was happy to help. She gave them more than a dozen terms and their literal definitions, all of which she’d just invented on the spot.
This was before grunge music was officially called ‘Alternative’, back when it was an actual alternative to mainstream rock. Many in the Seattle scene wanted it to stay that way; they felt that if their music hit the mainstream, it would get watered down, mediocre, and… mainstream-ized. Nickelbacked, if you will.
Some of the terms Megan made up:
- Cob Nobbler: A Loser
- Harsh Realm: A Bummer
- Lamestain: An Uncool Person
- Wack Slacks: Ripped Jeans
- Swingin’ On The Flippity-Flop: Hanging Out
The Times printed the list as though it were true. Eventually The Baffler outed Megan’s prank, though I wonder how many lamestains actually tried incorporating these terms into conversations while they were swingin’ on the flippity-flop. Harsh realm, man.
For three weeks in June, 1979, the Billboard “Bubbling Under The Hot 100” chart listed a song called “Ready ‘N Steady” by D.A. Do you remember that one? Of course you don’t – nobody does.
Joel Whitburn, the go-to historian for anything that has ever charted on Billboard, owns a copy of every single 45 that hit the charts – even the Bubbling Under chart – except this one. There was a belief that D.A. was a female rock group from Chicago, and the chart listed that it was released on Rascal Records, but no one can produce a copy. The address for the Detroit-based Rascal led to an empty building.
No one has ever been able to prove that this record exists. Whitburn omitted the entry from his most recent published compilation of singles, finally believing that “Ready ‘N Steady” is nothing more than a myth.
There have been numerous cases of misattribution in the annals of classical music, but Winfried Michel took things a little far. The German recorder player convinced a number of scholars that six piano sonatas that Michel had composed were in fact long-lost works by Joseph Haydn.
Six new sonatas is like finding three new Beatles albums to a Haydn lover. It’s like finding out there’s another half-season after that 10-second blackness at the end of The Sopranos. The scholars wanted to believe this one. The first measures of each sonata did appear in an authentic thematic catalogue – it could be true, right? They jumped the gun, Michel’s stuff was released unto the world as Haydn’s, and no doubt Winfried had a hearty chuckle at their expense when the truth came out.
By the way, I’m not sure that’s a photo of Michel up there – a number of different faces came up when I searched for him, and all the pages are in German. I’m hoping the recorder is a tip-off.
Kids, don’t believe everything you hear.
In 1989 and 1990, Milli Vanilli was a duo that topped the charts and positively drowned top-40 radio with a string of hits: “Girl You Know It’s True”, “Blame It On The Rain”, “Baby Don’t Forget My Number” and “Girl I’m Gonna Miss You”. That’s them holding their Grammys for Best New Artist. They didn’t have those for long.
Things started to go bad when a late-89 performance on MTV was clearly lip-synched. Yeah, the synch track skipped. It’s pretty funny. That might have been a sign from above that Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan, the two German model/dancers that producer Frank Farian recruited for this project, should have quit. The Music Gods were angered by this blasphemy. Then they got their Grammys in February. Then in March, Rob proclaimed in Time Magazine that he was ‘the new Elvis’, and more talented than Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger (or, now that I think of it, the three surviving Masked Marauders, the album upon which Rob may have been basing this claim).
The Music Gods had had enough. This was the real Milli Vanilli:
One of the actual singers leaked the truth. Farian admitted the hoax on November 22, 1990. The Grammys were withdrawn, Arista Records dropped the act and deleted their album from its catalog, and the lawsuits began flying. In August, 1991, a judge stamped through a refund deal for concerts and albums, giving an estimated 10 million buyers a chance to get their money back for having been duped.
Rob & Fab put out their own album – here’s a video… and actually they aren’t horrible singers – but no one cared. After another 1998 attempt at a comeback, Rob took on a drug habit, got busted for robbery and sent to jail, then died of a drug overdose.
Hoaxes aren’t victimless crimes, Beyonce. Don’t be a cob nobbler. Give us a real show at the Super Bowl next week.