In its October 18, 1969 issue, Rolling Stone ran a tongue-in-cheek review of a non-existent album that purportedly captured a "super session" of the era's leading rock and roll musicians, including Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, and Paul McCartney. The review claimed that none of the artists could be listed on the jacket cover because of contractual agreements with their recording companies. The editors involved decided to extend the joke by hiring a relatively obscure band to record an actual album and then secured a deal with Warner Bros. As an indication of how many people were taken in by the joke, The Masked Marauders fell just short of making Billboard's Hot 100.
Many readers, however, took the review seriously, despite its obvious jokes:
"Produced by Al Kooper, the album was recorded with impeccable secrecy in a small town near the site of the original Hudson Bay Colony in Canada."
"The LP opens with an eighteen-minute version of 'Season of the Witch' (lead vocal by Dylan, on which he does a superb imitation of early Donovan). The cut is highlighted by an amazing jam between bass and piano, both played by Paul McCartney."
"Dylan shines on Side Three, displaying his new deep bass voice, with 'Duke of Earl'."
"Paul showcases his favorite song, 'Mammy,' and while his performance is virtually indistinguishable from Eddie Fisher's version, it is still very powerful, evocative, and indeed, stunning. And they say a white boy can’t sing the blues!"
"It can truly be said that this album is more than a way of life; it is life."
After the songs aired on San Francisco and Los Angelesradio stations – from tapes Marcus supplied – the pranksters began looking for a major label to produce an album. Several recording companies expressed an interest, but Warner Bros. won the production rights, offering a $15,000 advance plus its considerable promotional power. In November 1969, Warner released The Masked Marauders as a single LP on its newly created Deity label. The album, which sold more than 100,000 copies, spent twelve weeks on the Billboard charts, peaking at #114. "Cow Pie", actually released as the B-side of "I Can't Get No Nookie", managed to dent the Bubbling Under Hot 100 chart at #134, for a single week on November 29, 1969.
Original and follow-up releases
Tipping off buyers to the joke (albeit after they had purchased the album), Warner inserted the Rolling Stone review as well as a San Francisco Chronicle column by critic Ralph J. Gleason, a co-founder of Rolling Stone. Gleason found it incredible anyone believed the review and declared the gag a "delightful bit of instant mythology." The closing track, "Saturday Night at the Cow Palace," also made clear the album was all in fun. The track featured a riotous monologue by a record buyer so indignant at being taken in by the hoax that he vows, "When I get through with those people at Deity Records, I’ll have them walking out of the building in barrels." The album’s liner notes, penned by "T.M. Christian," also offered its share of clues, most notably the line:
"In a world of sham, the Masked Marauders, bless their hearts, are the genuine article."
In 2003, Rhino Records, under its Handmade label, remastered the album, releasing a numbered edition of 2,000 copies entitled The Masked Marauders - The Complete Deity Recordings. The lineup of songs is the same as on the original LP, except for bonus tracks of the monaural single, "I Can’t Get No Nookie" b/w "Cow Pie". The title of the re-issue posed yet another joke: the album was Deity’s only recording. As one of its contributions to the spoof, Warner created Deity under its Reprise subsidiary to match the name of the non-existent record company credited in the Rolling Stone review.