Maybe it’s because there’s a certain amount of stunted adolescence that typically goes with the territory – or maybe because musicians need to find creative ways to distract themselves from the lengthy periods of sheer boredom that are endemic to a life spent primarily on the road or in the studio – but pop stars seem to have a special knack for messing with other people’s minds.
In honor of April Fool’s Day, here’s a rundown of 20 memorable practical jokes, pranks, japes and/or hoaxes involving famous musicians over the past half-century. Some of them are light-hearted, some are bizarre and some are downright nasty, but they’re all several steps up from your average whoopee cushion or joy buzzer gag.
Michael Jackson Repeatedly Prank-Calls Russell Crowe
The archetypal pop star who never grew up, Michael Jackson loved to play practical jokes, especially ones that involved soaking unsuspecting victims with water. But he also loved to make prank phone calls – especially, for some reason, to movie star Russell Crowe. According to the irascible actor, Jackson tele-stalked him for years, pranking him both at home and on the road. “I never met him, never shook his hand, but he found out the name I stayed in hotels under, so it didn’t matter where I was,” Crowe told The Guardian last year. “He’d ring up, do this kind of thing, like you did when you were 10, you know. ‘Is Mr Wall there? Is Mrs. Wall there? Are there any Walls there? Then what’s holding the roof up? Ha ha.'” Though the humor was strictly grade-school level, Jackson’s dogged persistence (and unexpected choice of victim) practically elevated the recurring prank to performance art.
Adele Pranks Her Impersonators
Adele’s powerful voice and playful personality were both on display in last year’s Adele at the BBC TV special, especially during the part where the singer donned a fake nose and chin in order to infiltrate an audition for Adele impersonators. After hanging out backstage with the unsuspecting auditioners, Adele – using the alias “Jenny the nanny” – took the stage and let fly with her unmistakable vocals, triggering tears and laughter from the other singers as they realized that their idol had been in their midst all along.
Elton John Goes Ape for Iggy Pop
In October 1973, during a Stooges performance at a small club in Atlanta, Elton John — one of the biggest pop stars in the world at the time — decided to demonstrate his love and admiration for the then-much-reviled punk progenitors by invading the stage in a gorilla suit. Unfortunately, Iggy Pop was completely out of his mind on speed at the time, and was thus more than a little freaked out by the sudden appearance of a gorilla in their midst. Elton (who’d been goaded into the prank by several Creem magazine staffers) quickly sensed his faux pas and revealed his true identity by removing the head of his costume, thus narrowly avoiding an onstage beatdown at the hands of Iggy and guitarist James Williamson.
Mike Patton “Fortifies” Axl Rose’s Orange Juice
Faith No More apparently got up to all manner of mischief as the opening act on the ill-fated 1992 Metallica/Guns N’ Roses tour, including an incident where frontman Mike Patton pooped into a carton of orange juice, painstakingly resealed the container and placed it in the fridge of Axl Rose’s tour van. While there’s no documented record of what happened next, it’s fun to imagine Patton’s turd springing forth Mr. Hankey-like from the carton to cheerfully inform a horrified Axl, “Do you know where you are? You’re in the jungle, baby!”
Rolling Stone Reviews the Masked Marauders
Bootleg albums and supergroups were hot new topics 1969, so Rolling Stone reviews editor Greil Marcus spoofed both developments with a satirical review of a new bootleg titled The Masked Marauders, which he claimed was recorded by an Al Kooper-produced supergroup, featuring Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The record didn’t actually exist, but the subsequent demand for it was so heavy that Warner Bros. actually forked over a $15,000 advance to have musicians (Berkeley’s Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band) record an album based on Marcus’ review. Released in late 1969, the record sold over 100,000 copies despite its sheer awfulness. “It was just an attempt to say, ‘This is stupid, and let’s make it even stupider,'” Marcus explained recently.
Johnny Cash Chickens Out
Despite his somber “Man in Black” image, country legend Johnny Cash was quite the wild-eyed hell-raiser during the early years of his career, especially when he was jacked up on amphetamines. Cash and his Tennessee Three bandmates Marshall Grant and Luther Perkins loved to flush lit cherry bombs down hotel toilets and toss television sets out of hotel windows, but they got considerably more creative during a late 1950s visit to Omaha, Nebraska: After buying 500 baby chickens at a local hatchery, the three men went back to their hotel and let a hundred of the chicks loose on each of their hotel’s five floors.
Tony Carey Hits the Bricks
Keyboardist/composer Tony Carey got his big break in 1976, when Ritchie Blackmore heard him playing in an adjacent rehearsal room and asked him to join Rainbow. Unfortunately, Carey’s time in the band was short-lived, thanks to Blackmore’s propensity for making him the butt of multiple practical jokes. The final straw came in early 1977, when Carey quit Rainbow following an incident in which Blackmore and drummer Cozy Powell attempted to brick up the entrance to Carey’s room at the French chateau where the band was recording Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll — and did it while Carey was still inside.
Alien Ant Farm and the Spiders from Arse
Several members of Alien Ant Farm, the Southern California alternative metal band that had a huge 2001 hit with their cover of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal,” enjoyed playing a criminally disgusting game on their tour bus called “Spider in Waiting.” When someone would leave their bunk in the middle of the night to take a leak in the bus bathroom, another would silently crawl up to the top bunks, drop their pants, and straddle the darkened aisle with a knee on each bunk and their posterior pointed in the direction of the restroom. Then, when the half-asleep bathroom user attempted to return to his bunk, he would walk face-first into the spread cheeks of the waiting “Spider.” Luckily, no one was playing the game at the time of AAF’s awful bus accident in May 2002 — because the results would have not only been tragic, but also fairly embarrassing.
Joe Walsh’s Chainsaw Massacre
Joe Walsh not only brought an additional burst of rock & roll energy to the Eagles when he joined the multi-platinum band in late 1975, he also brought a chain saw. Schooled in the art of hotel room trashing by the Who’s Keith Moon, Walsh would use the power tool to enlarge rooms that were too small for his taste into “grand suites.” Walsh also once used the chain saw to shorten all the legs of the furniture in the hotel room of Eagles manager Irving Azoff (pictured at center), thus bringing it all down to a “more manageable” height for the 5-foot-3 executive. Azoff retaliated by having all of the furniture in Walsh’s room nailed to the ceiling.
Sabbath Silly Sabbath
In 1973, Black Sabbath holed up at Clearwell Castle in Wales to write material for their Sabbath Bloody Sabbath album. The 18th-century building was creepy enough to begin with — guitarist Tony Iommi believes he encountered an actual ghost in one of its corridors — but the band quickly added to the eerie atmosphere by playing a series of macabre practical jokes on each other. Ozzy Osbourne woke Iommi in the middle of the night with strange sounds from an eight-track cassette machine hidden under his bed; Iommi tossed a dolled-up dressmaker’s dummy out of a third-floor window while Geezer Butler and Bill Ward were walking back toward the castle from a local pub; and Butler, Iommi and Ozzy placed a full-length mirror inches away fromWard’s sleeping face, and then poked him until he awoke in horror to his own distorted reflection. The pranks continued in like fashion until everyone became too spooked to stay at the castle overnight. “We frightened the life out of each other,” Iommi would later recall. “We used to leave and drive all the way home and drive back the next day. It was really silly.”
Steve Jones’ Special Sauce
As the most straitlaced (and only middle-class) member of the Sex Pistols, original bassist Glen Matlock was subjected to considerable abuse from his bandmates. In his book Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs, Pistols frontman John “Johnny Rotten” Lydon claims that guitarist Steve Jones often used French loaves filled with hot water and raw liver as a masturbation aid, and he would later serve the resulting “sandwich” — now slathered with Jones’ man gravy — to an unsuspecting Matlock, who consumed it without a second thought. “I particularly remember how he used to love how soft the bread was,” Lydon recalled.
Getting Pissed With the Ramones
John Lydon wound up on the receiving end of a “hidden bodily fluids” gag on July 4th, 1976, when the Sex Pistols frontman went backstage at London’s Roundhouse to pay his respects to the Ramones, who had just finished playing their first-ever U.K. gig. “The Ramones always put a few drops of piss in anything they give to their guests as a little joke,” the late Dee Dee Ramone told Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain in their oral history book, Please Kill Me. “Johnny Ramone was very friendly to Johnny Rotten when they met. He shook his hand, patted him on the back and asked him if he wanted a beer. Ha ha ha.” Rotten reportedly downed the tainted beverage in a single gulp.
The Dwarves Fake a Band Member’s Death
Punk reprobates the Dwarves developed a rabid cult following in the early Nineties, as well as a reputation for engaging in debauched, taste-defying behavior both on and off the stage. In 1993, the band pushed the envelope a step further by faking the death of guitarist He Who Cannot Be Named, getting their label Sub Pop to send out an official press release claiming that the musician had met his demise as the result of a stabbing in Philadelphia and dedicating their latest album to his memory. But when the truth emerged that the guitarist was, in fact, alive and well, the folks at Sub Pop angrily booted the Dwarves off the label.
Kiss vs. Rush
While it’s fairly commonplace for bands to prank each other onstage, especially on the final night of a long tour, the epic June 7th, 1975 prank battle between Kiss and tour openers Rush was a particularly messy one. According to Ken Sharp’s Nothing to Lose, the members of Kiss kicked things off by invading the stage in full costume during the last song of Rush’s set, and pelting Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart with cream pies, string cheese and silly string, making the stage so slippery that Lee nearly wiped out several times, and it rendered the band’s instruments nearly unplayable. Rush responded by putting limburger cheese in front of all of Kiss’ onstage fans, causing the air to smell particularly pungent during the latter’s set. Then, dressed in Native American garb, Lee, Lifeson and Peart returned to the stage to fling cream pies and shoot rubber arrows at Kiss. “We got them back,” recalled Lifeson. “But ours was just a little battle and theirs was like a war. They really annihilated us.”
The Art of Pranking: George Harrison Pranks Phil Collins
While still a teenager, Genesis drummer Phil Collins got the call to play congas on the sessions for George Harrison’s 1970 triple album All Things Must Pass, though his parts didn’t make the final mix. In 2001, shortly before his death, Harrison sent Collins a new mix that he claimed contained Phil’s conga contributions. “I thought, ‘Oh my god, this sounds terrible,'” Collins recently revealed. In fact, the lousy playing was actually the work of percussionist Ray Cooper — who’d been specifically instructed to play badly over the track so that Harrison could prank Collins with the recorded results. “I couldn’t believe that a Beatle had actually spent that much time on a practical joke for me,” said Collins.
Bob Dylan’s Motorcycle Crash
While it’s well-established that Bob Dylan did have a motorcycle accident in Woodstock, New York, on the morning of July 29th, 1966, the true nature of his injuries have been the subject of speculation for nearly 50 years. It was rumored at the time that he was near death, or permanently brain damaged; Dylan himself has variously claimed he suffered anywhere from one to several broken vertebrae, though he apparently sought out a local doctor for treatment instead of going to a nearby hospital. Whatever actually happened, it’s clear that the accident offered Dylan a convenient excuse to get off the frantic treadmill of fame and retreat, at least for a few years, into a more bucolic existence. Still, he continues to change the story — and his assertion to Rolling Stone in 2012 that he’d been “transfigured” by the accident (and that it was somehow linked to a fatal 1964 motorcycle crash suffered by a Hell’s Angel named Bobby Zimmerman) could well be another classic Dylan put-on.
Sharon Osbourne Sabotages Iron Maiden
Iron Maiden’s final performance of OzzFest 2005 was a rough one: The British metal legends were pelted by eggs, ice and creamed corn, repeatedly interrupted by stage invaders and suffered multiple P.A. outages as they valiantly attempted to play an hour-long set for a sell-out crowd at the Hyundai Pavilion in San Bernardino, California. Suspicions that Ozzy’s crew were involved in the pranks were confirmed afterward when Sharon Osbourne took the stage to call Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson a “prick,” and to claim that he’d been disrespecting Ozzy and Ozzfest in the press. Unfortunately for Sharon, the incident generated far more bad press for her than Maiden, as most eyewitnesses were impressed by the band’s fiery performance in the face of egg-splattering adversity.
Tool’s Leaky New Album
Tool haven’t released a new album since 2006’s 10,000 Days, which means their fans are desperate for any new music at all from the progressive metal outfit — and are thus especially susceptible to pranks like the one the band played last April Fool’s Day, when they announced via Facebook that someone had not only posted their unfinished music on the Internet without their consent, but was also claiming it as their own work. The post contained two YouTube links — one labeled “Tool Leak” and one labeled “The Other” — and asked fans to compare the “practically identical” works. Of course, both of them turned out to be “El Sonidito (El Ruidito),” a 2009 international hit by Mexico’s Hechizeros Band. The fans who fell for it weren’t pleased, but they had only themselves to blame for failing to notice the post’s #marchthirtysecond hash tag.
The Great Grunge Hoax
Grunge was huge in 1992 — and in the wake the surprising success of Nirvana’s Nevermind, the mainstream media descended upon Seattle, hoping to gain insight into this new “pop phenomenon.” The New York Times was no exception; the paper ran a piece that November called “Grunge: A Success Story,” which also included a helpful lexicon of cutting-edge grunge slang terms like “Lamestain” (or uncool person), “Harsh Realm” (bummer) and “Swingin’ on the Flippity-Flop” (hanging out). Unfortunately for the paper, the lexicon turned out to be a complete hoax; it was later revealed that a Sub Pop Records receptionist — who, like many denizens of the Seattle music scene, had become increasingly annoyed by all the outside attention being focused on their city — made up the “slang” on the spot while being interviewed by a Times reporter. Harsh realm, dude!
Paul Is Dead
The grandaddy of all rock conspiracy theories, the persistent rumor that Paul McCartney actually died in a 1966 auto accident (and that his death was subsequently covered up by his fellow Beatles) has had fans of the Fab Four combing their records for macabre clues for nearly half a century. However, the newspaper article that really fanned the rumor’s flames — a front-page feature in the October 14th, 1969 issue of the Michigan Daily that was quickly picked up by newspapers around the country, as well as Time and Life magazines — was actually a prank by a University of Michigan student named Fred LaBour. LaBour, who had originally been assigned to review the band’s new Abbey Road album for the paper, wrote the piece as a playful send-up of the credulous call-in conversations regarding McCartney’s “death” that he’d recently heard on a Detroit radio station. Of the more than two-dozen “clues” and “facts” presented in LaBour’s article, most were fabricated on the spot by the writer, but they continue to live on to this day — much like McCartney himself.