June 22, 2018 / 3:13 PM

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Best Musical Pranks: Justin Bieber, Paul McCartney, Nine Inch Nails and More Celebrate April Fools Day


If you've been reading the news today, especially on Music Times, you know that you've got to watch your back: It's April Fools and irresponsible music media sites are out to get you. We decided to go back and find five of the most epic, dedicated musical pranks the the history of the unofficial holiday. Justin Bieber and Paul McCartney are among those who succeed and suffer with the carrying out of every prank.

Ranked from chuckle-worthy to truly epic:

05) Nine Inch Nails and Timbaland

Trent Reznor, the creative director of Nine Inch Nails, is renowned for his low tolerance for bulls*it, hence his forthright policy of cussing out Awards shows, record labels and fellow performers as they fall below his expectations. Therefore most people should have instantly recognized when the frontman declared he would be working on a new album, Strobe Light, with Timbaland during 2009, that the whole thing was a hoax. Some hints: It hadn't been too long since the NIN honcho had torn into vocalist Chris Cornell for his solo album, Scream, which featured production from Timbaland (as a Soundgarden superfan, we can attest that it did, indeed, suck). Secondly, the album art featuring Reznor wearing Kanye West's iconic shutter-shades, is just a little too over the top. Finally, everyone knows that Trent Reznor isn't going to be too hot about any producer, Timbaland or otherwise, touching his music. He did everything he could to make it believable however, including an audio sample, on his website (which you can still view, although the lame drum loop that once accompanied it ceases to play). The tracklist also featured guest spots from Chris Martin, Jay Z, Sheryl Crow, Fergie and Justin Timberlake.

04) The Masked Marauders

Supergroups were just becoming a thing during the '60s, including Crosby, Stills Nash & Young and Blind Faith. Therefore when Rolling Stone announced that Paul McCartney and John Lennon had temporarily left The Beatles to record with Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan, the world flipped its wig. There had been no announcement for this behemoth, and yet the magazine had reviewed the group's self-titled album in an October issue. The calls came flooding in from fans inquiring where they could find it. This would have been a great "joke's on you" moment but Greil Marcus—one of the greatest music writers of all time—was committed to pushing the prank as far as it would go. He assembled an actual team of musicians, including the less popular bands Cleanliness and the Godliness Skiffle Band. That squad recorded an actual double album of songs such as "I Can't Get No Nookie." Buyers didn't question the lack of the Lennon et al's names on the album due to claims that "contractual issues" prevented it. The record managed to break onto the Billboard charts despite getting no push from the artists reportedly responsible.

03) Justin Bieber

As his recent roast on Comedy Central indicated, Justin Bieber has a pretty good sense of humor. The prank he pulled during 2013 also proves that he will use that sense of humor to bring punishment upon his enemies. He tweeted early on the morning of April Fools Day that he would be taking personal calls from fans: "As promised taking all fan phone calls TODAY at (888) 847 9869. Talk to u soon!" That's obviously not a personal phone number, but such a promotion would require a different number than his cell, so no one raised any eyebrows. Nor did anyone Google the number to make sure that it wasn't a prank of some sort. Indeed, the number went straight to the TMZ tip-line. The gossip experts had harassed Bieber more than almost any celebrity and he got them back by inviting his 30 million-plus Twitter followers to crowd the media giant's phone lines. Even better: It was a toll-free number, meaning charges for the calls were put on TMZ's bill. It was a simple prank, but ingenious and malicious as well...our favorite kind. The pop star surely laughed on into the night.

02) Joaquin Phoenix

Joaquin Phoenix's public meltdown began during 2009, when he grew a Zach Galifianakis-esque beard and declared that he was done with acting, and was pursuing hip-hop as a career instead. It culminated in a notorious appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman, mumbling and limiting most of his answers to a few words. The perceived meltdown gathered even more attention when it became the force of a documentary, I'm Still Here, directed by Casey Affleck. Throughout the film, Phoenix interacts with Sean "Diddy" Combs and Mos Def, neither of whom seemed to think that anything was amiss. Following the release of the film during 2010, Affleck and Phoenix came clean, declaring that the whole thing had been a ruse (and that at least Combs was in on the joke during filming). Phoenix has proven his ability to portray crazy/drug-addled individuals during The Master and Inherent Vice, respectively, but it's still impressive that he carried on the persona for more than a year. We're wondering if Shia LaBeouf is in the middle of a similar performance.

01) Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney has never been able to live down the greatest musical prank of all time and there are still a healthy number of conspiracy theorists who insist that Paul Is Dead. The rumor began following a 1967 car accident but was quickly put to rest by The Beatles PR team. For some reason, when a student newspaper at Drake University in Iowa published the article "Is Beatle Paul McCartney Dead?" the readership ran with it and started a nationwide trend of belief that Sir Paul was deceased. University of Michigan writer Fred LaBour had a laugh by listing "proof" from Beatles album covers that the bassist had died. To his shock—as he had made up most of the evidence he cited—a number of papers ran with the story. McCartney had indeed been out of the press for a while, as his band was on the brink of breaking up, and an interview with Life magazine made everyone feel a bit better. Nonetheless, some still refuse to believe the original McCartney is anything but dead.

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