BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) _ Months of preparation were close enough to perfect to keep Randy Owen in the dark about a surprise party for his 50th birthday.

``This has to be the greatest practical joke of the century,'' Owen, singer for the band Alabama, said as 500 friends and relatives helped celebrate Tuesday night.

``How long have you known about this?'' he demanded of his cousin and bandmate, bass player Teddy Gentry.

``About three years,'' Gentry deadpanned.

The singer's actual birthday is Dec. 13. Business associates helped Owen's wife, Kelly, lure her husband to Birmingham on the pretense of a meeting.

She was relieved the secret was out. ``I've never had to lie to this guy before,'' Mrs. Owen said. ``I can tell him tonight that I'm not having an affair.''

Many guests came from Fort Payne, the northeast Alabama base of the band, whose hits include ``My Home's in Alabama'' and ``Close Enough to Perfect.''

``I think everbody in Fort Payne knew about this but Dad,'' said Owen's son, Heath.