As the first issue of Alberta Music Express was about to roll off the presses in October 1976, an album arrived on my desk, displaying a garish Sun face. The album entitled “3:47 E.S.T” was released by a band called Klaatu. A furtive search of the album cover and LP credits revealed nothing about the band. No group photo, no individual writing or performing credits, Klaatu’s identity a total mystery.
This mystery became totally surreal when in February 1977, Steve Smith, a music journalist for a U.S. newspaper, ‘The Providence, Rhode Island Journal’ in reviewing the album, noted that the B-side to the album’s debut single ‘Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft’ entitled ‘Sub Rosa Subway’ sounded strangely like an outtake from The Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour” album and came to the strange conclusion that ‘Yes’ this could be ‘The Beatles’, performing incognito, thus explaining their none-identity on the record.
Smith wrote a story expounding his Beatle theory, this wild rumour was picked up by the global media, and thousands of Beatle fans scooped up “3:47 EST” actually believing they had in their possession a phantom Beatles album.
[quote]For people to think we were the Beatles, we must have been doing something right[/quote]Meanwhile at Olympic Studios in London, England, the real Klaatu; Toronto musicians John Woloschuk (vocals, keyboards, bass, acoustic guitar), Dee Long (vocals, keyboards, guitars, programming) and Terry Draper (vocals, percussion, drums) were at work recording their second album “Hope” with producer Terry Brown when the proverbial shit hit the fan.
“We were working on this conceptual album, that was sort of Beatlesque, with members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra when this story broke that we were the Beatles,” explained Draper as we met in a Willowdale pub to discuss Klaatu for Flashback at a time, earlier this month when the band’s first two albums have been remastered.
“Nobody in England believed for one minute we were the Beatles but in America, they were so desperate for a new Beatles record they were prepared to believe anything,” allowed Draper. “Of course, our U.S. label, Capitol, could have easily stamped out those rumours, but they were happy to keep people guessing so long as those same people continued to buy the album.”
Ironically, it was the band’s efforts to maintain a secret identity which ultimately sparked this Beatles’ hysteria. “We were working with Rush producer Terry Brown and we could see that Geddy Lee couldn’t even go to the 7-11 for a litre of milk without being mobbed, so we wanted to avoid all that publicity,” Draper explained. “The 60’s and early 70’s was a time of what we called a `musical renaissance’, bands like King Crimson, Genesis, The Moody Blues and Emerson Lake & Palmer dominated the scene so we thought…let’s let the music speak for itself.”
[youtube width=”600″ height=”338″ video_id=”JNBV5hofD_U”]
“The three of us were in our mid 20’s, we’d done the bar scene, the girls’ scene. And yes the drugs scene to some degree so we were quite comfortable not revealing our real identity… put all the pressure on our music and less on us,” continued Draper. “Frank Davies had signed us to Daffodil Records in Toronto and he knew Rupert Perry (U.S. Capitol Record’s president) from their time in England together, so Frank was able to convince Perry that there would be a sense of mystery about signing an unknown, mystery band, no band photos, no individual credits.”
As for the band name, Draper claims Woloschuk was a big fan of the 1951 movie `The Day the Earth Stood Still’ with Michael Rennie as the alien visitor ‘Klaatu’ and his destruction robot ‘GORT’. “The movie ends with Rennie’s ominous warning to Earth that ‘We’ve been observing you’ and if you don’t end your violent, aggressive behaviour, we will return and Earth will be obliterated.” noted Draper. “ We liked the idea of ‘Klaatu’ returning to Earth… as a band!”
Funnily enough the whole Klaatu idea seemed to have been torpedoed when Ringo Starr released his “Goodnight Vienna” album with an album jacket showing himself as Klaatu on the flying saucer runway with GORT in the background. “When we saw that, we thought ‘Oh no!’ But fortunately, people didn’t seem to get the connection.”
Further controversy ensued when The Carpenters recorded “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft” and enjoyed a chart-topping smash later in 1977. “We loved their cover; it was such a stretch for The Carpenters. They were faithful to our version, kept our arrangements intact, and definitely gave us credibility.”
Unfortunately, for all the positive elements, the Beatles rumour generated for “3:47 EST” (named after the exact time Klaatu’s spaceship landed in Washington Square), the reverse occurred when “Hope” was released in September 1977 and the word got out that Klaatu was not the Beatles. “When “Hope” was played for Rupert (Perry) in L.A., he thought it was a classic but then our cover got blown, the Aussies were really pissed, they were convinced we were the Beatles. Hey, we were the victims, we didn’t create those problems.”
The whistleblower was Dwight Douglas, program director at WWDC in Washington whose investigation at the U.S. copyright office uncovered the band’s real names. ”Hope” spawned only one minor single, “We’re Off You Know” so by the time Klaatu reconvened for their third album, “Sir Army Suit” the band was ready to cast off their progressive rock visage and instead go for a more pop sounding album. “We didn’t like the idea that we weren’t getting any airplay and we were always big fans of ‘pop music’ so “Sir Army Suit” was going to be our commercial album.”
Capitol didn’t get it but they did try to unveil the band’s identity be commissioning Al Guest and Jean Mathieson to shoot rock music’s first animated video for “A Routine Day” which involved rotoscoping the band’s four members (producer Terry Brown made up the fourth member) into drawings. The finished video was premiered on Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert TV show while a drawing of the band members as well as Terry Brown, Frank Davies, Ted Jones (their album cover artist) and even Her Majesty, the Queen was used on the Sir Army Suit album jacket.
[youtube width=”600″ height=”450″ video_id=”DjsVyv-CT-U”]
“Endangered Species”, the band’s fourth album released in 1980, finally identified the group members and their writing credits but was ignored by Capitol’s marketing department and they were subsequently dropped.
Capitol Canada picked up the option in 1981 for their final studio album “Magentalane” providing the band finally agreed to tour. “Fortunately for us, Max Webster had just folded so we picked up some of their players and we went out opening for Prism as a six-piece band” noted Draper. “The end result was great for Klaatu but too little… too late.” Unfortunately the cost of touring proved to be too expensive to sustain and the trio eventually went their separate ways. Woloschuk threw in the musical towel to pursue an accounting career while Long and Draper still record solo, studio albums and are touting the possibility of a Tesla-flavoured concept album. A screenplay entitled “Sell Out – The Klaatu Story” is also in the works.
“Although a large-scale Klaatu reunion requiring major financing doesn’t seem likely, all three of us did get together on May 7th 2005 for Klaatu-Kon, a Klaatu-type fan convention organized by Bullseye Records’ Jamie Vernon. We did an ‘acoustic’ set for the fans, but that’s been about it. “Bullseye put out “Sun Set”, an anthology and “Raarities” (on vinyl), in 2005. “Raarities” was rereleased in 2009 along with the live ‘acoustic’ set as a CD entitled “Solology”. Draper formed Klaatutunes Records in 2010 to oversee the band’s catalogue and embark on a major remastering project.
“For people to think we were the Beatles, we must have been doing something right,” concluded Draper. “Yet, I think our music stands on its own merit and I’m proud of what Klaatu created.”