April 14, 2016
"As much as the story of Klaatu revolves around utopian opportunity and musical integrity, it is also a tale of victor and victim and how quickly and cruelly the forum of public opinion can reward and reprimand."
- Nick Krewen
Klaatu is a Canadian progressive rock/pop trio group from Toronto that formed in 1973. The band featured John Woloschuk (vocals, bass, and keyboard), Dee Long (vocals and guitar), and Terry Draper (vocals and percussion). They named themselves after the extraterrestrial Klaatu portrayed by Michael Rennie in the 1951 film The Day The Earth Stood Still. In the movie, Klaatu and a robotic policeman named Gort came to earth from another planet to warn the countries on Earth about the dangers of their wars. They advise people to stop fighting amongst themselves, or else the human race will be obliterated. Since the band identified with Klaatu and Gort's mission, they adopted the Klaatu name, and it became their "collective identity" (Ferguson, "About Us").
Klaatu identified with this fictional character and began including this space-age persona in their press releases, lyrics, and marketing. It is important to note that the band members did not reveal their identities on album covers or in magazines. The only visual information fans were exposed to was the album art of Ted Jones. This was because the trio hoped to maintain private lives while creating music. Klaatu wanted people to focus on the music as opposed to who created it.
In the early formation of Klaatu, Frank Davies was their producer. He took some of Klaatu's demos over to his Los Angeles-based friend Rupert Perry, head of A&R for Capitol Records. Quoted in Krewen (2015), Davies recalls:
Rupert loved it. He said, ‘We’d like to come and see the band play and meet them.’ He did the typical A&R spiel – and I had known Rupert for a long time, so this made it a little easier – and I said, ‘I can’t do that Rupert, because this is how this band wants to be publicized, promoted and everything else. They’re not going to play live. They don’t want any interaction with the record company. They want to leave that entirely up to me as their label, and production team manager, and that’s it.’ He said, ‘Frank, I’ve got to meet guys that I sign to a deal.’ I said, ‘Rupert, those are the conditions.’ And, kudos to him, he signed them. Klaatu was unique and Rupert went along with it. He didn’t meet them until quite a bit later (Krewen, 2015).
Unfortunately, it is this anonymity that partially led to both Klaatu's success and simultaneous failure. Klaatu's first album was released on August 11, 1976. In Canada, the album was named 3:47 E.S.T., after the exact time that the alien Klaatu landed in The Day the Earth Stood Still. However, in the United States it was simply known as Klaatu. This was because Woloschuk came up with the 3:47 EST idea after the first round of Canadian pressing had finished at the printers. Woloschuk explains: " They made a sticker that went over the shrink wrap that said ‘3:47 E.S.T.’ In the U.S., the album is still known as Klaatu” (Krewen, 2015). Although the album was well received in Canada, it received very little radio and press attention in the US until American journalist Steve Smith reviewed the album in the Providence Journal on February 13, 1977. The review was titled "Could Klaatu be Beatles? Mystery is a Magical Tour". After focusing on two specific songs, "Sub-Rosa Subway" and "Dr. Marvello", Smith believed the album had several musical qualities that emulated a typical Beatles album, and noted that the names of the members were being kept secret by Capitol Records. Smith postulated that Klaatu could be the Beatles. His conclusion read:
The album's musical and lyrical clues left four possibilities as to whom this mystery band could be: 1. The Beatles. 2. A couple of the Beatles with other people. 3. A Beatle-backed band. 4. A completely unknown but ingenious and talented band. ...Whoever Klaatu is, their album was well worth waiting for. Is it the Beatles? You are welcome to draw your own conclusions - and if 'Yesterday' is here, 'Let it Be' (Smith 1977).
However, many other journalists ran with the idea that Klaatu actually were the Beatles. This was heightened due to the fact that Capital Records did not have the band members names on file due to their wish for privacy. Although Klaatu gained a modicum of success and sold thousands of albums from this misunderstanding, the rumour ultimately killed the band and their music. In a 2002 interview with Al Joynes, Terry Draper commented:
There was a serious backlash. The 'Damocles Sword' I call it. When people found out we weren't the Beatles, I think they were a little distraught, and worse than that they thought that we perpetrated the rumour. And all we wanted to do was remain anonymous and just have private lives. ...At this point we were being asked to reveal ourselves and we didn't. Capitol Records published a full page ad in Billboard [presenting] a complete denial that it was the Beatles. The article read: 'Klaatu is Klaatu'. That's it" (Draper 2002).
After people realized that Klaatu were not the Beatles, their popularity dwindled immensely, as shown through their poor record sales after Sir Army Suit (1978). People were angry with the band and felt betrayed. Draper continued: "Every album sold less than the previous one. The public felt duped, and it wasn't us, we didn't do it. We never pretended to be the Beatles, we didn't want to be the Beatles" (Draper 2002).
Even though the band continued to make albums, the Beatles rumour had taken its toll on the band's credibility. With the release of Endangered Species (1980), the band lost creative control to Capitol Records (Ferguson, "Discography"), and their authenticity became continuously questioned by fans and critics alike. Since Klaatu had one remaining album on their contract, Capital Records was determined to produce a hit single on Endangered Species, in order to recuperate losses from the previous three albums.
There are many reasons why people thought Klaatu were the Beatles. Many of these accusations came from newspapers and music magazines. Although these accusations no longer hold any credence today, it is important to familiarize oneself with them in order to add context to the artificial hype. Klaatu.org contains a page called "Klaatu Identities and Beatles Rumours". Here are just a few examples taken from Klaatu.org:
The Music & Lyrics:
The album’s lyrics allude to magic, mystery, and touring. The “Magical Mystery Tour” album by the Beatles was the only album considered a failure. Could Klaatu be their answer to that?
A song on the album, Bodsworth Rugglesby III is misspelled on the back of the album cover so that it says Rubblesby. Defining bods, worth, rubbles, and by, Bodsworth Rubblesby could mean: persons of importance born of quarrying." The Beatles were first known as the Quarrymen.
In Sir Bodsworth Rugglesby III there is the line, "he's the only man who's ever been to hell and come back alive." This could be a reference to the Paul is Dead rumor from the 1960s.
Students at the University of Miami applied ‘Sub-Rosa Subway’ and some McCartney tracks to a voice print machine: the prints were "identical“
"Sub-Rosa Subway" invokes memories of McCartney with the ending sounding like "All You Need Is Love”
In “Doctor Marvello”, the lyrics state “Jonesey turned the tide”. This could relate to Ray Jones, a guy who went to Brian Epstein’s record store, wanting a Beatles album before the Bealtes were big. Brian Epsitein wanted to know why this band from Liverpool was attracting so much attention. So, he went to see them at the Cavern, and signed them. Thus, “Jonesey” changed the tide for the Beatles.
The song title, 'Sub-Rosa Subway' was thought to be a takeoff on McCartney's Red Rose Speedway album
The term "sub-rosa" is a Latin phrase that means "under the rose" and is used in English to denote secrecy or confidentiality. Perhaps a way to hide the Beatles' identity
Beetles are heard to be chirping and buzzing at the start of "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft"
The lyrics of “Sub-Rosa Subway” refer to New York and then Washington, the first two U.S. cities the Beatles played
The record was on Capitol records, the American record company that had released most of the Beatles' records in the U.S. The record had no pictures or names of band members, producers, or song writing credits listed on it anywhere. It simply said, "Produced by Klaatu" and "All selections composed by Klaatu.“
Aussie papers recall a Beatles album supposedly recorded between Magical Mystery Tour and Abbey Road. It was supposed to have one central theme: the sun. Furthermore, on Abbey Road the Beatles sing about the "Sun King" and state "Here Comes The Sun". The Klaatu album covers all have a picture of the sun on them.
On the Sir Army Suit album is a song called "Mr. Manson" - it is about Charles Manson, the mass murderer who claimed the Beatles were messengers from God sending messages to him directly
There are 7 roots pictured at the very bottom of the first album, and there are 7 letters in “Beatles”.
The sun on the first album was rumoured to contain Paul’s eyes and John’s nose
Ringo Starr’s Goodnight Vienna album shows Ringo portraying Klaatu
On the back cover of the first album is a two-coloured planet. This could be an allusion to Paul McCartney & Wings’ Venus and Mars
It is interesting to note that prior to the Beatles hype in November of 1974, Klaatu performed on the CBC television series Keith Hampshire’s Music Machine. They performed their two Canadian singles, "California Jam" and "True Life Hero". "California Jam" marked a turning point for the band, as it had convinced the US version of Island Records to commit to Klaatu on a single-by-single basis.
There are several rather unfortunate circumstances in the mysterious story of Klaatu. Although the band was accused of being anonymous with their lack of band pictures, names, and individual credits, they had fully exposed themselves on television three years prior. Similarly, the marketing tactics employed by Klaatu were not out of the norm. It's the collaboration of these normative attributes that make the unique anonymity that is the Klaatu identity. For example, on both the Doors' self-titled first album (1967), and Genesis' first album From Genesis to Revelation (1969), all writing credits are given to the band. Genesis' album as well as other albums of the time (i.e. King Crimson's In The Court Of The Crimson King, 1969) also contained no pictures of the band members, but only their names. With the King Crimson album, both the front and back cover contained psychedelic artwork, with no writing whatsoever. It is the inner sleeve that displays the band's name, album title, tracks, lyrics, credits, and band personnel. On the contrary, Fleetwood Mac's self-titled first album (1968) contains pictures of the band members, but not their names. Other genres had similar situations of omitted information. There were a lot of early Motown and Stax albums with no pictures of the artists. Furthermore, on solo artist albums of both soul and country music, the session musicians were often not credited. This lack of recognition didn't change until the very end of the 1960s. Perhaps Klaatu's anonymity might have slipped under everyone's radar had it not been for that one tiny hiccup: the band shared similar sound qualities to that of the Beatles.
Of course, Klaatu were certainly not the first band to have similar sound qualities to another band. For example, the band Starcastle displays many of the stock features found in much Yes music from the 1970s. Aside from similar instrumentation and even vocal timbres, at times it seems entire harmonic patterns have been lifted from Yes. With regards to the song "Lady of the Lake" from the band's first album Starcastle (1976), Covach (2000) notes:
The song opens with the key- boards sustaining a sus-4 tonic chord in Ab major (Ab-Db,-Eb) as the guitar plays a two-measure repeating melodic figure that emphasizes 5 (see example 1a) [See Fig. 2.3]. The bass and drums enter in stop time, and when the entire band kicks in eight measures later, an eight-measure harmonic pattern emerges that is lifted directly from Yes' 'Yours Is No Disgrace' (though the Yes tune is in Bb and four measures in length; compare examples 1b and 1c). Further, the opening sus-4 chord is reminiscent of Yes' 'Perpetual Change,' as are the bass and drums in stop time as part of the introduction. The lyrics and vocal style are dearly derivative of the style of Yes' Jon Anderson (Covach, p.25-26).
Despite sounding like the band Yes, no one ever thought Starcastle was Yes. This was mostly due to their album containing both pictures and names of the band members on the back cover. What exasperated Klaatu's situation beyond the usual x band sounds like y band banter, is the lack of band member detail. For a while, unlike Starcastle, Klaatu were not seen as band knockoffs, or unoriginal copycats - they were seen as the real deal. They were seen as the Beatles. As far as I know, no other band has been seriously mistaken as someone else to the level that Klaatu experienced.
Although the mistaken identity predicament was real, it was still a phase that garnered serious consequences and backlash afterwards. A situation like this could cause a series of emotions, and could be dealt with in a number of ways. One could become discouraged from creating music again, in fear of it residing in someone else's shadow. This experience could cause one to become bitter and angry with fans, the music, and the music industry. Fortunately, both Draper and Long continue to focus on only the positives from the experience, and continue to create successful solo albums. Draper explains what the whole Beatles experience meant to him:
Sgt. Pepper came out in 1967. And we were young men at the time playing in bands and trying to learn the ropes and wanting to know all about music. And in ten short years of hard work, we were rumoured to be the Beatles reincarnate...it doesn't get better than that. That's the ultimate compliment. And whether or not you like the music that we made, or the rumours and everything attached to it, it doesn't get any better than that (Draper 2002).
In my experience, I never heard the Beatles similarities until I specifically went looking for them. My first exposure to Klaatu was through their hit song "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft". To me, this song, as well as "Little Neutrino" just seemed like a typical song from the progressive rock catalogue. I had listened to the first album a few times, but somehow gravitated towards their next album, Hope (1977). It is this album that got me hooked on the band. It wasn't until I essentially memorized Hope that I went back to the first album. By this point, I had read about the Beatles rumour, and found myself straining to hear the resemblances. This is because the majority of songs in my mind, had their own unique sound and feel to them. They had a "progressive pop" sound that had roots similar to that of the other Ameri-Prog groups at the time. I must admit, "Sub-Rosa Subway" and "Dr. Marvello" have Beatle-esque qualities when isolated on their own. However, one can also hear the Turtles' "You Showed Me", when listening to "Dr. Marvello". According to Woloschuk, it was that song that inspired the musicality of "Dr. Marvello":
[Dr. Marvello] was influenced by "You Showed Me." I was a big Turtles fan, and I really liked songs that were in a minor key but didn't sound "down." And "You Showed Me," was a song like that, where they used a minor key, but it – it was a haunting type of sound, but it didn't sound like, depressing, or anything like that. And I also liked the idea of switching from minor to major mode halfway through a song, and there's a lot of songs out there that do that. And 'Marvello' was sort of done that way. When you got to the chorus part, the 'If that is all you want' part, it changes from minor mode to E major, and you sort of get this real automatic uplift (Bradley, 2012).
For me, those "Beatles-esque" qualities are not only drowned out by other sounds and ideas of the late 60s and early 70s, but also don't fit the moulds of other songs on the album. The album as a whole is full of unique songs. "True Life Hero" is a classic straight-up rock and roll riff reminiscent of early David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust or even Sweet. It has more similarities to the punchiness of Glam Rock than the Beatles. To me, the album has a classic 70s rock sound with unique blends of classical, psychedelia, and progressive rock fusionIn their later albums, influences of pop artists like James Taylor and Gilbert O'Sullivan, as well as disco, techno, funk, and folk can be heard. Right from the start Klaatu was a mixed bag of tricks that continued to experiment, have fun, and continuously push the boundaries on their own musical limitations. That is the band I fell in love with - Klaatu is Klaatu.
"Klaatu". Keith Hampshire's Music Machine. CBC. Toronto. Nov. 1974. Television.
Bradley, Dave. Klaatu.org. 2012. Web. 14 Apr. 2016.
Covach, John. "Echolyn and American Progressive Rock." in Contemporary Music Review 18, no. 4 (2000): 13-61.
Draper, Terry. Interview by Al Joynes. Klaatu's Terry Draper in Conversation With Al Joynes, 2002. Web. 14 Apr. 2016.
Ferguson, Joey. Klaatu The Band. 2011. Web. 14 Apr. 2016.
Krewen, Nick. Klaatu 3:47 EST 40th Anniversary Edition. Convexe Entertainment, Print. 2015.
Smith, Steve. "Could Klaatu Be Beatles? Mystery Is A Magical Tour" in The Providence Journal. Feb. 1977. Newspaper.