Aliens, Carpenters and The Beatles: The curious case of Klaatu
They were The Beatles – or so a million record buyers thought in ’77. Forty years later, Klaatu come clean on what was quite a trip
It was one of Capitol Records’ most mysterious releases. The record, cryptically titled 3:47 EST in Canada, but just bearing the band’s name for international distribution, carried no information about the group, no photos, no songwriting credits. The band were called Klaatu. But, for a time, rumour had it that they were another, far more famous, band entirely…
Released in August 1976, the Klaatu album earned several enthusiastic reviews. Canada’s Record Month called it “a terrific concept album”, while Trouser Press said it was “an impressive sci-fi answer to Bowie”. But the reviews didn’t translate into sales, and it looked like Klaatu was headed straight to the bargain bin.
Then, on February 17, 1977, a feature headlined ‘Could Klaatu Be Beatles? Mystery Is A Magical Tour’, written by Steve Smith, a young journalist working for Rhode Island daily newspaper the Providence Journal, changed everything.
“We used to get a bunch of albums to review. If they weren’t reviewed they went in a pile, and if you wanted anything you grabbed it,” Smith tells Classic Rock. “I saw the Klaatu album, took it home and listened to it. It had Beatle-sounding stuff, so I started researching. And couldn’t get any answers.”
The main question Smith wanted an answer to was simply: why did the album sound so much like the Fab Four? “It struck me almost immediately,” he says. “The track Sub-Rosa Subway is completely Beatlish.”
In his 1977 review, Smith wrote that the song’s vocals are “exactly like Paul McCartney”, the drumming “like Ringo Starr’s” and “the guitar work like George Harrison’s and John Lennon’s”. Doctor Marvello, said Smith, sounded like _Blue Jay Way-_period George Harrison, “with the rest of The Beatles backing”. Other songs had “digs from The Beatles’ past, such as singing through fuzz effects, ‘Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs’ and unmistakable harmonies”.
The sleeve of Ringo Starr’s 1974 solo album Goodnight Vienna had the drummer standing in the doorway of the spaceship from the 1951 film The Day The Earth Stood Still, next to the giant robot and dressed in the outfit that actor Michael Rennie wore as Klaatu, the alien peace emissary in the film. Smith wondered if the name of the band was a clue in itself.
Summing up (and hedging his bets), Smith concluded that this mystery band could be: 1. The Beatles. 2. A couple of The Beatles with other people. 3. A Beatles-backed band. 4. A completely unknown but ingenious and talented band.