10 Things You Didn't Know About Klaatu: The Fake Beatles
In 1976, a faceless band named Klaatu (not The Beatles) accidentally stirred controversy with the release of their album 3:47 EST. Fans and journalists alike theorized that the group's jangly guitars and vocal patterns ripped straight from Abbey Road weren't just coming from a Beatles soundalike group but from The Beatles themselves.
Released half a decade after the very public end of The Beatles, Klaatu's music gave audiences something to hold onto. Was this mysterious band the return of the Fab Four? Columbia Records certainly wanted audiences to think that's what was happening even if the label was actually just as clueless as everyone else.
Fans wanted Klaatu to be The Beatles
Beatlemaniacs scoured Klaatu's album art, their advertisements, and lyrics all for a hint that John, Paul, George, and Ringo were back together. Little did these listeners know that they were actually grooving on the sounds of John Woloschuk, Dee Long, and Terry Draper, three Canadians who just happened to sound -- a bit -- like the lads from Liverpool.
This was an entirely new added layer to the craze around The Beatles, one that saw fans hold onto hope that the Fab Four were back together under the auspices of the worst band name ever to keep releasing tunes to the world without worrying about the press. That wasn't the case.
The lads from Toronto
Klaatu never wanted to trick anyone into thinking that they were The Beatles. They were just three guys who spent their nights recording prog-influenced pop music in Canada. When they were signed to Columbia Records they did so without actually meeting anyone at the label. Their producer and would-be Svengali Frank Davies handled all of their communication with the American label, making sure to keep the trio as mysterious as possible.
Released in 1976, the band's album 3:47 EST only featured a big bright sun in a design that looked downright groovy. The band's name was on the cover, but there were no pictures and no information about the band. They were simply Klaatu. Reviews for the album were great but it wasn't selling. That all changed when journalist Steve Smith heard the band on the radio in Providence, Rhode Island.
A single article created a second Beatlemania (sort of)
When Steve Smith heard Klaatu he didn't just hear a band inspired by the Beatles. He heard Ringo Starr's drumming, George Harrison's unmistakable Rickenbacker, and the interplay between John Lennon and Paul McCartney. He explained that he never would have written about the band had any of the group's representatives answered his one question, who are they? He explained:
I saw the album in a record grab at work one day. The music writers would get all these records and stuff, and if there were a bunch that they didn't want, they would have this thing called a 'record grab,' where whoever wants them, grabs them. So I saw [3:47 EST] and I said hey, this is neat, so I grabbed it. Then, when I listened to it, I said hmmm, and I looked and... well... you know. So I started making phone calls, and I convinced my boss to let me write an article.
On February 17, 1977, Smith's article, "Could Klaatu Be Beatles? Mystery Is A Magical Tour" was printed in the Providence Journal, and in it, he broke down the case for why he thought the group was The Beatles in disguise. He pointed to the "yeah, yeah, yeahs" of the backing vocals, the dual guitar work, and the maximalist pop sensibilities ringing from the speaker. It had to be the Beatles, right? Rather than sound like a raving lunatic, Smith offered a few possibilities for who was behind the album:
The 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.
Blame Paul is dead for the Klaatu mess
Thanks to the "Paul Is Dead" theory and the characters adopted by the Beatles during their "Magical Mystery Tour," era audiences were primed to think that the Fab Four had something to do with Klaatu. As copies of 3:47 EST flew off the shelves, the fervor over the band's existence grew and the audience had clues to back up the theory that this anonymous group was actually John, Paul, George, and Ringo. The clues to the band's identity are as follows:
First, the album cover of 3:47 EST features none other than a sun, as in "Here Comes The Sun." Klaatu's sun has a face, leading theorists to wonder whether he is "The Sun King." Both are tracks off of Abbey Road.
Secondly, the band was known to be recording their follow-up in England with the London Symphony Orchestra.
Ringo Starr Had Already Pretended To Be Klaatu (The Science Fiction Character)
The third piece of "evidence" that Klaatu was really The Beatles is the sort of delicious coincidence any good conspiracy theory has to have. "Klaatu" isn't just a made-up word; it's the name of an alien in the 1951 science-fiction film The Day The Earth Stood Still. The cover of Ringo Starr's 1974 solo album Goodnight Vienna is based on a famous still image from the movie. The original image shows two figures emerging from a spaceship: the fearsome robot Gort and the humanoid Klaatu. On Starr's album cover, his own face has been pasted onto Klaatu's body.
Fourthly, Columbia Records took out a full-page ad for the group with the headline "KLAATU: Been here before" beneath an edited photo of the Abbey Road cover.
These clues make a kind of Magic Eye puzzle for Klaatu. If you squint hard enough you can make all of this make sense, which is why fans were so devastated when they realized that The Beatles had nothing to do with this band.
The anonymous single that hit Top 40
With the full weight of the rumor mill behind them, Klaatu finally had a hit on their hands. Their single "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft (the Recognized Anthem of World Contact Day)" was such a big hit that The Carpenters covered it and took it to the Top 40 across the world in 1977.
Was it the band's goal to be mistaken for the most famous band on the planet when they decided to remain anonymous? No. But that didn't hurt their sales. Klaatu vocalist/bassist/keyboard player John Woloschuk explained why they wanted to initially keep their identities a secret:
We were three unknown guys from Toronto and didn’t want the focus to be on us as individuals. We really wanted the music to be the focal point. Also, we knew that the music we wanted to record couldn’t possibly be replicated on stage by three people.
Klaatu found out that they were The Beatles while they were in England
When the guys in Klaatu found out that everyone assumed they they were The Beatles their initial reaction was that the whole thing was a joke. Initially, they were into the whole mystery of their anonymity because it gave them exactly what they wanted - the ability to write and record without having to actually do the whole band thing. Klaatu's drummer, Terry Draper, explained:
We were in England, recording. Somebody told us about The Beatles rumor, and we all had a good laugh and went back to work. When we returned to Canada, it went ridiculous. Cashbox, Billboard, all the magazines, everybody was talking about it. It went around the world via the United Press agency. We didn’t know what to do. Frank started having to field the calls. Everybody who was making money – including us – was quite delighted that we were selling records and people were talking about us. So, did we want to come out of the closet, squash the rumor and stop record sales? The whole anonymity thing was to have private lives, be a normal person, still make music and millions of dollars. That was the goal.
Klaatu should have been ecstatic, but they knew that the other shoe was bound to drop soon. They just didn't know that it would happen so quickly.
Paul McCartney thought the whole thing was pretty funny
Tony Bramwell is a producer and director who's known The Beatles since he was a child. When he heard the stink about whether or not Klaatu was actually the Fab Four he didn't know who to talk to because he was well aware that none of his buddies were playing in a mysterious space rock group. He explained:
Capitol in America weren’t that bright at the time. They were being coy about it and hoping people would be taken in. I thought: ‘What the what is all this about?’ I was working for Polydor Records in 1977 but still also doing promotions for the individual Beatles, so I knew what they were doing – and knew that Klaatu wasn’t them.
Meanwhile, Frank Davies received a postcard from none other than Paul McCartney who said that he was "having a laugh watching all the rumors swirling." At least one Beatle was taking the whole thing in stride even if he wasn't directly in on the hoax.
Klaatu is Klaatu
Rather than face the rumors head-on or just create a false narrative, Columbia Records released a series of ads for the band that read "Klaatu Is Klaatu." Their decision to neither confirm nor deny the rumors didn't sit well with Dwight Douglas, the Program Director of WWDC in Washington D.C. Rather than call Columbia for another smoke and mirrors show he simply went to the Library of Congress to look at the group's copyright information.
Douglas found that the band's songs were copyrighted to Draper, Long, Woloschuk, and their songwriting partner Dino Tome. The cat was out of the bag and the Klaatu was grounded. In 1977, the now unmasked group released "Hope" and sold a respectable 400,000 copies. They released three more albums on Capitol after "Hope" but they were never able to regain the audience that they had when the whole world thought that they were The Beatles.