Friday, August 26, 2011


Klaatu was the name of Michael Renni's character in the classic film THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. If you've seen that film (the original, not the insipid remake with Keanu Reeves) then you know that Klaatu's flying saucer landed in Washington DC at 3:47 Eastern Standard Time.

KLAATU is also the name of a Canadian band from the seventies and early eighties. KLAATU was a trio from Ontario, John Woloschuk, Dee Long and Terry Draper. The band went on to release five studio albums of what was at the time labelled "progressive rock". The name KLAATU is not the only science fiction connection for the band. Many of their tunes. particularly from their first two albums, have many sf and fantasy references. For an SF and fantasy crazy kid growing up in the seventies the band's first album was an amazing discovery.

Their first album, 3:47 E.S.T., was released in 1976. Probably the best known cut off that album is track 1: CALLING OCCUPANTS OF INTERPLANETARY CRAFT. Most people know it because of the cover version that was released by THE CARPENTERS in 1977, but the song was originally written by band member John Woloschuk. The idea for this track was suggested by an actual event that is described in "The Flying Saucer Reader", a book by Jay David published in 1967. In March 1953 an organization known as the "International Flying Saucer Bureau" sent a bulletin to all its members urging them to participate in an experiment termed "World Contact Day" whereby, at a predetermined date and time, they would attempt to collectively send out a telepathic message to visitors from outer space. The message began with the words..."Calling occupants of interplanetary craft!"

The album contains some great songs, a few of wich are overtly sf or fantasy oriented, notably the tracks ANUS OF URANUS, Doctor Marvello, Sir Bodsworth Rugglesby III, and Little Neutrino

The band's second album, HOPE was released in 1977. It was a concept album, recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra, about the sole survivor of an arrogant race of beings, who warns space travellers of hazards in the last days of his life. Many fans and critics consider Hope to be the most creative of the Klaatu albums.

The first two albums had a sound that was somewhat reminiscent of The Beatles and this was commented upon by a number of music reviewers. This, coupled with the lack of biographical details offered up by Klaatu, helped inspire a rumour concocted by Providence Journal reviewer Steve Smith in February 1977 that the album might be an anonymous project by The Beatles themselves. The rumour turned into a global phenomenon with Beatle fans being fed "clues" by radio stations and print media alike.

While all this was happening, Klaatu was in England, recording their second album. They were somewhat aware of the situation with regards to the rumours, but didn't take them entirely seriously—possibly because the UK's New Musical Express famously published an article on the Beatles-as-Klaatu theory under the title "Deaf Idiot Journalist Starts Beatle Rumour". Capitol Records, meanwhile, tried to make as much capital out of the rumours as possible, by issuing ambiguously worded statements that failed to make the band's identity entirely clear.

The rumour was soon disproved when Dwight Douglas, program director at WWDC in Washington, D.C., checked the records at the U.S. Copyright Office and uncovered the band members' real names.

Sir Army Suit, their third album is notable for the track "Silly Boys," which contains the entire lyrical portion of "Anus of Uranus" – a song from their first album – backwards-masked interspersed between the "Silly Boys" lyrics. For both these releases, the band continued their policy of not including any individual names of band members in the credits, nor did they play any live shows or make any public appearances to promote these albums.

Upon the release of their fourth studio album Endangered Species in 1980, the band for the first time included their individual names in the album package, making it clear that there was no musical connection to any former Beatle. As well, songs were now credited to their individual writers, rather than the "All songs written by Klaatu" credit of old. (Subsequent re-issues of earlier Klaatu material, as well as newly published Klaatu sheet music, also gave credit to the actual songwriters of each track, rather than a collective credit.)

Although forced by Capitol to record Endangered Species in Los Angeles using established studio musicians to shore up the group's commercial chances, the album was a critical and commercial flop. The album's poor showing resulted in Capitol Records dropping the group.

Eventually signed by Capitol's Canadian division, Klaatu released their final album, Magentalane, in Canada in 1981. This album saw the group returning to their brand of Beatles-influenced pop/rock. Standout cuts from this album include the title song, MAGENTALANE as well as the whimsical MRS' TOADS COOKIES.

As a contractual obligation to Capitol-EMI in Canada, the band were forced to play their first ever live dates and tour most of Canada to promote the Magentalane album. From November 1981, the group expanded to a sextet, using members of Max Webster and Nightwind for live performances. However, in April 1982 Dee Long – never all that fond of performing live in the first place by most accounts – quit the group. Although Woloschuk and Draper carried on performing for a few more months, Klaatu officially disbanded in August of the same year.

Listening to the albums always brings back a lot of good memories for me. The music has a positive quality and a whimsy that few other bands have. There are a few websites devoted to the band. is Dave Bradley's website about the band and it contains a wealth of information and ephemera. The band's official website is here and you can buy their albums directly from them via this site.

And here is one of the few videos that the band produced. From their third album, Sir Army Suit, this is A ROUTINE DAY:

I've been here and there. I've drawn a lot of pictures. I've written a bit, too. I'm not good at this self-promotion thing. Look, you want to know about me? just visit these websites. Okay?

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