Klaatu's sound reflected the burgeoning psychedelic overtones from 1960's pop acts like The Beach Boys and The Beatles. In fact, Steve Smith from the Providence Journal in Rhode Island put 2 + 2 together and got THE FAB FOUR. He offered clues from the album as proof: Klaatu and the Beatles shared the same American record label, Capitol-EMI; 3:47 E.S.T.'s cover art showed a giant smiling sun (presumably a composite of John Lennon's nose and Paul McCartney's eyes/chin) - a constant theme on the Beatles' Abbey Road; Klaatu's song "Sub-Rosa Subway" was said to contain the backwards message "It's Us! It's Us! It's The Beee-talls" (try it if you've got an old belt-driven turntable) and a Morse code message in its closing seconds that started cryptically "...from London ...to New York" - the route The Beatles took to conquer the world; the name Klaatu came from a character in the 1951 sci-fi movie The Day The Earth Stood Still . Ringo Starr imitated the movie's "encounter" scene on the cover of his solo album Goodnight Vienna and a decal enclosed bears the inscription "Klaatu Barada Nikto". England's New Musical Express magazine guffawed at such a notion through an article entitled "Deaf Idiot Journalist Starts Beatle Rumour".
While the world press debated publicly, radio stations across North America added the album and double A-sided single "Calling Occupants/Sub-Rosa Subway" to their playlists and pushed international sales to more than 600,000 units. With Capitol's 1976 double album collection Rock 'N' Roll Music spawning newly charted Beatle singles, the world wanted to believe The Beatles were together again.
Meanwhile, Klaatu was in England recording the follow-up album Hope With the London Symphony Orchestra. Upon returning to Canada, the band delivered their finished master tape to Capitol Records who wanted to milk the rumour a while longer and delayed the album's release. Neither Klaatu nor Capitol would deny or endorse the theory causing Rolling Stone magazine to declare them 1977's "HYPE OF THE YEAR". This allowed the band another two months to remix the symphony segments which they weren't happy with. Hope was the first album by Capitol Records to ever receive worldwide simultaneous release - an achievement the Beatles never attained. Meanwhile, some curious individuals visited the U.S. Library of Congress and researched the copyright on the songs. After seeing registrations for three unknown Canadians, the "KLAATU is THE BEATLES" charade was over. The entire incident was a mixed blessing - the members where already able to quit their day jobs but were barely making any money.
1978 saw their third album, Sir Army Suit , hint at their identities with life-like caricatures on the cover. A promotional cartoon for the song "A Routine Day", considered to be the very first animated video clip in North America, was expanded into a 30 minute/6 song feature entitled Happy New Year, Planet Earth. The small $30,000 budget began to run out before it could be satisfactorily completed and the show never aired.
Sir Army Suit was a bid to push for commercial accessibility. "We wanted to record a hit single so that we wouldn't have to worry about the money thing anymore," recalls Klaatu drummer Terry Draper. "But I guess radio perceived the songs as still a bit too psychedelic."
Capitol was nervous about protecting its investment and began calling the shots. The trio were sent to Los Angeles to schmooze and were put in the pressure cooker to deliver a hit album under the watchful eyes of producer Christopher Bond (HALL & OATES). The result was 1980's Endangered Species which was "released quietly in the U.S. and recalled for some unknown reason," adds guitarist Dee Long. However, it did spawn a Top 40 hit in Canada with "Knee Deep in Love". The band also listed their real names in the songwriting credits which included third member John Woloschuk (keyboards). Little did Capital know that Klaatu wasn't happy with their new status as attested to on "Sell Out, Sell Out". (A sample of Capitol prez Rupert Perry saying "Peddle yourself" can be heard in the song.) Needless to say Klaatu lost their record deal.
By 1981's Magentalane, Klaatu had regained control of the product they were so good at creating... the music. "Dee built a recording studio [called ESP] and we recorded Magentalane there. We paid Dee for his time... he got to keep the equipment and we got the album", says Draper. Capitol Canada's president Deane Cameron had a soft spot for the band and worked out a deal with the US office to let Canada release this new album exclusively. In return, Klaatu would have to go public. The trio's pictures appeared on the album and the band emerged publicly for the first time since Keith Hampshire's Music Machine TV show (1974) for their one and only tour from November '81 to July '82. Klaatu's coming out celebrations were anti-climatic and the band split up shortly after the tour. Says Draper, "I liked touring... and I'm proud of Magentalane because we were able to end our career on the upswing and on a very positive note." The demise brought about an obligatory posthumous "Best Of" entitled Klaasic Klaatu (which is quite difficult to find).
In 1988 they re-united briefly in London, England to record the single "Woman" which was written for the West German TV show Tatort by the show's producer. It sounded little like the Klaatu of old and was a disappointing return from which the band disassociated themselves. "We did our own arrangement of the tune but no matter how hard we tried we couldn't differentiate the verses and the choruses," claims Draper.
Since folding, the individual members have kept a low profile. Dee Long opened his own recording studio and produced the 1985 Rational Youth LP Heredity. He worked in England with Beatles producer George Martin who, in turn, "told Paul McCartney about us and I sat down with him [McCartney] one day and explained the whole [rumour] thing to him. None of the Beatles heard anything about it. I told him that it wasn't intentional and he got a laugh out of it."
John Woloschuk returned to school and brushed up on entertainment accounting. He now lives in High Park, Toronto. Terry Draper opened his own home studio and ran a roofing company.
"Six months after the first album came out I bought a mansion [laughs] in Oak Ridges overlooking a lake. I've since torn it down and built a bigger one. Ironically, I got into the roofing business 12 years ago because the music wasn't paying much anymore. now with the construction industry suffering I've been able to go back to music. And it's nice coming back without the leeches."
Long and Draper have known each other since 1968 when both were playing in different high school bands (Draper was an original member of THE INNOCENCE OF VIRGIL SCOTT) and first teamed up in 1970/71 in a band called MUDCOW. They most recently started producing original acts like Nasty Klass [featured in Absolutely Indie #3 ] and fun bands like Tres Hombres (a ZZ TOP tribute). During my interview, the guys were doing a dance mix of the Hombres' version of "Party On the Patio". "I think we need a Rap part in here to give it that true contemporary feel," deadpans Long. Draper smiles maniacally and picks up Long's subtle cue. "I think it was spelt wrong. Somebody dropped the letter "c" from the beginning... Rap caters to the lowest common denominator. The simplicity of it can be identified with by a large majority of the population," suggests Draper.
"That's what they said about Rock 'n' Roll", Dee shoots back. "...But the world could definitely use a Rap version of "Michelle" [by the Beatles] or how about "Mrs. Toad's Cookies" [a "Yellow Submarine" styled kiddie tune from Klaatu's Magentalane ]." The two burst into hysterical laughter.
They are a definite team that works well together and with the recent "Best Of..." package Peaks [see review in YO! SAMPLE DIS! section] currently in record stores the obvious question of a Klaatu reunion is posed. Draper responds, "Well, John [Woloschuk] has written a few tunes and I've got some stuff I've been working on, but we'll see. Depending on the success of Peaks, there is a possibility of an "Oddities" album [of remixes and the non-album track "For You Girl"] coming out with some new tracks added."
Attic also plans to re-issue Sir Army Suit and Endangered Species on CD. Meanwhile, has anyone noticed a giant smiling sun peeking out from Ringo Starr's latest album Time Takes Time? Nah, couldn't be.
CONTACT: Dee Long or Terry Draper at
They are looking for bands to develop and/or record.