Klaatu - Klaatu (aka 3:47 E.S.T.)

Klaatu (aka 3:47 E.S.T.)

Released 1976 on Capitol Records
Reviewed by Joe Kenney, 27/09/2004ce

When this record was released in the US in 1976, it received little fanfare. Then some disc jockey happened to notice that the vocals sounded very much like the Beatles. He spun one of the tracks, “California Jam,” on the air (this was back in those halcyon days when DJs got to select their own music to play), and the station was soon flooded with calls, asking if the song had been something new by the Beatles; the DJ obviously wasn’t the only one who noticed the similarity. Soon thereafter interest sprang up around the country, with record stores running “Are Klaatu the Beatles?” promotions, and the record selling in high numbers.

Strange and nearly-insane rumors got started, some people saying the record had been recorded by the Beatles after Revolver but before Sgt Pepper’s, but never released. That anyone actually thought this only proves my theory that most people in the 1970s were fucking morons; the rockers on here are about as ‘70s as you can get. Others said this was a modern recording by the reunited Beatles, who wished to remain anonymous to see if the music could stand on its own, without their names attached.

Capitol Records added fuel to the fire, staying mum on the topic, and the band members remained in the shadows. The Klaatu mania reached its peak with the Carpenters recording a cover version of the track “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft,” one of the most Beatles-sounding on the record. But then the truth finally got out: Klaatu was not and had never been the Beatles. In fact, they were just a couple of session men making an album of their own. Worse yet, they weren’t even English, they were Canadian. Klaatu was nailed with such negative backlash that none of their records got much notice again, and they broke up in the very early 1980s.

The record takes its time getting started, in true prog fashion, stretching out the opening of “Calling Occupants.” Okay, so maybe it does sound like the Beatles. But still, to think the post-Beatles of the mid-‘70s could’ve created something so prog is just plain misguided. Do you seriously believe John Lennon could’ve gone from singing “Ain’t no Jesus/Goin’ to come out the sky” to “Calling occupants/Of interplanetary craft?” The track features vocals from what does sound like John, Paul, and George, trading verses about making friends with aliens. All told, this is probably the best song on the album.

“California Jam” follows, and this is the track that started the Beatles foolishness. It sounds more like the Beach Boys, albeit the Beach Boys with more ‘70s guitar slinging and crunchiness. This track again features multiple lead vocals, and damn if it don’t sound like the Fab Three. With it’s “aaah” backing vox, floating melody, and superb instrumentation, you can sort of see how someone drunkenly coming across this on a battered radio in 1976 might have believed it was the reformed Beatles. The fact that the track ends with the group yelling “yeah, yeah, yeah” a la the early Beatles no doubt helped fool so many.

Next we have “Anus of Uranus,” probably the most ‘70s rock track on here. I mean, this is more Kiss than Beatles. The vocals sound like none of the Beatles (maybe Paul in his “Helen Wheels” voice, but that’s really stretching it), and the crunchy riffs, Southern rock vibe, and dumbass lyrics (“Anus of Uranus/He’s a friend of mine/He’s a first-rate party/And a real fine time”) are a zillion miles from Beatledom. Again, how anyone could’ve believed this album was recorded post-“Revolver” is beyond me. This is ‘70s cock rock, pure, plain, and stupid!

“Sub-Rosa Subway” closes the first side, and here, right here, I can see how people could think this was the Beatles. I mean, the vocals on here sound SO MUCH like Paul McCartney it’s frightening, and the production is pure Sgt Pepper’s meets Abbey Road. Had the Beatles in fact stayed together, it’s not hard to believe they would’ve come up with something like this. In fact, once I played this for a Beatles-loving friend and fooled him into believing it was really a “lost” Beatles tune. When I revealed the truth, he was crestfallen. The track’s about Alfred Beach, the inventor of New York’s first subway system in 1870, and it starts off like your typical Paul show tune, then slowly gets to rocking nice and fine, with added sound effects, hand claps, and a funky vibe. I like this one a lot.

“True Life Hero” opens side two, and again we’re into ‘70s boogie rock territory. Any illusions you might’ve given yourself of this really being the Beatles are blown out the window as soon as the first chord strikes. That’s not to say the track doesn’t rock, but man is it dated. Again the vocals sound like “Helen Wheels”-style Paul, and the track is a bit heavy, but it’s as vacuous as “Anus of Uranus.”

“Doctor Marvello” follows, and if “Sub-Rosa Subway” sounded like Paul, then this one sounds nearly identical to George. The lyrics are even typical of something George might’ve come up with in the Magical Mystery Tour days, and the track is symphonic prog with nice rocking bits and special effects touches. When the George clone whispers “If that is all you want/Then I may be of service” it actually sounds kinda creepy. Good thing Charles Manson never got to hear this! The lyrics also could be seen to recount the tale of a once-popular band breaking up due to rivalries and later reforming, thanks to a “sentimental journey” being “hazily recalled,” but again, it’s all just bullshit.

Now we come to the absolute nadir of the LP, “Sir Bodsworth Rugglesby III,” unquestionably the “Ringo track,” with all of the bad singing, childish melody, and faux-incompetency that might imply. DO NOT listen to this track while attempting to work out. I ended up smashing apart my gym room in disgust. This ain’t the Beatles, it’s the fucking Muppets, and it makes me sick.

“Little Neutrino” closes the album, and it’s the most prog of the bunch. The vocals are as distorted as Kid A-era Radiohead, and the track is heavy in a symphonic, orchestrated way. But still, it never really seems to get started, and it never seems to go anywhere. I don’t like it much. In fact, I don’t like much of side two at all. It’s hard to come up with a Beatles comparison on this one, due to the vocals; I mean, if Stephen Hawking were to sing, it would sound like this. But still, you can definitely hear the George Martin influence on the production.

No, Klaatu wasn’t the Beatles, and it’s too bad their career fell apart (mostly) after the hoax was revealed. But some parts of this LP are generally worthy, and though I don’t care much for all that prog stuff, maybe one of these days I’ll hunt down their following few LPs, which apparently got proggier and proggier.

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