Capitol Records, 1976


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Just how popular were the Beatles? So popular that people would believe that they were working incognito with - or, maybe, were - a group shrouded in mystery, perhaps?

Back in 1976, a group known as Klaatu released their self-titled debut album on an unsuspecting public. But enough people heard similarities to the music from Klaatu - who were never identified on the record jacket, and their label claimed they didn't know who was actually in the band - and the Magical Mystery Tour-era work of the Fab Four that the belief was tendered that Klaatu was either being assisted by members of the Beatles, or even was the Beatles in some shape or form.

The kicker to this story, as reader Eric Ness (who suggested this review) correctly reminded me of, is that Capitol Records - ironically, the same label of the Beatles - never denied the rumor. (They never confirmed it, either.) This only served to add fuel to the fire, and helped propel into the stratosphere a group that otherwise we would never have heard of.

In the end, of course, the truth came out that Klaatu was only a group of studio musicians from Canada - and the backlash against them killed their future sales. They went on to record a total of five albums (including one available only in Canada), and have only stayed in the limelight thanks to stories about them in rock encyclopedias and soundtracks like that for Due South that used some of their music.

Sure, I could go into a review about how dated portions of this album have become over the course of 24 years, or I could rip certain aspects of it to shreds. Nah, that's too easy. Or I could go on and on about some of the wonderful conversations I've had regarding Klaatu and some of the people who remember them fondly. Instead, let's look at the Beatles rumor and see how Klaatu could have swung the vote either way.

The strongest argument for the Beatles rumor is on the song "Sub-Rosa Subway," which not only sounds like it has a Paul McCartney bass line, but the vocal bears an uncanny similarity to McCartney. Had I been caught up in this frenzy in 1976-1977 (and had I not been six years old at the time), I would have said it was quite possible that McCartney was doing an uncredited appearance. After all, it was not unusual for McCartney to work with similar groups such as Badfinger, and it was not implausible to believe that he could have "gifted" Klaatu with an uncredited appearance. The track itself is quite good, even if you don't buy into the McCartney theory.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

And I'll admit there are some sections on Klaatu that remind me of songs like "Strawberry Fields Forever"; just listen to the opening keyboard work on "Calling Occupants" - a track better known as "Calling Occupants From Interplanetary Craft". (Just think, all these years I've been blaming The Carpenters for this song.) But it's here - ironically, on the opening track - where the "Klaatu Is The Beatles" belief can easily be broken down.

For starters, if the vocal is supposed to be like John Lennon, it would sure help to have a Liverpool accent - hell, it'd help to have any accent. Second, while the Fab Four did do some cosmic stuff in their past, I don't think they'd have stooped to doing songs about contact with aliens. (Then again, how else do you explain "Revolution #9"?)

The Klaatu/Beatles correlation breaks down further on the ridiculous songs like "Sir Bodsworth Rugglesby III" (hey, anyone want to start a rumor that this one was actually assisted by Keith Moon?) and "Anus Of Uranus" - what the hell was that all about? Sure, the Beatles had a few moments of levity in their music, especially around the "White Album" period (or almost any song vocalized by Ringo Starr), but they seemed to take their music more seriously than to do numbers like these. What's even more embarrassing is that you might find yourself singing the chorus of this one at the most inopportune time. It's stupid, but catchy - and that is the most dangerous of musical weapons.

What saves Klaatu from total obscurity in my mind is that there are some songs on this album that are quite good. The two that pop immediately to mind are "California Jam" and "True Life Hero," two songs where it sounds like the band is fighting to establish their own identity. And while I can appreciate the attempt to be "cutting edge" on the closing track "Little Neutrino," I thought they took the synthesized vocals a little too far, and they could have chopped about a minute or so off the ending, which tends to drag a bit. Otherwise... not bad.

As for the secrecy the band members kept - well, you know the old saying, "Any kind of publicity, even bad, is good publicity." Some bands have made a career out of keeping their true identities hidden - how else would one explain the cult status of The Residents? So, unlike the record-buying public who lashed out against Klaatu once they found out the band wasn't the Beatles, I don't hold that against them at all.

Klaatu is presently out-of-print, but is kind of intriguing to listen to. However, I found when I listened to it to hear where the tie with the Beatles came in, I could barely get through the album. Once I listened to it on its own merits, I found more to like about the album - enough to make me want to check out the other titles in their discography. Klaatu is by no means essential to own, but is interesting for a diversion you might not otherwise have taken musically.

Rating: C+

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© 2000 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Capitol Records, and is used for informational purposes only.