I admit it; I fell for the hype.
It was back in college, 1977, the Spring of my sophomore year.
An album titled 3:47 had been released a few months earlier by a band named Klaatu, and as people got their hands on it, they were left scratching their heads. There were no pictures of the band. There were no writing credits given to musicians. There was no biographical info, no thanks, no notes, no nothing, and initially, not much in the way of sales.
Then, on February 17, 1977, a music critic for the Providence Journal, Steve Smith, wrote a story with the headline, ‘Could Klaatu Be Beatles? Mystery Is A Magical Tour’. The Beatles had broken up about six years prior to the release of this album.
In his 1977 review, Smith wrote that the song’s vocals are “exactly like Paul McCartney”, the drumming “like Ringo Starr’s” and “the guitar work like George Harrison’s and John Lennon’s”. Doctor Marvello, said Smith, sounded like Blue Jay Way-period George Harrison, “with the rest of The Beatles backing”. Other songs had “digs from The Beatles’ past, such as singing through fuzz effects, ‘Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs’ and unmistakable harmonies”.
Another potential clue – the sleeve of Ringo Starr’s 1974 solo album Goodnight Vienna had the drummer standing in the doorway of the spaceship from the 1951 film The Day The Earth Stood Still, next to the giant robot and dressed in the outfit that actor Michael Rennie wore as Klaatu, the alien peace emissary in the film. 3:47 is the exact moment the spacecraft touches the ground on Earth in the movie. In addition, the cover of the album, shown here, may have been a reference to Here Comes the Sun.
Shortly after Smith’s article was published, sales of the album exploded, topping out at 20,000 units per day, with one of those album sales going to yours truly.
Capitol Records, the company that released the album, played it coy, not really denying the hype, and essentially stoking the flames by taking out full-page ads in Billboard that simply said: “Klaatu Is Klaatu”. Paul McCartney, the ex-Beatle, was said to be “having a laugh watching all the rumours swirling”.
The members of Klaatu were keeping out of the rumor mill, over in London working on their second album, Hope.
It all came to an end a few months later when Dwight Douglas, the Program Director of WWDC-FM radio station in Washington DC, visited the Library Of Congress and discovered that the songs from the album were copyrighted not to any of the ex-Beatles, but to John Woloschuk, Dee Long, and Terry Draper, three guys from Canada.
The album eventually sold over half a million units, but that would be the band’s high point.
Their next album, Hope, while well-received, topping out at 400,000 unit sold. They released three more albums but broke up in 1982. Part of their decline was attributed to the alleged hoax many felt the band had tried to capitalize on with the Beatles comparison.
It was a shame to see things end like that for the band. I thought 3:47 was a great album, whether it was the Beatles or not. In case you’ve never heard of the band, here are a couple of my favorite songs from the album:
Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft
And perhaps the most Beatles-like song, Sub-Rosa Subway: