When The Beatles broke up in 1970, it shocked the world like no other band breakup ever had before. For over a decade the Fab Four had been the voice of rock and roll and the subject of hysteria and adoration. It seemed wrong that these four boys from Liverpool who had grown up alongside an entire generation would never make music together again.
Eventually, as with all things, people moved on. But then, six years after the split, a strange, unknown band broke onto the American music scene. They released an album full of psychedelic sounds, ambitious arrangements, and beautiful melodies; the very things The Beatles had gained acclaim for in the last half of their career.
A Fab Four Reunion?
Rumours began to spread, and soon people all over the world started to believe, wanted to believe, that The Beatles had got back together again. But how did this happen?
In August 1976, a band named Klaatu released their debut album, 3:47 EST. The album's artwork contained no words other the group's name, and the production credits were all attributed to just 'Klaatu.'
The album received positive praise from a few critics but soon faded into obscurity. And perhaps that's where it would have stayed, along with countless numbers of well-reviewed, poor-selling albums, forgotten in time. But it was saved from this fate by a man with the name of Steve Smith.
Smith was a writer for the Providence Journal, a newspaper that frequently received albums from record labels hoping to get some reviews for their up and coming bands. Many of these albums ended up in the 'record grab' a bin full of records free for anyone at the paper to grab and take home if they so desired. Something about Klaatu's album cover caught Steve Smith's eye, so he took it home to give it a spin.
The Similarity Spin
Upon listening, Smith noticed some familiar sounds on the album; the drumming sounded to him like Ringo Starr, guitars that reminded him of John Lennon and George Harrison, and even vocals reminiscent of Paul McCartney. Ideas started to formulate in Smith's mind, so he reached out to Klaatu's label, Capitol Records.
It's worth noting here that Capitol Records had a history with The Beatles, and had released a number of their North American records. Capitol told Smith that the band were a 'mystery group' that wanted to be known for their music, not their personalities.
It seemed, at least to Smith, that mystery, was a particularly choice word, and bells went off inside his head. He pitched an article to his editors, who ran with it, giving it the title, 'Could Klaatu be Beatles? Mystery is a magical tour.'
In his piece, Smith discussed the album, noting that the third track, 'Doctor Marvello' sounded like George Harrison's 'Blue Jay Way' adding that the whole album was about magic, mystery, and touring. While writing the article, Smith called Frank Davies, a man who identified himself as Klaatu's 'sort of manager.'
When Opportunity Knocks
Recognising the opportunity, Davies gave Smith a series of non-answers which could be taken as hints that there were secrets to be found on Klaatu's album. He even claimed that it contained a hidden message in Morse Code.
When Smith's article hit the press the speculation began. Everyone wanted to find hints that The Beatles were back. Of course, to find those hints, people had to listen to the album. Numerous radio stations joined in the speculation and began playing Klaatu songs.
All this helped propel Klaatu from obscurity into charting success. 3:47 EST climbed its way up to number 32 in the Billboard Top 200 charts. In particular two tracks, 'Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft,' and 'Sub Rosa Subway,' became rock-radio staples for a short while.
What's in a Name?
Music fans all over the world took note of the album's similarity to The Beatles, but the clues weren't just in the music. Smith's original article did its due diligence citing a number of other reasons why the band could be The Beatles. The most compelling reason was in the band's name.
Klaatu was a reference to a character in the classic 1951 sci-fi movie, 'The Day the Earth Stood Still.' Two years before Klaatu the band came onto the scene, Ringo Starr had released a solo album called 'Goodnight Vienna,' The cover for that album was a direct reference to the film. Also, the artwork on 3:47 EST featured a sun rising, a potential nudge to The Beatles' hit, 'Here Comes the Sun.'
As with any conspiracy theory, the evidence starts to become more tenuous from here. In Smith's original article, he noted that the Klaatu song, 'Sir Bodsworth Rugglesby III,' was actually a reference to someone who worked in a quarry. The Beatles, of course, had gone by the name, The Quarrymen, in the early staged of their career.
Then there was the fact that 'Sub Rosa Subway' kind of sounded like 'Red Rose Speedway,' the name of Paul McCartney's second studio album he recorded with his band Wings. Somewhere in all of this, people also got the idea that the word 'Klaatu' meant 'been here before,' another hint that the band could have been The Beatles reborn.
Klaatu in London?
As speculation grew, Capitol Records joined in. Whenever they were asked by the press about Klaatu, the record label would respond with half answers and cryptic statements. As Klaatu-mania was taking over the world, word got out that they were recording their second album in London, with the help of the London Symphony Orchestra. Of course, this rumour gave even more fuel to the conspiracy theorists.
But not everyone thought that this was the second coming of The Beatles. The British magazine, 'New Music Express,' made its thoughts abundantly clear on the topic when they released an article with the headline, 'Deaf idiot journalist starts Beatle rumour.' And soon enough, the NME would be proved right.
Copyright Brings Clarity
The whole conspiracy theory came crashing down thanks to the Washington radio station, WWDC. The station's program director, Dwight Douglas, went to the US Copyright Office and looked into the copyright of Klaatu's 3:47 EST album.
As Douglas had suspected, the names on the copyright were not John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ring Starr, or Geoge Harrison. Instead, he found the names of three obscure Canadian musicians. But why all the mystery?
It gradually became clear that what Klaatu's manager had told Smith back in that first article was true. The band genuinely wanted to be judged on the merit of their music alone. There was no ulterior motive in the lack of press and interviews. They were just three guys who wanted to know what the world thought of their music.
The unexpected interest Klaatu gained from their anonymity turned out to be a double-edged sword. The phenomena launched the band into the spotlight, and it helped them develop a cult following that even today remains loyal. But the backlash when the truth finally came out was severe.