Remember When: Klaatu Fooled the Music World (for a Minute) into Believing They Were The Beatles in Disguise

If you had done a survey of music fans at any point during the ‘70s and asked them what their biggest wish was, chances are The Beatles reuniting would have been at or very near the top of the heap. Some fans wanted it so bad that they were willing to suspend disbelief when a band named Klaatu arrived on the scene. For a minute, many actually thought that Klaatu were The Beatles in disguise.

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So who were they actually? And how did this confusion ensue and eventually come to a conclusion? It starts with a humble three-man band from Canada, whose connection to this bizarre case of mistaken identity made their early career a rollercoaster.

Who Are You, Klaatu?

Spoiler alert: Klaatu were not, in fact, the reunited Beatles. They were actually three Canadian musicians: Dee Long and John Woloschuk, who wrote most of the songs and played multiple instruments, and Terry Draper on drums. They had impressed the head of a record company in their native country with some sides produced by Terry Brown, well known for his work with the band Rush.

Their debut album 3:47 EST was released in 1976 and distributed by Capitol Records in America. The trio of men behind Klaatu didn’t care much for publicity, and they didn’t have plans to tour their music as it was a bit too ornate for three men to handle on stage. Hence, they decided to include no pictures of the band as part of the album art, nor did they leave any credits to reveal who was doing what.

Those facts were crucial to what happened next. In early 1977, a sportswriter for a newspaper in Providence, Rhode Island named Steve Smith happened to scoop up an album that had been sent in for review. When Smith listened, he was struck by what he heard, which was a sound that reminded him of late-period Beatles.

When Smith found no information on the record about the players, his mind took off in a conspiratorial direction. This band worked for Capitol Records, which was also the American home of The Beatles. On top of that, he thought the band’s name might be no mere coincidence, as he remembered that Ringo Starr’s album Goodnight Vienna featured a cover which also referenced the sci-fi film The Day the Earth Stood Still, which was also the source for the name Klaatu.

Smith wrote a story about the album in his paper, in which he speculated that one of the possible explanations was that this was The Beatles recording under an alias. To his credit, he didn’t definitively state this, as he entertained other possibilities. But when this story was spread by other outlets, a slight ember of an idea became a relative inferno of speculation.

The Rumor Spreads

When that initial story started getting picking up, Klaatu was caught by surprise. Meanwhile, their record company realized that a golden marketing opportunity had plopped right into their lap. Other than issuing a cryptic statement saying that “Klaatu is Klaatu” they gave no further clarification.

Much like the “Paul is Dead” rumor, fans listening to the Klaatu album propped the theory up with increasingly bizarre clues they felt proved that The Beatles were behind this. (In some versions of the rumor, The Beatles were recording new music through this pseudonym, while in others, 3:47 EST was a “lost” Fab Four album from the ‘60s newly rediscovered.)

This silliness certainly helped Klaatu at first, as rubberneckers picked up the album to see what the fuss was about. But it wasn’t very long before enterprising reporters started to dig a bit deeper and find hard facts to disprove this myth. For instance, seeking out the publishing of the songs on the albums, they found the names of the Klaatu members and not Lennon/McCartney or George Harrison.

It should also be noted that many respected music publications immediately debunked this theory as hogwash even before the facts were out. Truth be told, the vocals on 3:47 EST don’t sound any more like The Beatles than, say, Badfinger’s did. “Sub-Rosa Subway,” the song that initially caught Smith’s attention and started the furor, actually sounds more like Ram-era Paul McCartney.

The unfortunate side effect of this craziness is that Klaatu’s image ended up tarred because of it. Many folks believed that they were behind the story in the first place. While it’s true they didn’t immediately identify themselves when they first heard it, they were mere innocent bystanders, especially when some media outlets lashed out at them.

Even though they released five albums in their career, Klaatu struggled to emerge from the rumor’s shadow. Which is a shame, because they’re quite a cool band. They were no Beatles, however, either literally or figuratively. The notion they accidentally sounded a shade too much like them just happened to expose just how much the public wanted the Fab Four back together.

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Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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