Forgotten Rock Bands of the 70s: Klaatu

All throughout the 70s, rumors of the Beatles reuniting sprang up every month or so, none of which proved true, of course.

Klaatu_-_3.47_EST_cover.jpgThe best of these rumors was a mysterious band called Klaatu, whose debut album “3:47 EST” came out of seemingly nowhere in 1976. No band members were listed anywhere, adding to the mystery. Riding the wave of these rumors, the album made it into the US top 40 albums chart. At the time, the Beatles were still my favorite band, and I had several debates with friends as to whether this was really the Fab Four, or George Harrison with friends, or John Lennon, etc.

In fact, their record company, Capitol Records, even released an official statement claiming they didn’t know who were in the band, as can be seen here.

The thing was, however, that the music is not a cheap knock off. It’s really good, well constructed pop music that mixes the quirky arrangements of Penny Lane with the best of Electric Light Orchestra and the Beach Boys with some 10CC or early Ambrosia thrown in. While it’s clearly a product of the 70s, it holds up well today, especially for fans of non-standard or alternative pop.

The lyrics are just as unconventional as the song titles: Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft and Little Neutrino open and close the album. Production is by Terry Brown, who produced many of Rush’s early albums. Eventually, we learned that, just like Rush, the elusive band was a Canadian trio from Toronto with progressive traits, but that’s where the similarities end. Imagine lush Beach Boy harmonies atop ELO arrangements with Beatle melodies and Paul McCartney (at his strangest) lyrics.

That’s not to say the album doesn’t rock. Klaatu lets loose on several songs like California Jam or Anus of Uranus, where they rock nearly as hard as early Kiss.

3:47 EST is what I call a headphone album; that is, you need to wear headphones or earbuds and listen to it several times that way to discover the layers of instrumentation or enjoy the fullness of the vocal harmonies.

The one clunker is Sir Bodsworth Rugglesby III, a British music hall tune on which the singer sounds more like Rowlf, the dog who plays piano on the Muppets. That would’ve been fine for a line or two, but for an entire song is almost unbearable.

However, the epic album closer, Little Neutrino, more than makes up for it. Grand and strange, otherworldly and decidedly un-pop with a phased vocal, it’s a wonderfully dramatic piece of science fiction that struck me as decidedly bizarre as a high school student, yet the more I listened, the more entranced I grew. Now, as an adult, it’s one of my favorite pieces of music from the 70s.

The band went on to release four more albums before sadly breaking up in 1982. A pair of excellent compilations of demos, outtakes, and non-album tracks were released in the early 2000s, all of which are quite worth exploring if you discover their original albums aren’t enough. By the way, the band did not reveal their names on any album until their fourth album, by which time we’d all figured out they weren’t the Beatles, but a unique band with their own distinct sound.

For more information, visit the band’s official website or check out the reviews on Amazon (nothing but 5 stars!)


The Princess Problem, Episode 4

In which Sir Roger learns the perils of a princess…

Read Episode 3


Mine is a dark and grisly business. However, nothing—and I mean nothing—has ever been as dark and grisly as my present peril. Working with wizards is one thing and dealing with women another. Rosa was something else all together.

I suppose I should update you on our progress. After my vision abruptly returned that fateful day last week, I realized Rosa had utilized some sort of transportation spell. Not understanding where we were I foolishly asked. That’s when I discovered what a nasty left hook Rosa delivers. After dusting off my backside and wiping the blood off my split lip, she icily informed me what a blasted pigheaded idiot, uncaring moron, and typical ungrateful male I was. If my listening skills did not improve, next time she’d drop me in the middle of the Bel Sea instead of so kindly delivering me to Jacumba, the capital of Javern and home of that tavern wench, Princess Lalena. As I rubbed my jaw, I decided I’d better listen a little more closely to Rosa.

During the next several days, I suffered ignominiously from ear pullings when I thought we should search in a different direction for the mysteriously missing princess, yanked hairs (from head, arms and, occasionally, legs) when I thought it was time for a beer, and a devilishly hard right uppercut if I paid attention to any woman longer than Rosa thought was necessary. Especially if I looked too long at Rosa.

Jacumba is a depressingly cheerful city. Everybody dresses far too colorfully; to my great discomfort, no one wears black or leather. I stood out like a non-human, few of which, in this homogeneous society, were rarely seen. The buildings were distressingly well-tended, well-built, and, well, too much alike for my tastes. It reminded me of one of those childhood theme parks. All it was lacking was a big mouse.

And the women! Nary a spot of flesh could be seen beneath their chins while their fat foofy dresses left a vacuity for the imagination to build upon. All in all, Jacumba reeked of benevolence and wealth.

This, of course, explained the disappearance of Her Royal Highness. It is with much certainty that I, too, would have chosen to desert this despicably clean, lackluster city had I dwelt there. Worse, the citizens behaved so darned diplomatic and friendly. There were no disparaging signs of crime, no motley mercenaries parading about, no painted women hooting from the balconies, no beggar children picking pockets. Even the dogs looked healthy. Embarrassingly, people smiled at each other.

This had led to our present dilemma. Where was the princess? How much longer would I be forced to shovel manure to cover the costs of our room, board and Rosa’s services while Rosa gallivanted about Jacumba seeking word of Princess Lalena’s whereabouts? Of course, “gallivanting about Jacumba” is an oxymoron.

The wizard (wizardess? wizardperson?) was getting under my skin. Being an hd65508eade869cf82d0cd401d558c80c.pngonorable warrior-type person, I couldn’t hit her back when she slugged me. Naturally, as Rosa took advantage of my position more and more, and my desire to belt her a good solid one increased, her yapping trap reminded me of the precarity of my situation. More than once I chose to unball my fist and remain an honorable warrior-type person than be transmogrified into a croaking toad-type person.

Other strange and morbid musings came unbidden to my sordid mind. Thoughts of holding hands, kissing, and—ugh—settling down with Rosa. Calluses were forming from constantly tapping my trusty Craftsman™ broadsword’s hilt in order to stifle this growing urge of domesticity.

My trusty Craftsman™ broadsword proved incapable, however, of stifling some serious heart palpitations when Rosa burst into the stable I was currently mucking out. Enthusiasm shone on her beauteous face, her large brown eyes shining. Either she couldn’t wait to tell me something or this town’s spirit had infected her.

“That damsel wannabe is back in town! The citizens are all turning out to welcome her with a parade!”

I tossed my shovel aside and grabbed my tunic. “Let’s go!”

“Wait a moment, farmboy. You’re going nowhere yet.”

Rosa whipped out her dainty wand, waved it and her free hand, then chanted something sounding like a pig being strangled. Suddenly a large wooden tub appeared above my head. Unfortunately, by the time I realized what was happening, cold water poured over me. Sadly, it was scented. Indeed, I now smelled like a flower garden. My heart no longer palpitated.

Minutes later, we were struggling to shove our way through the throngs and the scurrying paparazzi, their sketch pads flashing. Interestingly, my sudden change in status from muckraker to flower garden had a decided effect upon the populace. While catcalls of “pansy” and the like were hurled at me from the menfolk, the women gazed at me with long, lingering appraisals. Those poor, hapless people. They quickly learned the wrath of Rosa.

With the sudden influx of large croaking toads in the area and, more notably, the sudden disappearance of a plethora of Jacumba’s finest merchants and their wives, a trajectory leading directly to the street opened magically before us. The wrath of a woman conjurer can be a terrible thing.

Nonetheless, I soon encountered the humorous side of Rosa’s temper after securing front row lounge chairs. Jacumba’s finest merchants and their wives began popping back into sight. Most, to their discomfort, continued croaking and hopping for a few perilous moments before realizing their good fortune. As they slunk away, I found myself more and more impressed with Rosa and her magical abilities. Worse, my heart thudded anon.

As we patiently awaited Princess Lalena’s appearance, I spotted several heavily cowled figures slinking furtively throughout the throng. I leaned as close as I dared to Rosa.

“Have you observed the inordinate number of heavily cowled figures slinking furtively about? Do you think they might be assassins waiting for an opportune moment to strike down the princess?”

Rosa gazed about thoughtfully. “Hmmm. Either that or they’re potential husbands. Very well. I’ll clear a path to the castle for the wench.”

With that she whipped out her dainty wand and a few mystical passes and arcane mutterings (this time sounding like a lamb being burned alive) later, the air was once again filled with loud croakings. I gazed fondly at her dainty wand.

“I’ve just gotta get me one of those!” I whispered.

A foolish thing to say to a wizardperson, yes, but a sudden blaring of trumpets forestalled any caustic remark from my lovely counterpart.

As did the citizens of Jacumba, I craned my neck to catch a first glimpse of the fair Princess Lalena. Out of the corner of my eye I noted Rosa glowering. Nonetheless, I continued craning. Soon the stomp-stomp-stomp of the Royal Guards could be felt as well as heard. Then the glitter of the sun on their lances and plumed helms sparkled, producing an appropriately dazzling effect upon the populace.

As a long line four guards wide strutted past in their resplendent white and gold livery, the cheers began. Behind them a group of women with startlingly short skirts, tight sweaters, and really big, uh, smiles cavorted past. In each hand they shook what looked like multi-colored mop heads. Suddenly, directly in front of us, they halted. Quickly the cheers reached a fevered pitch as the women pumped their mop heads into the air and cried out, “Give us a P!”

The crowd roared back with a resounding “P!” In what then sounded like some sort of spelling contest, the women proceeded to spell out “Princess.”

I turned to Rosa and asked, “Who are these women?”


As the scantily clad ladies shouted, “Who do we love?” (to which the throngs, of course, responded deafeningly, “Princess Lalena”), the princess’ flower-bedecked carriage rode into view. She waved listlessly at her adoring fans while my heart nearly thudded its way out of my chest. Despite a languid face, I realized the talent of whosoever painted her oil was sadly lacking. Her beauty was astonishing. Here was a woman not only worth saving from whoever’s dire clutches, but also worth giving up my trusty Craftsman™ broadsword for.

“With a face that sour,” muttered Rosa, “She must be getting married or executed.”

I laughed while continuing to admire the princess’ astonishing beauty.

“Oh Rosa, you’re such a…”

Obviously I failed to complete the sentence. With good reason. I had been poisoned with the most deadly poison of all.


On to Episode 5


A Film Everyone Should Watch

I love history and archaeology, and I especially love good film series that combine both. In the past year, I’ve watched series on Ireland, Ancient Greece, the ancient Etruscans, Native Americans, and others. Much of what I learn ends up in my stories, usually twisted just enough so that I can add magical elements. So when I mention the film I think every one (at least, every American, Canadian, and European) should watch, don’t expect me to mention the latest Star Wars installment or the next Godfather.

africaI’m referring to a recent (2010) BBC production, Lost Kingdoms of Africa, a two-disc set you can get on Amazon by clicking here. Dr. Gus Casely-Hayford, a British art historian whose heritage is West Africa (and whose bio you can read here) takes us on a journey to four ancient African civilizations: Nubia, Ethiopia, Great Zimbabwe, and West Africa (primarily the kingdom of Benin). Unlike Ireland, Greece, Rome, or Egypt, I knew absolutely nothing about ancient Africa beyond the legend of Queen Sheba and King Solomon. I doubt many students of history and/or archaeology know much, either, which is why I highly recommend this series to everyone.

In addition to the gorgeous ruins and stunning vistas, we get to see art that is the equal of anything created in China, Britain, India, or anywhere else. Some of the ruins themselves are equal in their splendor to the great cathedrals and castles of Europe, or the Parthenon in Greece, Rome’s Coliseum, or the ancient pyramids of Egypt. (Did you know there are far more pyramids in Sudan than in Egypt? I certainly didn’t!)

Dr. Casley-Hayford is quite engaging, and one of the most enthusiastic hosts of any such video I’ve watched. I was particularly impressed by the way he treats all religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Animism, or local religions/customs. There is never a sense of “we’ve moved on from such foolish superstition” or a wink-and-a-nod to let the viewer know not to take any religion seriously. There is no moral superiority of science or any particular religion, no Star Trek “look down your nose and pretend that a different belief is okay, but you really know it’s superstitious hocus pocus.”

This makes his interactions with locals, particularly the respect he shows everyone he meets—whether a local blacksmith or the patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church—feel genuine. That in itself helps to set Dr. Casley-Hayford apart from most hosts of similar series.

There’s a reason Africa has been called “The Lost Continent,” which is enough of a reason to watch this series, so that you can begin to understand its rich history and heritage. With Dr. Casley-Hayford as host, it’s a series I’ll return to watch again.

Forgotten Rock Bands of the 70s: The Beach Boys

Forgotten Rock Bands of the 70s: The Beach Boys

What’s this? The Beach Boys? Everybody knows them! What are they doing here?

Sure, everyone knows their 60s hits, maybe even Rock and Roll Music or Kokomo. But how many know any of their amazing string of albums from 1968-1973? Seven straight pop gems that made them superstars in England, but a forgotten entity in the U.S. Wild Honey, Friends, 20-20, Sunflower, Carl & The Passions, Holland. Every one of those albums is a superior musical experience to their earlier albums outside of Pet Sounds.

the_beach_boys-surfs_upThe crowning jewel of this run was 1971’s Surf’s Up. From its evocative cover (completely removed from their surfing roots) to the final chords of the title track, this is a pop masterpiece nearly on par with their classic Pet Sounds (the best pop album ever, IMO). Unlike most pop hits of the time or their 60s material, there are almost no simple boy/girl songs. Instead, it is full of introspection or politically charged lyrics, beginning with the anti-pollution Don’t Go Near the Water. This is followed with one of Carl Wilson’s first solo composition and one of the Beach Boys’ most beautiful songs ever, Long Promised Road, an reflective look at the roadblocks our past throws up as we try to push forward to our future.

Following the unimpressive Take a Load Off Your Feet is yet another stunning ballad, Disney Girls (1957), this one being Bruce Johnston’s first solo composition and the only love song on the album. It starts off with the pleasant verses and trademark Beach Boy harmonies until the bridge, where unusual chord changes take the song on an unexpected twist. Side One ends with Student Demonstration Time, essentially a rewrite of Riot in Cell Block #9, and the only rocker on the album. Mike Love’s lyrics about both race riots and anti-war demonstrations happening at the time, culminating in the infamous Kent State riot that resulted in four students killed by police. It also contains this powerful line: The pen is mightier than the sword, but no match for a gun.

Side Two opens with Feel Flows, another Carl Wilson gem with some of the most haunting harmonies I’ve ever heard on a rock record. The lyrics are more about sound rather than meaning and match the music perfectly at evoking a melancholy yet hopeful mood. Al Jardine’s Looking at Tomorrow is a brief but brilliant acoustic piece about the hopelessness of living on welfare while trying to find a job beyond sweeping floors.

Next is Brian Wilson’s A Day in the Life of a Tree, another anti-pollution song. It is both ingenious and bizarre in its arrangement, a song that takes several listens to appreciate. The vocalist is Jack Reiley, the band’s manager at the time, who, legend has it, was tricked by Brian into singing it due to the tone in his voice.

The final two songs, ‘Til I Die and Surf’s Up are two of the most beautiful songs you’ve probably never heard if you’re not a Beach Boys fanatic. The first is one of Brian’s few songs for which he wrote both lyrics and music and is about death and hopelessness. Despite the theme, the unexpected minor/major chord progressions and shimmering harmonies remind me more of someone facing death with a positive attitude. It’s a song that I will sometimes play five or six times in a row simply to let it wash over me.

The title track comes from the infamous Smile sessions in 1967 (the Beach Boys’ equivalent of Sgt. Pepper that was not released until about 2015). It’s a song about spiritual awakening and full of optimism and hope, featuring poetic lyrics by Van Dyke Parks. The song itself is far too complex to have ever been a pop hit with its multiple time shifts, dense choral arrangement, unusual melodies, and subtle instrumentation. For me, this is not just the penultimate Beach Boys song, but possibly the greatest pop song of the rock era, one that would make even George Gershwin or Irving Berlin sit up and take notice.

If you decide to pull this up on Spotify or Amazon Prime, be prepared to listen several times to most of the songs to take in the full beauty of the album. Most are not easy listening, one-time plays, but require time to absorb.