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