An abridged look at a mid 70s conspiracy theory
Being the most popular band in the world, the Beatles are no strangers to conspiracy theories. While plenty arose during their heyday, their breakup caused speculation to increase exponentially. Fans frequently grasped at straws to “prove” that their favorite band was on the brink of reuniting, including theorizing one Canadian band was the Beatles reincarnated.
In 1977, sports journalist Steve Smith published an article in The Providence Journal that pointed out similarities between the musical stylings of The Beatles and Klaatu’s debut 1976 album, 3:47 EST. Smith points out the song “Sub Rosa Speedway” includes “vocals [...] exactly like Paul McCartney, the drumming like Ringo Starr’s, and the guitar work like John Lennon’s and George Harrison’s.” He claims the song “‘Doctor Marvello’ sounds like George Harrison a la ‘Blue Jay Way’ with the rest of the Beatles backing, complete with sitar and reverse tape effects.”
Smith’s curiosity led him to contact Frank Davies (Klaatu’s appointed “sort of manager”) and Capitol Records (which Smith points out is the same label that distributed Beatles records in the USA). While he gave a decisive “no” to the question of Klaatu being The Beatles, Davies answered Smith’s other questions with non-answers, seemingly leaning into the idea that something more was happening under the surface. Davies mentioned a Morse code message on the album, challenging fans to decode it, in addition to playing up the anonymity of the band members. Capitol Records would also release many vaguely worded statements about the band, none of which cleared up any confusion surrounding their real identities.
Smith concluded the article by listing four possibilities: “...this mystery band could be: The Beatles, a couple of the Beatles with other people, a Beatle-backed band, [or] a completely unknown but ingenious and talented band.” Many readers chose to believe the first option and a media frenzy began as new organizations and tabloids rushed to publish similar stories.
However, the reality was very different, and, to some, disappointing. Klaatu is a Canadian-based band made up of John Woloschuck, Dee Long, and Terry Draper, as was discovered when program director at WWDC, Dwight Douglas, uncovered their real names after searching through the US Copyright Office for Klaatu’s copyright. The three musicians, while all self-proclaimed Beatles fans, never intentionally posed as the Beatles, though they did wish to remain anonymous to let the music speak for itself. Terry Draper was particularly “...never fond of playing live.”
Ironically, the members' wish to remain anonymous led to a greater discussion and debate over their true identities, but also allowed them to reach a level of fame and success that likely wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. The brief yet strong burst of attention led to the singles “Sub Rosa Speedway” and “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft” to become Klaatu’s only two charting songs, and led to the popular band the Carpenters to cover the latter the same year. Despite their failure to remain anonymous, Klaatu went on to release a total of five albums, only two of which featured the band’s real names for credits during their initial release. Despite their breakup in 1982, the band remains a cult favorite. The three members even reunited in 2005 for a brief live show at Toronto’s KlaatuKon.