The Band Everyone Thought Was The Beatles: Revisit the Klaatu Conspiracy of 1976

In 1976, hun­dreds of diehard Bea­t­les fans became con­vinced that the mys­te­ri­ous album 3:47 EST by the band Klaatu was actu­al­ly a new release from The Bea­t­les in dis­guise, after a DJ in Prov­i­dence, Rhode Island played one of its songs on the radio. Short­ly after­ward, Steve Smith dis­cov­ered the album at the news­pa­per he worked for, Rhode Island’s The Prov­i­dence Jour­nal, lis­tened to it, and became imme­di­ate­ly intrigued.

The album con­tained no pho­tographs, no iden­ti­fy­ing infor­ma­tion at all, and the band’s The Day the Earth Stood Still ref­er­ence echoed the cov­er of Ringo Starr’s album Good­night Vien­na. Smith heard Starr’s drum­ming, Harrison’s gui­tars, Lennon and McCartney’s voic­es in the psy­che­del­ic songs. Though he wasn’t a music crit­ic or reporter him­self, he per­suad­ed the paper to pub­lish a fea­ture in which he sug­gest­ed Klaatu could be The Bea­t­les.

The “Klaatu Kon­spir­a­cy” spread. An Aus­tralian fan issued a 34-page book­let on the case. Exec­u­tives at Klaatu’s label, Cap­i­tal Records Cana­da, refused to con­firm or deny, enjoy­ing the pub­lic­i­ty, as Smith recalled in a 1997 inter­view.

More specif­i­cal­ly, “hedg­ing his bets,” writes Ken Raisa­nen for WOAS FM, Smith con­clud­ed that “the mys­tery band could be 1) The Bea­t­les. 2) A cou­ple of the Bea­t­les with oth­er peo­ple. 3) A Bea­t­les-backed band. 4) A com­plete­ly unknown but inge­nious and tal­ent­ed band.” If the Amer­i­can Smith had caught an episode of Kei­th Hampshire’s Music Machine on CBC two years ear­li­er, he would have seen the evi­dence of num­ber four (see the real Klaatu play “Cal­i­for­nia Jam” in 1974, above). But the band oth­er­wise made an effort to obscure their iden­ti­ty.

As Klaatu bassist Jon Woloshuck told Gold­mine mag­a­zine in 2013, one rea­son for the air of mys­tery they cul­ti­vat­ed is that “we were just three guys from Toron­to.” They want­ed the music to speak for itself, and “nobody knew who were any­way.” They were amused by the rumor. “It caught us by sur­prise,” says drum­mer Ter­ry Drap­er, but they “didn’t think much of it at the time…. We were all big Bea­t­les fans, and we were hop­ing they would reunite. At the time, the idea of a reunit­ed Bea­t­les wasn’t all that far-fetched at all.”

These atti­tudes may have been preva­lent, but Klaatu was­n’t delib­er­ate­ly set­ting out to tap into them, they say, but to “do music that was on par” with “late ‘60s pro­gres­sive bands like King Crim­son and The Moody Blues.” They’re clear­ly also chan­nel­ing The Bea­t­les, whether they admit it or not. Still the “rumor did us as much harm as good,” says gui­tarist Dee Long. “It got us noticed, which was great, but also led to a sit­u­a­tion where we could not ever real­ly mea­sure up to expec­ta­tions.” Hear what Bea­t­les fans and Klaatu con­spir­acists heard in 1976 in the song “Sub Rosa Sub­way” above from 3:47 EST, and learn more about the Klaatu con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry in the Poly­phon­ic video at the top.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How the “Paul McCart­ney is Dead” Hoax Start­ed at an Amer­i­can Col­lege News­pa­per and Went Viral (1969)

Did Lennon or McCart­ney Write the Bea­t­les 1965 Song “In My Life”? A Math Pro­fes­sor, Using Sta­tis­tics, Solves the Decades-Old Mys­tery

A 17-Hour Chrono­log­i­cal Playlist of Bea­t­les Songs: 338 Tracks Let You Hear the Musi­cal Evo­lu­tion of the Icon­ic Band

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (3)
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  • Michael says:

    Klaatu sounds more like Badfinger/The Hollies/Beach Boys than Bea­t­les.

  • Petrus le Walrus says:

    Badfin­ger most like­ly.

  • Juraj says:

    Klaatu sounds like Klaatu. An unique­ly tal­ent­ed band that cre­at­ed 4 and a half won­der­ful albums. They deserved to be as famous and suc­ces­ful as any of the major artists of the sev­en­ties. They stopped before there was even a hint that they are run­ning out of ideas. Unusu­al and sad.

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