Sunday, January 28, 2018

Aliens: Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft

Klaatu: Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft

In 1976, it seemed that Beatlereunionmania was rampant. Lorne Michaels famously had offered The Beatles $3,000 to reunite on Saturday Night. Later that year, Capitol Records, The Beatles’ label, released an album of Beatle-ish pop, 3:47 EST (called Klaatu in the US), from a band called Klaatu, with no identifying credits, and rumors began to spread that Klaatu was, in fact, The Beatles. If anything, Capitol did nothing to squelch the rumors, because they led to increased sales of albums from an unknown band. Of course, Klaatu wasn’t The Beatles; they were a Canadian band, heavily influenced by The Beatles, and named after the extraterrestrial character in the film The Day the Earth Stood Still, consisting of John Woloschuk, Dee Long, and Terry Draper. None of whom were ever in The Beatles.

If you are interested in reading more about the whole rumor thing, which is amusing mostly due to the level of analysis that people went through to try to convince themselves that there was actually a secret reunion (including, for example: “While there are 8 trees pictured right at the very bottom of the front cover of the band's first album, only 7 have their roots showing. There are 7 letters in the name Beatles”) click here or here.

Klaatu's debut album led off with a 7:22 long slice of psychedelic pop entitled “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft.” According to Woloschuk:

The idea for this track was suggested by an actual event that is described in "The Flying Saucer Reader", a book by Jay David published in 1967. In March 1953 an organization known as the "International Flying Saucer Bureau" sent a bulletin to all its members urging them to participate in an experiment termed "World Contact Day" whereby, at a predetermined date and time, they would attempt to collectively send out a telepathic message to visitors from outer space. The message began with the words..."Calling occupants of interplanetary craft!" 

As far as we know, the message didn’t result in any alien contact. Or at least, that’s what they tell us.

“Calling Occupants” definitely has a Sergeant Pepper’s feel, but also some more prog influence, with heavy use of Mellotron and synthesizer. Also, drummer Draper was reportedly a fan of the first King Crimson drummer Michael Giles (as well as Ringo), and some of the drumming sounds a bit like “In The Court of The Crimson King.” A single version, edited to 3:23, nosed around the bottom of the charts. Klaatu’s next album, Hope, was a concept album about aliens, and their next three albums moved more toward pop and away from psychedelic experiments. By 1982, Klaatu was essentially defunct, except for a few small reunions and the creation of a record label to re-release their material.

Now, if you were alive in 1976, and were asked to name a musical act that was the opposite of adventurous psychedelia and prog, you might have suggested The Carpenters, the sibling duo with the squeaky clean reputation, and an output of mostly sugary ballads and bland pop, enhanced, though, by Karen Carpenter’s voice, and her brother Richard’s arranging skills. So, it was a bit surprising when they decided to cover “Calling Occupants.” Their version, released in 1977, a lush, orchestral pop song, featuring over 150 musicians including the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and a choir, was originally over 7 minutes long.  As a result of their popularity, and the coincidentally recent release of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a film about space travel, The Carpenters’ cover, edited down for single release, was more successful than the original.

Draper, Klaatu’s drummer and co-writer of the song, said this about The Carpenters’ version:

Not only did they do a great job, it was such a stretch for them, they were really stepping out of their comfort zone and doing what could possibly be described as prog rock although I like to call it progressive pop.

Also, it probably made him a few bucks, which couldn't have hurt, particularly since he wasn’t a Beatle.

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